Lillet (pronounced li’le) is a wine-based apertif from France. Consider it the French pre-game to a nice meal. Lillet was first created in 1887 by two brothers, Paul and Raymond Lillet, in Podensac, France, where it is still produced today. Podensac lies just south of the world-renowned wine region of Bordeaux, which is important to note because 85 percent of Lillet is comprised of Bordeaux wines.
Lillet is classified as an aromatised wine under EU law. This simply means that the base used to make the apertif is fortified wine that’s been flavored with fruits or herbs. When making Lillet Blanc or Lillet Rosé (two different varieties of Lillet), Sémillon is used for the base. Sémillon, not to be confused with sommelier (a trained wine steward), is the golden-skinned grape used to create the wine. A third variety, Lillet Rouge, differs from the Blanc and Rosé varieties because Merlot is used instead of Sémillon.
Remember how we said only 85 percent of Lillet is made from Bordeaux wines? Well, the other 15 percent of Lillet consists of macerated liqueurs. Never heard of macerated liqueurs? They’re dried fruit soaked in liquid, like wine. Lillet typically uses citrus macerated liqueurs made from orange peels and Cinchona bark from Peru. The peels and bark add a subtle bitterness to the drink. After combining the Bordeaux wine and the liqueur, the Lillet is blended in oak barrels and aged like a typical Bordeaux wine.
Because of the added macerated liqueur, Lillet typically has an alcohol content of around 17 percent. So, we wouldn’t recommend treating it like your average glass of vino. Lillet is actually super versatile and can be consumed in a number of ways.
Personally, we enjoy it by itself over ice, garnished with an orange slice, mint leaf or sprig of basil. For an edgier Lillet cocktail, look to James Bond’s drink of choice, the Vesper. You may know of another fun Champagne cocktail made with Lillet and grenadine, the Creole Resolution. The Sweet Basil, another one of our summer favorites, is made by combining basil, gin and Lillet.
However you choose to sip it, consider Lillet your new pre-dinner go-to. Enjoy with friends, enjoy with food or enjoy solo and pretend you’re the next 007.