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Posted: Thursday April 12, 2012, 11:05 AM
By Susan Leigh Sherrill of The Record

In Europe, evenings often begin with an aperitif ("aperitivo" in Italian), a category of before-dinner drinks that's winning new fans here.

The word comes from the Latin apertitiuvum, meaning "opener," and while any alcoholic beverage – a glass of champagne, a gin and tonic – can be an aperitif, the term generally refers to a distinctive group of spirits that includes vermouth and sherry, in addition to less-sweet examples like Campari.

Aperitifs differ from traditional American cocktails because their dry/bitter flavors are said to stimulate the appetite. Most have a relatively low alcohol content – 16 to 25 percent, compared with hard alcohol's average of 40 percent – another reason that aperitifs are a sensible pre-prandial sipper.

Here are four that are easy to enjoy and widely available. On their own, they should be served cold, over ice or straight up, with an orange or lemon twist. They are also tasty with a splash of club soda.


Sweeter than some aperitivos, with a distinct bitter-orange flavor. Also contains rhubarb and gentian root.

Country of origin: Italy

Alcohol by volume: 11 percent

Cocktail: Aperol spritz. Combine 2 ounces Aperol and 3 ounces prosecco over ice in a tall glass. Top with a splash of club soda and garnish with an orange slice.



Produced in Bordeaux, of 85 percent wine and 15 percent citrus liqueurs, Lillet is aged in oak and is reminiscent of Sauternes. It has a flowery, fruity flavor that is not too sweet.

Country of origin: France

ABV: 17 percent

Cocktail: Great Secret. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, place 1 3/4 ounces gin, 3/4 ounce Lillet and a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.



Spicy, astringent and bitter on its own, Campari's underlying fruit flavors come to the front when it is mixed with soda or in a cocktail.

Country of origin: Italy

ABV: 25 percent

Cocktail: Negroni. Combine 1 1/2 ounces Campari, 1 1/2 ounces gin and 1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth in an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a slice of orange.



Made from Moscato di Asti wine, fortified with brandy and flavored with chichona bark (an original source of quinine), citrus and herbs. Dry and complex, it's similar to Lillet but the bitter flavors are more pronounced.

Country of origin: Italy

ABV: 16.5 percent

Cocktail: Vesper. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, place 3 ounces gin, 1 ounce vodka and 1/2 ounce Cocchi Americano. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

Wine columnist Joe Iurato is on vacation and will return next week. To reach Susan Leigh Sherrill, email sherrill@northjersey.com.

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