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Think before you drink before you eat

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Lillet Rose - perfect aperitif
Lillet Rose - perfect aperitif

    I hate seeing someone order a glass of white wine as an aperitif. Ordinary table wine was not invented to be drunk on its own. Unless it's being used for kiddush, its purpose is to accompany food.
    Drinking table wine as an aperitif reflects a misunderstanding of aperitifs, which are meant to be a small drink that stimulates the palate and whets the appetite. A standard 175ml measure of wine is simply too much. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
    So, what's right? Leaving aside the big, beautiful world of cocktails, the received wisdom holds that there are two perfect aperitifs. One is a glass of fizz, especially champagne. The other is dry sherry, fino or manzanilla. In this case, the received wisdom truly is wise.
    But there are alternatives. The French have all manner of wine-based aperitifs, and my favourite by far is Lillet, made in Bordeaux by adding fruit liqueurs to a wine base, then ageing it in wood. Lillet Blanc is best known; Lillet Rouge is sweeter, and better in winter; a new one, Lillet Rosé, straddles the seasons comfortably. Find the Blanc at discerning outlets such as www.thedrinkshop.com or Lillet Rose for around £20 just at Harvey Nichols, Nicolas stores, and a select group of Majestic Wine warehouses. I urge you to seek it out.
    Sherry aficionados should try to get hold of the limited-production Tio Pepe En Rama, bottled without filtration. It's stocked by a select band of merch-ants: Berry Bros & Rudd, Jeroboams, Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nicks, The Wine Society, Adnams, and Lea & Sandeman. Around £14 for a full 75cl bottle.
    Several good producers of fino and manzanilla include Barbadillo, Hidalgo and Lustau. Try the Solear Manzanilla from Barbadillo (Waitrose, £5.49/37.5cl), a particularly nutty, fresh example.
    My third bottle, just to prove that I'm not pathologically inflexible, is a table wine with a difference: Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2010. Vinho Verde has a little CO² fizz, and generous acidity, that really get the palate in gear. And it's low in alcohol (11.5 per cent) so it won't knock you out before the food arrives. You can get it for £6.49 when you buy two bottles at Majestic. And you'll want two bottles, believe me. One before dinner and one during. Assuming there are a few of you, that is.

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