What could be more enjoyable than sitting outside our favourite local café, in the setting sun, people watching, with a ‘vin blanc sec’ in my hand? Now that we are back in Castelnaudary, we like to walk along the canal towpath, with Zeph, and have a pre-dinner drink.

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I began thinking about aperitifs, in general. If you look up the definition of ‘aperitif’, you will find this definition: ‘an alcoholic drinkespecially one that is drunk before a meal.’ (Cambridge English Dictionary). The Oxford English Dictionary adds ‘an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.’

There isn’t a direct translation in English and the word aperitif comes from the Latin verb ‘aperire’, meaning ‘to open’. I can remember my parents having the occasional sherry before Sunday lunch or at Christmas. Gin and tonic was also popular before meals and has now come back into fashion. I think that once people began to travel abroad, the concept of an aperitif became more popular.

Having written about the 10 most popular French dishes, cheeses and deserts, I thought I would investigate 7 of the most popular aperitifs in France.

As always, my findings are purely unscientific and subjective!!!

  • Kir Royale This has to be my most favourite aperitif of all! It is blackcurrant liqueur (crème de cassis) mixed with champagne. Some people would say this is a champagne cocktail. I don’t know if that is the case but it is certainly delicious. Of course a sparkling wine can be substituted for the champagne but that might not be quite so royal!
  • Kir A classic Kir is made with blackcurrant liqueur and white wine. Depending on where you are, in France, there are variations on this drink. In Brittany there is the Kir Breton, which replaces the white wine with cider. Our favourite local restaurant makes us a Kir using one of the local sparking wines ‘Blanquette de Limoux’.
  • Pastis This is an aperitif that is enjoyed by Mr. FF. It is an aniseed based drink that originated in the South of France, in the Marseille area. It is normally drunk diluted with water. You will often see Pastis served neat in a glass, accompanied by a jug of water so that it can be mixed according to the preference of the consumer. Pastis can also be used in cocktails. ‘Death in the Afternoon‘, supposedly created by Ernest Hemingway, is Champagne and Pastis. There is also Le Perroquet (the Parrot) which is pastis with a splash of mint syrup. I haven’t tried either of these – yet! The very short clip below shows one way to prepare this cocktail. I like the colour but not the glass!

  • Pineau des Charentes This is a regional fortified wine which I first discovered many years ago when travelling round France. It is produced in the Charentes and Maritime-Charentes départements (the Cognac region). It is made by adding about one-quarter of Cognac to three-quarters of freshly squeezed grape juice and is usually drunk chilled. In the short clip below you can see two types of Pineau, red and white, being presented but it’s in French!

  • Whisky or Whiskey I was surprised when I first realised that whisky is drunk straight, or with an ice cube, as an aperitif in France. I’m not totally sure why! Apparently the French are the number one consumers, per capita, of whisky in the world. Who would have guessed?!
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  • Noilly Prat To be honest, I’m not sure how popular this drink is these days, although it has appeared in my research. My main reason for mentioning this aperitif is because I have visited the cellars where Noilly Prat is made in Marseillan. It was first produced in 1813 and has been called the connoisseurs’ aperitif because of its powerful taste and delicate fragrance. I wouldn’t say I’m a connoisseur but I certainly enjoyed tasting this vermouth.
  • Champagne I have a special friend who will always arrive with a bottle of champagne for us to enjoy as an aperitif. Coincidentally, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday with her, in Reims which is the unofficial capital of the Champagne region. As far as I can remember, we had champagne at breakfast, lunch and dinner!
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There are many other types of drink that one can enjoy as an aperitif in France. I haven’t mentioned Dubonnet. Aperol, Campari or Port… That’s just for starters (no pun intended).

Do you enjoy an aperitif and, if so, what is your tipple of choice? I’d love to know…