For years Lillet Blanc had been a bit of a mystery. It was a standard member of other people’s wine racks, but I hadn’t a clue why. Was it a holdover from another era, no longer relevant in modern times? Mais non! Apparently James Bond knew something I didn’t when he famously called for this golden beauty to create the “vesper” martini in Casino Royale.
Turns out this seductive wine has enjoyed many worthy incarnations as both an aperitif to stimulate the palate before a meal and a restorative to reinvigorate the morning after (see Corpse Reviver No. 2 in any bartender’s guide). Heureusement, Lillet is now experiencing a bit of its own retro-chic revival.
Made of 85 percent white wine fortified with 15 percent orange liquor, Lillet Blanc was invented in 1872 in Podensac, just south of Bordeaux. The oranges are sourced from former French colonies like Morocco, Tunisia and Haiti. On the nose the wine triggers thoughts of candied orange peel, apricot and rosemary, while the palate is a combination of sweet earthiness with a touch of quinine bitterness. The whole impression is rather sophisticated, not unlike a young Sauternes.
At the casino with 007 or at home on the back porch, you may well enjoy Lillet as an alternative to an ordinary glass of wine before dinner. Try serving it over ice with either a slice of orange or a fresh sprig of mint. It can be shaken or stirred.
Editor’s note: Lillet can be purchased at nearly every liquor store across the country and beyond.