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.
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.
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.
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.