The results of our latest poll showed an overwhelming preference for champagne or other sparkling wine over any other aperitif - the ultra-sophisticated dry martini or refreshing gin and tonic barely registering. But it’s worth thinking of a few other possibilities to kick your evening off.
An aperitif’s role is to stimulate the appetite for the meal ahead - the word derives from the Latin verb aperire ‘to open’. It’s job is to tickle or refresh rather than bludgeon the palate which is why dry white wines or sparkling wines are the most popular option.
It should also fulfil the task of making your guests feel relaxed and pampered - gratified that you’ve taken the trouble to find something they’ll enjoy. But exactly what that amounts to takes is going to vary for different guests . . .
Friends and family
Friends and family love you. They don’t need to be impressed. But they’re flattered (as anyone would be) if you remember the pinot grigio they enjoyed at that Italian restaurant you went to a couple of months ago or bring out the last bottle of that lovely wine you all enjoyed on holiday together. Keep it simple - a nice unoaked chardonnay, a good sauvignon blanc or (if they’re ardent Francophiles) a kir, a dash of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped up with inexpensive white burgundy.
Need to impress
Unlike when you’re dealing with the much travelled foodie or wine buff below, play it safe and stick to something they’ve heard of: a familiar champagne (Laurent Perrier or Veuve Clicquot, for example), a Chablis, Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé or an iconic New World white like Cloudy Bay. (Never mind that there are arguably better New Zealand Sauvignons, you’ll get brownie points for having managed to get hold of some at all) A lush white Bordeaux (Graves or Pessac Lognan) also goes down well.
With the man - or woman - about town there’s a sort of reverse snobbery at work. Don’t go for the obvious so make it Italian prosecco rather than champagne, possibly made into a fresh fruit bellini. Other good options: tangy, well chilled manzanilla (a number of you were on the spot with your votes there!) served with authentic Spanish Marcona almonds; a refreshing German or Australian Clare Valley riesling or current restaurant favourites Grner Veltliner or Albarino (from Austria and Spain respectively) Anything, in short, that shows you have similar good taste to theirs
What not to serve
* Nothing too old
Not everyone likes the complex, sometimes funky flavours of mature white wines so, even if you have one ardent riesling-lover in the party, stick to whites that are young, crisp and fresh
* Nothing too oaky
Full bodied, barrel-aged whites need food just as much as full bodied reds do so are not the best way to kick off an evening.
* Nothing too commercial
Even friends won’t be flattered by the 3 for the price of 2 bargain you’ve picked up in the local supermarket. (They’ve probably bought it too and are sick of it already)