2009 Texas Sommelier Conference in Dallas: Aperitifs

Notes and quotes from the Aperitifs seminar, by Andrew Chalk.

Aperitifs are not widely drunk in Dallas. Brian Cronin, a Master Sommelier with a passion for aperitifs, would like to change that. At the Texas Sommelier Conference he spoke about the variety of forms that this little known drinks category can take from (usually fortified) wine, through herbal infusions of spirits to secret proprietary concoctions.

We tasted seven examples. Below are my hastily constructed notes mainly written in real time as the tasting progressed. Overall, the tasting was very instructive and I would recommend trying some of these before a meal in the near future.

1) Tio Pepe Sherry. Classic dry sherry. Nutty in the nose. Sweet in the mouse with hints of oranges. This can be served with nuts before the meal or with shellfish during it. Lots of opportunities to cook with sherry. Some top chefs, e.g. Heston Blumenthal and Garry Danko are exploring sherry as a flavor ingredient to cooking.
2) Hidalgo Manzanilla “La Gitana”. Manzanilla comes from Sanlucar de Barrameda, about 25 miles from the home of sherry in Jerez. A wonderful seafront town uninfested by tourists most of the year. Manzanilla is similar to fino sherry but the producers proudly assert that it is Manzanilla and not a type of sherry.
This example is lighter than the Tio Pepe. The nose is fainter and the taste has a slight saltiness .
3) Pimm’s No. 1. The ‘cocktail of summer’ in the UK (they have a summer?) but virtually unheard of here. Pimm’s is a blend of Gin and Vermouth so it is no surprise to detect the faint smell of gin in the nose. The taste was a herbal infusion of gin and, if it is not to your taste, be aware that it is not drunk straight in the UK. Rather, it is used as the base for cocktails. We tried “RN 74 Pimms” which adds ginger (and is VERY ginger). Not to my taste, but Google “Pimm’s Cocktails” and a slew of suggestions will follow.
4) Coeur de Lion, Pommeau de Normandie. A wonderful French invention from the northern Normandy region made from Cider and apple brandy (Calvados). The nose is very ripe (e.g. brown) apples. The taste has a slight fruit tartness that prevented the cloying syndrome sometimes present in sweet drinks and those apples again.
5) Gason Rivière, Pineau de Charantes. Same general approach as the previous example. In this case the area of origin is the same as Cognac so the spirit base is cognac and the fruit originates from grape must. Much sweeter than the Pommeau. Hints of Cognac and honey (!) in the nose and oranges in the taste.
6) Punt E Mas. Italy’s proof that you can sell medicine in a bar. Like those exotic Italian digestivos. One glass can last all night. Sweet concentrated oranges in the mouth.
7)  Campari, Italy. One of the best known aperitifs in the US and one of the few that has something approaching a mass market. Iridescent red color (don’t serve on a visit to Chernobyl). Vibrant fruit and herbal flavors. Most people prefer it blended with something else (e.g soda).


  • Twinwillow

    Thank you, Mr. Chalk. An excellent and varied selection of Sherry’s. I’m well familiar with some and anxious to try the ones I’ve not had before.
    I feel enlightened.