An aperitif is a simple, dry drink served before dinner to stimulate the appetite. An aperitif can be a wine such as Chablis, a liqueur like Campari, or a basic cocktail (Negronis and Martinis are common choices).
It’s hard to believe that anyone needs to have their appetite jump-started when facing down a mouthwatering holiday feast. However, if an aperitif is on your menu this year — either to up the class or prepare to get down with dinner — why not drink like a pro? We asked 12 sommeliers to suggest some aperitifs, both common and atypical, to enjoy during the holidays.
The Best Aperitifs for the Holiday Season
- Domaine Franck Besson “Dentelle” Blanc de Noirs Brut 2016
- Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé Champagne
- Cappellano Barolo Chinato
- Pierre Ferrand Pineau des Charentes
- St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- Nicolas Feuillatte Brut
- Poli Distillery Grappa
- Jungle Bird Milk Punch
- Road to Provence
- Neversink Spirits Gin
- T.W. Hollister & Co. Oso de Oro Dry Vermouth
- Lustau’s Vermut Blanco
Keep reading for details about all the recommended apertifs!
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“From his humble home in Jullié, Franck [Besson] and his wife hand-riddle each bottle of Domaine Franck Besson “Dentelle” Blanc de Noirs, made with 100 percent Gamay. Dentelle means lace in French, which can be seen in the lace detail on the bottle and felt in the fine lacy bubbles this sparkling Gamay produces. Bright, light, and festive, with subtle pear hints, minerality from the granite soil, melon, and honey. This is my go-to aperitif wine because it is fresh, subtle, and remains inexpensive. I typically buy this a case at a time!” —Chevonne Ball, sommelier, Portland, Ore.
“Rosé Champagne makes everything more festive. Veuve Clicquot opens with beautiful aromatics of red fruit, raspberry, and cherry, while showing a delicate salmon color. On the palate, it’s rich and round, medium-bodied, with an elegant, long finish. And what’s so great about Champagne is that it complements so many types of food.” —Mark Rink, sommelier, Fat Ox, Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I’ll be thoroughly enjoying some fireside Cappellano Barolo Chinato in Flagstaff this holiday season. It’s the perfect post-snowboarding and pre-dinner winter warmer.” —Brent Karlicek, sommelier, Postino Wine Cafe, Phoenix
“I love to introduce my guests to Pineau des Charentes, because most people are totally unfamiliar with it, and everyone is blown away by how delicious it is. It’s a very pleasant aperitif — especially if dinner starts with a lovely selection of cheeses — because it has a touch of sweetness without being cloying or heavy. It has a bright, citrusy acidity that elevates rich flavors and textures and the slightly elevated level of alcohol stimulates the appetite. The notes of hazelnut, toffee, caramel, and vanilla complement nutty spice notes in food, and this is also a magical dessert pairing with a wide range of sweet and salty pastry concoctions. It’s also an incredible companion to heat.” —Cara De Lavallade, sommelier, Enchantment Resort, Sedona, Ariz.
“The very first time I had a cocktail made with St-Germain, I immediately fell in love with this aromatic liqueur. The aromas remind me of the scents of pine tree, honey, and baking spices, which are highly associated with holidays. I love to immerse myself in these aromas, bask in the holiday spirits, and, even if it has been a tough year, just enjoy the moment for a bit. I love to use Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut to make this cocktail, since it’s affordable, with great quality and consistency.” —Joyce Lin, sommelier, NYC
“Chartreuse is my favorite beverage that isn’t wine. It’s basically a botanical liqueur, distilled with 134 alpine herbs, flowers, and spices. It has a crazy history dating back centuries, and only two people at a time know the actual recipe. There are two main kinds: a mellower, slightly sweeter yellow bottling, and a stronger, more exotic green, which is the more famous of the two. The green one is understandably perfect for Christmastime.” —Matthew Luczy, sommelier, Los Angeles
“Grappa from Poli is my go-to spirit in winter. It’s a family-owned distillery in Veneto, started in 1898. It has a delicate palate of mint and rose, and yet a real rustic, long finish. I love it on its own, or a great secret I learned is to fill your finished espresso cup with it. It creates this espresso-washed grappa taste that warms you right up.” —Alex Augustine, Aba, Chicago
“Recently, I made a batch of Jungle Bird Milk Punch, which tastes like a tropical holiday in a glass. Filled with dark rum, pineapple juice, Campari, and lime stirred slowly with milk, the result is a crystal clear, deliciously smooth summer-in-winter cocktail.” —Dominika Perkowska, sommelier, Highway Restaurant & Bar, East Hampton, N.Y.
“In my Road to Provence cocktail, I wanted to create something both savory and refreshing that reflected the French influence of our menu. This cocktail has gin, cucumber water, lime, and herbes de Provence simple syrup. The herbs de Provence gives the cocktail a surprisingly positive flavor profile on the palate — especially the lavender flavor.” —Brian Zipin, sommelier, 1789 Restaurant & Bar, Washington, D.C.
“The Neversink Tea Party is a cocktail for two, made with Neversink Gin and served hot in a tea kettle. It’s both a literal tea party and an ironic reference to the historical event, because what would be the point of throwing the tea in the harbor if it never sank? It’s a great seasonal warming aperitif, where the apple-based gin harmonizes with fresh apple cider, which, in turn, harmonizes with the spice of Ragtime Rye and the fragrance of hibiscus blossom.” —Jared Fischer, sommelier, Hutong, NYC
“I recommend T.W. Hollister & Co. Oso de Oro Dry Vermouth with a splash of Topo Chico sparkling water and a twist of lemon. I like to recommend cocktails during the holidays that aren’t full of calories, too rich and sweet, and lower in alcohol. With so many parties and social functions, a drink like this is still festive; however, without whatever hangover may ensue (unless you drink the entire bottle).” —Jenny Benzie, sommelier, Épernay Wine & Spirits, Nantucket, Mass.
“Do you like sherry? Do you like vermouth? Lustau’s Vermut Blanco bridges the gap between the two. It’s made with fino sherry and Moscatel for a fresh, citrusy, slightly nutty profile with great acidity, so it’s perfect for a sipper before dinner. It’s low-ABV enough to enjoy a few — just add ice and an orange peel.” —Rick Arline, sommelier, Fellow Traveler, Los Angeles