Harshal Shah, owner of Pembroke Wines, selects his favourite wines and serving suggestions for apéro time …
In Ireland, we seem to be missing a wine-themed ritual around the European tradition of the apéritif. The French, Italians and Spanish seem to have the “apéro” down to an art, interspersing pre-dinner drinks with delicious yet simple snacks, marking a casual occasion. These are cultures where liqueurs (such as Dubonnet in France), or cocktails (the ubiquitous ‘spritz’ in Italy – a bittersweet, herb-infused liqueur such as Campari or Aperol, boosted with soda water over ice) are enjoyed with nibbles. It is usually light wines – dry or off-dry – sometimes chilled, that are drunk proving a wonderful entrée to the rest of the evening.
Apéritifs serve the purpose of stimulating or opening the appetite. (The word is derived from the Latin aperire meaning “to open”). The Spanish arguably have the best type of dishes to accompany their apéritifs. Pintxos (or tapas) are bite-sized morsels that are typically salty and moreish. The flavours are unusually complex and savoury, which make them the perfect foil to the freshness of the wines.
Two favourite dishes to enjoy over an apéritif are jamon Iberico, the luxurious cured ham produced from acorn-fed pata negra pigs native to Spain, and the gilda, a traditional Basque finger-food that is a skewered anchovy, olive and pickled chilli pepper, all enjoyed in one mouthful. For a little bit of luxury, a spoonful of caviar on a blini never goes awry. Or simply try high-quality potato crisps, or even just a chunk of parmigiano cheese. It doesn’t have to be fancy: the idea is to keep it nonchalant and easy. Here are five wines that I consider ideal apéritifs:
Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, non-vintage
The big sister of this wine – Champagne Salon – can sell for upwards of €400 per bottle. This is a much more accessible entry to the Champagne house. There’s lemony freshness married to a subtle brioche, apple-custard feel. Refreshing and dry, this is a wine that is hard to stop sipping. About €65 from Deveney’s, Dundrum; On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Clontarf Wines, Clontarf; Mitchell & Son, nationally and online.
Bourgogne Aligoté, Frédéric Le Prince, 2019
Aligoté is the “other” white grape of Burgundy but is fast becoming a star in its own right alongside the more traditional Chardonnay. Aligoté should never be expensive, and always consumed young. It’s easy to understand why this wine works. Fresh, light, crisp and dry, there are notes of citrus and sweet herbs like dill and basil. All very subtle and all very delicious, from a superb year for white wine in Burgundy. About €22 at Pembroke Wines at Roly’s Bistro, Dublin 4.
Pouilly-Fumé, de Ladoucette, 2019
A global standard in Sauvignon Blanc, this is a very classy dry white that has classic flavours of cut-grass, gooseberry and touch of citrus and white flowers. About €34 at James Redmond & Sons, Ranelagh; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Morgans Wine Merchants, Ballsbridge.
White Port, Niepoort non-vintage
An unusual choice in this part of the world, but widely enjoyed in Portugal, served chilled. Lately, the trend has been to mix it with tonic and apply an array of garnishes from a slice of citrus fruit, to mint and lemongrass. This is a quirky, refreshing and aromatic twist on the Italian spritz, and is quite redolent of Mediterranean summers, especially when sipped out of a tall glass, through a straw. About €23 at Cafe Rua, Castlebar; Wicklow Wine Company, Wicklow; Cass & Co, Dungarvan; Wine Upstairs, Dublin 2 and in many independent off-licences.
M de Minuty, Rosé 2020
A well-recognised Provence rosé that ticks all the boxes as an aperitif: it is light-bodied, dry and very refreshing. There’s a hint of white peach aroma and a wonderful delicate grip on the palate, making it perfect to sip alongside anything salty, great packaging too! About €26 at Basil Market, Cork; The Winehouse, Trim; Carry-Out, Killarney; Gibney’s, Malahide; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown and in most independent off-licences.