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June 28, 2024updated 17 Jul 2024 2:43pm

The best aperitif and food pairings

Sophie Thynne delves into the world of aperitif and food pairings - the perfect pre-dinner couple.

By Sophie Thynne

The aperitif is the staple of any good dinner party. While it might seem like a mere opening act – indeed, the word “aperitif” comes from the Latin aperire, “to open” – the aperitif holds its own in importance. An aperitif is both the celebration of the end of the long working day and the anticipation of the meal to come. A perfect moment in between to relax, enjoy, savor. Think of the leisurely Italian aperitivo hour – a cultural ritual that has taken the rest of the world by storm.

An important role of the aperitif is to prepare the palate for dinner. The best food pairing (an aperitif dinatoire) can bring out the flavors of an evening drink in perfect harmony. To help you make the best choice, here’s a list of tasteful aperitifs and their tasty pairings.

What food to pair with Lillet Blanc?

An aromatized wine, Lillet Blanc is a beautiful blend of French white wines and selected fruit liqueurs that are then aged in oak vats. Served chilled, the result is heavenly – a light, white wine-based aperitif that has subtle citrus and herbal notes.

The dry finish of Lillet calls for a food pairing that holds the crisp, reviving flavors that we associate with summer. Pair Lillet with light salads – watermelon and feta, grilled chicken, zucchini, and goats cheese, a light vinaigrette – which complement nicely the acidity and sweetness of the aperitif.

What food to pair with a Negroni?

The Negroni remains a classic choice for aperitivo hour. The bitter Italian drink is a perfectly balanced mix of dry gin, sweet red vermouth wine, and sharp Campari liqueur. This makes for a stimulating interplay of flavors – the subtle body of the gin, herbal sweetness of the aromatized vermouth, and bitter balance of the Campari certainly refresh the taste buds.

Food pairings need to match the vigor of the Negroni. Strong, robust flavors should stand their ground – salt is nearly a necessity in any Negroni pairing. Consider Sicilian Nocellara olives, salted almonds, or classic seafood choices. Perhaps even a garlicky, tomato bruschetta, to remain true to a Florentine theme.

What food to pair with a Hugo Spritz?

While the popular choice for a prosecco-based aperitif has long been the Aperol Spritz, its fellow Italian cousin—the Hugo—is notable. Rather than the slightly bitter Aperol, the Hugo is made with a gentle elderflower cordial (typically St. Germain liqueur). This floral base allows the naturally citrusy notes of prosecco to come to the foreground, with a pleasant, mint finish. A dry prosecco—light in body and less complex—is ideal.

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Light foods best complement the citrusy notes of the aperitif. Cold meats – prosciutto and pancetta – are recommended for a savory pairing. Or, for a sweeter touch, embrace the simplicity of an aperitif with charred peach panzanella.

What food to pair with Champagne?

A glass of fizz is a perfect pre-dinner choice. The acidity of the sparkling wine arouses the taste buds and wets the appetite – Champagne undoubtedly sets the mood for a delightful meal to follow.

Foods to serve with Champagne should be light, not too sweet, and not too greasy. The acidity of the wine accentuates the salty flavors of seafood best – smoked salmon canapes, seared scallops, or even a light lobster or crab puff are recommended. Even sashimi and a salty soy sauce dip dances well with Champagne.

What food to pair with Madeira?

Finally, Madeira. Perhaps an unusual choice, Madeira is best known for its role as a slightly old-fashioned, post-dinner digestif. But dry varieties of the Portuguese wine – Sercial is best, and then the slightly sweeter Verdehlo – work well as aperitifs. As Richard Mayson, author of The Essential Guide to Modern Madeira, explains, “Heat and air, the enemies for most winemakers, make friends with Madeira and combine with the naturally high acidity from the grapes to produce something that is seemingly out of this world.”

The powerful acidity of Madeira cuts through fat in a way that is almost unmatched. This makes Madeira the perfect companion to a charcuterie board. Cured meats – such as salami, prosciutto, and guanciale – or rich cheeses (typically blue) pair beautifully.

Read more: The best sherry and food pairings

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