The best traditions are those that involve a measure of self-indulgence. Hence the enduring popularity of the Quebec ritual of cinq à sept, the couple of hours between the end of the working day and dinner when one can relax, maybe meet up with a friend, have a drink and a little something to eat and enjoy a good conversation. If you work in an office, this probably takes place in a café or bar. But if you work from home, as Food & Drink Senior Editor, James Chatto and his wife do, it’s easier just to rendezvous in the kitchen. There they put together a small snack, pour themselves a glass of wine or some other aperitif and start to unwind. It’s a highlight of their day. Here, as both illustration and inspiration, are a few of James' ideas for creating just such a domestic cinq à sept, with four simple but delicious recipes matched to some favourite drinks.
The world can be divided into people who are loyal to one or two wines and people who love to try new ones at every opportunity. My wife is a loyalist and a big fan of this sharp, clean-cut, unoaked Assyrtiko. I’m a seeker of curiosities, always happy to welcome aromatic anomalies like Flat Rock’s intriguing blend. The two whites are so different but both work with this recipe, the Niagara wine providing a complementary richness and a swirl of ripe fruity flavours that pick up the nuts and the pimento, the Greek one cutting through everything like a surgeon’s knife.
The windswept, almost barren volcanic vineyards of Santorini pack so much minerality into this dry, crisp and complex wine it almost tastes salty. Assyrtiko is such a fashionable variety!
This luscious, medium-sweet blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay offers pineapple and citrus aromas and still has enough acidity to keep things fresh and lively.
In southern Europe, during the heat of summer, a chilled dry rosé is very often the aperitif wine of choice. It tends to be charming rather than challenging, refreshing but not sharp, fragrant and fruity, not burdened with oak. It is also surprisingly versatile when it comes to food matches, an easygoing companion to all sorts of summertime dishes from Spanish tapas to Greek mezethes. Not to mention potato chips and a sleek French onion dip. Ontario produces some excellent dry rosés and as our own summers become increasingly hot and sticky, their cool, clean qualities seem all the more welcome.
Here’s a delicate, sophisticated dry rosé from Niagara made from Gamay, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Look for subtle aromas and flavours of cranberry, strawberry and grapefruit.
Medium-bodied and packed with cherry and red berry flavour, this rosé is a real people-pleaser. There’s just enough acidity behind all that fruit to keep everything buoyant.
What is vermouth? It starts out as wine, is then fortified with spirits, maybe sweetened, and finally gets infused and aged with umpteen herbs, spices, fruits and other bitter botanicals. Good vermouth is like an incredibly complicated, ready-made cocktail and should be treated with great respect and affection, not relegated to the back of your drinks cupboard. Between cinq and sept it becomes an aperitif you can rely on, richer and more potent than wine, more manageable than a cocktail. They say every wine tells a story — vermouth has a wealth of dark, fruity, herbal anecdotes on the tip of its tongue.
Never mind a Martini, a glass of dry white vermouth is a fine and subtle thing on its own, served on the rocks. Complex, citrusy herbal aromas are a perfect pairing for green olives.
Intensely bittersweet with vanilla peeping out from the judiciously balanced botanicals, this is a splendid Ontario red vermouth. Serve it cold with a very small splash of soda to match the olives.
All the drinks we’ve discussed so far are aperitifs, but this page is reserved for concoctions that were deliberately created for the cinq-à-sept, pre-dinner moment. It’s a long and very varied list that starts where vermouth leaves off, veers into bitters like Pernod or Campari, then into fruit-and-spirit concoctions such as Alizé or Pimms… Here are two — one old, one new — that go delectably well with these fancy cheese straws. French boulevardiers were enthusing about Lillet even before the Duchess of Windsor made it fashionable in the 1930s; Capo Capo is Canada’s answer to Aperol.
Less intense than Campari, more interesting than Aperol, this scarlet aperitivo is perfect for a spritzer. Mix 2 parts with 3 parts brut sparkling wine and a splash of soda.
From Bordeaux, Lillet is a classic “aromatized wine” made by barrel-ageing Semillon with various orange liqueurs. Medium sweet, it should be served very cold, with or without ice.