JWM MAGAZINE 42 JWMARRIOTT.COM
f someone offered you an apéritif,
you’d almost certainly say yes. Nothing
could sound more refreshing, or more
sophisticated. Even as you accepted
the chilly glass, though, you might be
tempted to ask: What is an apéritif?
The answer might be a fortified wine
or a bitter liqueur. It’s also both a hot
cocktail trend and a cultural anchor that
remains an important part of eating
and drinking in France and Italy.
“It’s so much in the culture here. The moment you
sit, something comes to your table,” says Director of
Restaurants and Bars Marc Mata, of the JW Marriott
Venice Resort & Spa. “And it’s been passed down
from generations, because your granddad was the one
making the amaro. He had that five-liter jar steeping.”
Both apéritif and the Italian aperitivo are derived
from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open.”
The idea is that these quenching libations open the
palate for the meal. But you can expand the concept to
think of apéritifs as social facilitators. Traditionally,
they were an excuse to linger with neighbors or relatives
while a pot bubbled on a stovetop in Asti or Avignon.
An apéritif isn’t simply a late-afternoon tipple. It’s
a signal to the world that you are about to engage
in the unhurried, meaningful event of dinner. As the
author Paul Morand wrote, “The apéritif, it is the
evening prayer of the French.”
The hard part is pinning down the category. Defined
broadly, an apéritif can be a glass of white wine or
Champagne, or a lighter sherry such as Fino—anything
to get the palate activated. Usually, though, what we
call apéritifs are fortified wines or neutral spirits
infused with herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables or roots.
That still ignores the distinction between apéritifs
and digestifs, which are traditionally polished off after
a meal and, as the name implies, are believed to aid
digestion. Compared to the digestivo, the aperitivo is
less sweet (because sugar dulls the appetite), less
boozy (because alcohol deadens the taste buds) and
generally lighter in composition.
Certainly, many classic apéritifs are familiar. Start
with vermouth: It’s best known to cocktail aficionados
as an accompaniment to gin in a classic martini or
to bourbon in a Manhattan, but vermouth also stands
on its own quite proudly, either chilled or on the
rocks. The top-selling brands, like Noilly Prat, Martini
& Rossi and Cinzano, are offered in two incarnations:
white, which is drier and flavored with wormwood;
and red, sweeter and tinted with absinthe. Both
Campari, that bitter but interesting friend, is
another standby. It’s rumored to include rhubarb and
ginseng, but we’ll probably never know, because
since Gaspare Campari invented it in 1860 the recipe
has been almost as closely guarded as Coca-Cola’s.
A Campari and soda, dunked with a wedge of lime,
remains a wonderful thing.
IBitter and herbal infusions, like the flavors of Aperol and Campari, are among the most
popular for apéritifs.