Start it right APERITIFS
Decanter|January 2022
Nothing wrong with kicking off your meal with a simple glass of fizz – but there are many more creative options to consider. We explore the art of the aperitif with inspired ideas for your next gathering, whether a low-key lunch or an indulgent celebration
KATE HAWKINGS

Simply put, an aperitif is something lovely to drink before we eat. It may be a G&T at a bar after work, Champagne before a glitzy lunch, a killer pre-dinner Martini, or just a humble glass of wine with a packet of salted nuts at home. Aperitifs take many forms but all provide a very pleasing moment in a drinker’s day.

As with so many things, we have the ancient Romans to thank for the concept of the aperitif. Before embarking on their epic feasts, they’d drink wine mixed with wormwood, a bitter herb thought to aid digestion and cure all manner of gastric ills.

Indeed, the word aperitif derives from the Latin verb aperire, meaning ‘to open’, and has been in use since at least the 5th century. An aperitif is something to open the appetite, stimulate digestion and get us in the mood for a meal that’s to come.

Alcohol itself clears the palate by effectively rinsing pore-clogging molecules from the surface of our tongues, and encourages digestion-aiding salivation. Bubbles in the form of sparkling wine or a fizzy mixer can have the same effect, while the bitterness found in so many aperitifs is known to release hormones that sharpen our hunger.

But an aperitif is more than just a drink; it’s an occasion in itself, and one that’s particularly European. In 18th-century Turin, the court of King Victor Amadeus III eschewed rosolio (a traditional rose-scented liqueur) and embraced the first commercially produced vermouth (whose defining ingredient is the Artemisia wormwood family of plants) as their daily aperitivo. This modish custom of socialising with pre-dinner drinks was widely adopted across the continent and endures to this day.

The Gin & Tonic is perhaps the world’s favourite aperitif, with good reason as it deliciously combines alcohol, bubbles, bitterness and a refreshing zest. But when it comes to the choice of aperitifs in Europe, strong regional identities remain.

In northern Italy, vermouth is still the aperitivo of choice in Turin, Piedmont’s capital; while the fashionistas of Milan, in Lombardy, prefer their native Campari. Pastis is the ‘apéro’ of Marseille, Provence; the Burgundians drink Kir (the local white wine Aligoté mixed with a little crème de cassis); and in southwest France a Pineau des Charentes is more usually proffered at a bar. Dry Sherry is widespread in southern Spain, but ask for a manzanilla in Barcelona, where they drink local vermouth (called ‘vermut’), and you’re more likely to be served a camomile tea – camomile being the plant from which manzanilla gets its name. Aquavit in Scandinavia, pálinka in Transylvania – the list goes on and on.

These days we have aperitifs at our fingertips from all over the world. You might be at a swanky restaurant or on your sofa; wherever you are, and whatever you’re drinking, the aperitif is a most civilised and civilising habit and deserves due celebration.

A DECADENT LUNCH: Champagne cocktails

Who doesn’t love a long and hedonistic lunch? While good Champagne sets a suitable tone as a sybaritic aperitif, Champagne cocktails feel even more racy, and have the advantage of papering over the cracks of more mediocre fizz.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM DECANTERView All

My top 20 South American Bordeaux blends

Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have a shared formula for fine wines, taking inspiration from the Bordeaux tradition. These wines are excelling today, thanks to increasingly refined winemaking methods and exceptional vintages

10 mins read
Decanter
April 2022

2019 revisited Bordeaux in bottle

After tasting more than 800 newly bottled 2019 wines, Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent is full of praise for the vintage’s consistent and expressive wines, with successes on both Left and Right Bank

10+ mins read
Decanter
April 2022

Southern Rhône 2020

Following on from the northern Rhône 2020 report in our last issue, we delve into the year’s southern Rhône releases, based on a tasting of more than 1,200 wines. This vintage’s wines should be quite accessible when young, and there are some particularly noteworthy whites

10+ mins read
Decanter
April 2022

South African Sauvignon Blanc 10 top producers

Sit up and take notice: South Africa is blazing a trail in the New World, making site-expressive Sauvignon Blanc. The local winemakers’ respect for their terroir has seen a growing number turning out Sauvignons that speak confidently of their origins. Here are 10 names to watch

10+ mins read
Decanter
April 2022

FIVE OF THE BEST IRISH WHISKEYS

Popular with drinkers around the world, Irish whiskey has experienced mixed fortunes in the past and the category nearly died out altogether a few decades ago.

2 mins read
Decanter
April 2022

The Algarve

Its year-round sun and dramatic coastline mean it’s already a much-loved beach holiday destination. But this southern Portuguese hotspot is upping its game, providing plenty to tempt wine lovers inland for a taste of something different

8 mins read
Decanter
April 2022

THE JUNIPER HUNTERS

A small number of British distillers are choosing native juniper rather than popular imported European options to make their gins

6 mins read
Decanter
April 2022

Judy Joo's Ultimate KFC

This spicy Korean Fried Chicken dish features in a new book celebrating female chefs on the British food scene. We’ve matched it with wine styles that can take the heat

6 mins read
Decanter
April 2022

My life as a personal wine consultant

It isn’t a job you’ll see advertised, so what does it take to become one? Right place, right time? Experience, qualifications, hard work, connections? All of those and more, it turns out

8 mins read
Decanter
April 2022

A heavy price

Making glass bottles lighter is an easy way to reduce wine's carbon emissions - yet it remains a weighty issue for the industry, with many producers yet to make changes

6 mins read
Decanter
April 2022
RELATED STORIES

It's the Bomb!

Inspired by the chocolate masters of Italy, Eric Torres-Garcia left the world of finance behind to create his own delicious confections—Cocoa Bombs.

4 mins read
Better Nutrition
December 2021

Saving Turin's Great Cultural Heritage

AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTEO ATELIER IN TURIN

10 mins read
Art Market
Issue #45, January 2020

Piedmont Paradise

Live la dolce vita in Turin with the family in tow.

4 mins read
Global Traveler
December 2019

GREEN SHOOTS

Explore this month's bounty with vibrant recipes from Esther Clark

5 mins read
BBC Good Food ME
May 2022

TEA & TREATS for MOTHER'S DAY

SET THE TABLE WITH YOUR BEST SILVER AND FRESHLY CUT FLOWERS, AND TREAT YOUR MOM TO A LOVELY AFTERNOON TEA ON MOTHER'S DAY.

7 mins read
Lose It!
Volume 42

GREEN SHOOTS

Explore this month's bounty with vibrant recipes from Esther Clark, then step out into the garden with advice on what to plant from Emma Crawforth of BBC Gardeners' World

6 mins read
BBC Good Food UK
April 2022

Locals protest flattening of hill for reservoir in Vasai village

Flattening of certain portions of a hillock to make way for a reservoir has led to protest by villagers of Kashid-Kopar in Vasai (East).

1 min read
The Times of India Mumbai
March 25, 2022

Euro hopeful says Dana is her mentor

EUROVISION hopeful Brooke Scullion has revealed a contest veteran has become her "mentor".

1 min read
Irish Daily Mirror
February 25, 2022

Future Winter Olympics under threat from rising temperatures

Rising temperatures caused by the escalating climate crisis mean future Winter Olympics will struggle to find host cities with enough snow and ice, according to a study.

2 mins read
The Guardian
January 26, 2022

Tsitsipas loses to Schwartzman as Argentina defeat Greece

WORLD No 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas crashed to defeat in his first singles match since elbow surgery Monday, losing an epic battle with feisty Argentinian Diego Schwartzman 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3 at the ATP Cup.

1 min read
The Morning Standard
January 04, 2022