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Monday, November 8, 2010

French Apéritifs and a Recipe for Kir

French Apéritifs and a Recipe for Kir
by Victoria Challancin

I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol.  Always have been.  Which is perhaps why I so easily embraced the idea of an apéritif early in my life when I was lucky enough to live in Paris.  While I realize that there exist civilized American-style Happy Hours, the idea of the typical US bar fare of hard-liquor cocktails served with heavy snacks just doesn’t appeal to me.  Of course, I realize that there are many options in America, that mixology is a sophisticated science, and that a margarita with nachos or buffalo wings may no longer be the norm.  Bear with me; I haven’t lived in the US in over 35 years.  But one drinking concept that I do “get” is the idea of a gentle apéritif, a light stimulant to the appetite, served before dinner with an equally light snack...that’s another matter altogether.
While the enjoyment of a pre-dinner apéritif is not unique to France, that is where I learned to enjoy that time-honored tradition of stimulating the appetite before a meal, usually dinner, with light food and drink coupled with equally stimulating conversation.  And in France, each of these, the drink, the food, and the conversation is taken to the level of Art.
Since I recently returned from Paris and am writing about all things French, I will focus in this blog on the French apéritif, or apéro, as it is fondly called.  But that is not to say that the Italians, the Spanish, the Greeks, and others don’t accomplish the same thing with their own versions of food-drink-conviviality.

In France the range of apéritifs is vast and might include cognac (though some would say the high alcohol content might actually dull the appetite), champagne, and fortified wines and liqueurs.  The last two might include vermouth, Pastis or Ricard or another anise-flavored drink, Lillet (my personal favorite), Chartreuse, and oh so many others, including regional variations.  And, of course, Kir.  Let us not forget kir.
Kir is a traditional apéritif, created in France and served all over the country--and all over the world.  It is made with chilled (very chilled, but never iced) dry white wine, often a Chablis or other White Burgundy, and a blackcurrant liqueur called crème de cassis.  The latter adds a sweet, but never cloying, touch to the dry wine, which need not be a fine wine either as the taste of the liqueur will mask the true taste of the wine
To make a kir at home: 
In France, it is generally served with proportionately more crème de cassis than I make it at home.  A typical ratio in France might be 1 to 3, or one part crème de cassis to 3 parts wine.  At home, I make it with less liqueur, but this is entirely a matter of taste.  Normally, the liqueur is poured into the glass first so that it mixes easily, followed by the well-chilled wine.  Start with a one to five ratio and go from there.  You can always add more liqueur if desired—or even more wine.  It might not be the authentic way to approach the making of this aperitif, but taste demands that you concoct exactly what most appeals to you to suit your personal preference.

My Version of Kir:  I don’t generally measure, but simply put a splash of creme de cassis in the glass and then top it with the cold wine.  But if a recipe is required with proper measurements, then here it is (this makes it s 1 to 8 ratio):
1 tablespoon crème de cassis
4 ounces of cold, dry white wine
Pour the crème de cassis into a wine glass and slowly top with the well-chilled wine. No need to stir.

Variations:  (to name but a few)
Kir Royale:  Dry champagne with crème de cassis
Kir Violette:  White wine and crème de violette, a violet-infused liqueur (this one was new to me on this trip)
Other fruit-liqueur variations might include: Kir mûre (blackberry),  peche (peach), lavande (lavender), verveine (lemon verbena herb), fraise (strawberry), myrte (myrtle) and so on.  .

Kir Bourgogne:  Red wine with crème de cassis (I’ve also seen this called a Communard Cocktail or Kir Cardinal)
Kir Imperial:  White wine with raspberry liqueur (often Chambord), sometimes simply called Kir Framboise (or à la framboise)
Kir Pétillant:  made with a sparkling white wine, not champagne
Kir Breton or Kir Normand:  Sparkling cider from either Britanny or Normandy with crème de cassis
Kir Poire:  (I actually made one of these on the flight from Mexico to France by adding a small bottle of Poire William--a pear eau de vie-- to my pre-dinner white wine)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My favorite aperitif!