Edinburgh Wine Club Tasting, Thursday 19 March 2009

Aperitifs & Digestifs


Aperitif is derived from the Latin word aperire meaning to open.  Intended to sharpen the appetite ahead of the meal wines commonly served are usually dry, white and light - Champagne, Chablis, Fino or Manzanilla Sherries.  However the style of wine can vary greatly according to locality with, for example, chilled Tawny Port a popular choice in the Douro whilst sweeter wine styles are often served as aperitifs throughout France.


Lustau Puerto Fino              £9.50

Fino sherries aged in the coastal town of Puerto de Santa Marķa tend to be lighter and more elegant than those of Jerez as the cooler climate is more conducive to the growth of flor the film of yeast under which the wine ages that provides it with its freshness.  The classic match for green olives and arguably competes with Champagne as the perfect archetype aperitif but at a fraction of the cost.

First place (26 points).


Mery Pineau des Charentes          £8.50

Pineau des Charentes is produced by adding young Cognac to unfermented grape juice.  The alcohol in the Cognac kills off the fermentation yeasts so that the sugar that would have been converted into alcohol is left making the drink naturally sweet.

Third place (16 points).


Lillet              £15

Another example of a sweet French aperitif Lillet is widely regarded as the highest quality vermouth available.  It is produced by blending white Bordeaux wine with around 15% fruit liqueurs and  then aged for 6 to 12 months in oak casks.  As with most vermouth the exact blend is a secret but includes both sweet and bitter oranges along with quinine.

Second place (21 points).




Digestifs were originally taken as an aid to digestion (hence the name) at the end of a meal often in the form of a wine based liqueur infused with bitter herbs as in the Italian Fernet Branca.  More recently the term has come to refer to any alcoholic drink taken at the end of a meal, usually darker, higher in alcohol and heavier than aperitifs for example brandy, port, whisky and sweeter styles of Madeira and Sherry.

Barbadillo Dry Oloroso      £7.99

Unlike Fino Oloroso sherry ages without a protective layer of flor and is thus exposed to oxygen throughout the many years it spends in a solera.  The result is a wine that whilst dry is very rich with flavours of nuts, dried fruits and toffee.  In Jerez dry Oloroso is sometimes served as an aperitif but the complex savoury character of the wine make it a great choice to finish a meal with.

Second place (25 points).

Fernet-Branca          £23

This Italian digestif has a base of brandy, as opposed to Lillet which is wine based, thus making it substantially higher in alcohol.  The recipe includes over 40 different herbs and spices including saffron, camomile, aloe and myrrh which gives it its characteristic bitter taste.  The large number of ingredients has led to Fernet-Branca being prescribed for a variety of ailments since it was first produced in 1845 including upset stomachs, hangovers and, allegedly, cholera.  Its promotion as a health drink was to prove useful in the USA where pharmacies were able to continue selling it during prohibition.

Poli Pinot di Poli      £27

Unlike most brandy which is distilled from wine grappa is produced by distilling the grape skins (marc) and dead yeast cells (lees) left over from wine production ­ the name is derived from the Latin grappolus meaning a bunch of grapes.  Distilling solid matter is particularly tricky as it is easy to burn the skins and taint the resulting spirit.  Poli are undoubtedly one of the finest producers and unusually use small copper stills heated by steam to give them greater control over the distillation process than the more usual method using continuous column stills.

Third place (12 points).

Mery Vielles Reserve Cognac        £35

The Mery family used to sell their Cognac to Martell but thankfully now choose to bottle it themselves.  Produced entirely from the best Cognac region Grande Fine Champagne all their Cognacs are aged well past the legal minimum requirements.  The Vielle Reserve is around 15 years old (a blend of Cognacs from 1994, 1993 and 1989) it is younger and thus fuller and fruitier than their XO but still shows the lovely nutty complexity that comes to Cognac with age.

First place (27 points).