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Tasting Notes – Lillet Blanc

Submitted by on February 10, 2011 – 8:03 amNo Comment

Sometimes the fun in managing a home bar lay in the discovery of something once known and looking to be re-discovered. This excitement goes to yet another level when, after that discovery has entered a portion of the zeitgeist, you are able to find even more to celebrate in that discovery than anyone else had taken the time to know. Lillet Blanc is one of those fun discoveries.

 Tasting Notes – Lillet Blanc

Photo by MixPourSip

Lillet Blanc, like Lillet Rouge (it’s red cousin), hails from Podensac, Bordeaux, France where it has been bottled since 1887. It originally contained higher levels of quinine, similar to tonic water, which is obtained from the Kina-Kina tree and which also lent to the bottles’ original name: Kina Lillet. Fans of the James Bond series of novels by Ian Flemming are familiar with Kina Lillet as it was specified in the famous fictional spy’s libation of choice: the Vesper, a cocktail which contained gin, vodka and Kina Lillet. The Kina-Kina content, while also protecting against malaria, gave both the Vesper and the aperitif a slight medicinal quality. It was for this reason that the Kina-Kina was dropped from the process in the 1980′s making it nearly impossible to truly taste a Vesper as Bond intended. That is, unless you find someone with an old bottle laying around. As a side note, the Lillet web site does say that bark from the Cinchona tree, which is very similar to the Kina Kina, is currently being used in the production of Lillet Blanc.

Lillet is made from sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes, along with citrus peel infused brandies and other various herbs, roots and barks. On the nose, Lillet offers kiwi, tangerine, grape and a little banana. On the tongue, I find Lillet gives off ripe fruit, kiwi, raisin and pear all wrapped up in an herbal velvety and slightly bitter warmth. It is much more than white wine.  I prefer it  served in the traditional manner in a Bordeaux glass over ice with a slice of orange peel especially on warm Summer days or with a dinner of white fleshed fish such as halibut or cod.

It is as a mixer that Lillet Blanc truly shines.  Known for the aforementioned Vesper, it is also called for in many versions of the Corpse Reviver and certainly in the Lillet Cocktail, which I enjoy and which makes a more than capable stand in for the dry vermouth in a Reverse Martini recipe.  However, due to Lillet Blancs’ honey, orange and floral notes, I believe it excels as a mixer with whiskey, especially rye and scotch as I find it softens them slightly to fully round them out.  Try the venerable Rusty Nail with Lillet Blanc replacing the Drambuie and the drink becomes less sweet without loosing its floral characteristics.  My favorite, however, is the Stargazer Cocktail recipe where the Lillet is paired 1 to 1 with rye, although I’ve found it works well with bourbon as well.

I strongly encourage the addition of Lillet Blanc to your bar.  Keep it in your refrigerator and drink it neat, over ice with an orange peel, or see what you come up with mixing it at the bar.  You will find, I’m sure that you will come back to it again and again.


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