The Art of the Apéritif--Or Why Potato Chips Taste Better in France

Lillet Photo by Jonny Ho via Flickr. See his photostream at

In my previous posting, I mentioned five ways to live like the French…no matter where you live, and promised to expound a bit on each in subsequent postings.

Top on the list of great French lifestyle choices is to kick the evening off with an apéritif.

What’s an Apéritif?
The aperitif is a lightly alcoholic drink enjoyed before a meal. The French believe that this little pre-dinner drink helps stimulate the appetite, and while this may be true, I think more than anything it simply readies the spirit for the joys to come.

Whether at home or in a restaurant, in America or in France, the apéritif has a way of making everything that came before it (whether a day’s work or a day’s drive on the autoroute) slip away.

Yes, there’s also a little lift from the alcohol, but the apéritif is usually not a high-proof drink; even when it is, it is not served in head-spinning portions. In fact, one of the reasons I love the apéritif is precisely because it doesn’t get you drunk, but rather, simply elevates the mood. The little drink also serves to slow you down from the day’s chase, getting you into your groove for the night.

What to Serve as an Apéritif

Un Kir, S'il Vous Plaît!


1. The Kir: Rhymes with “beer,” but is much more dashing to drink. Buy some high-quality Creme de Cassis (sorry, but this has to be French, as American versions are, I’m afraid, rather dismal). One bottle will last you all summer. Pour just a couple teaspoons into a small white-wine glass, and fill with about 4 ounces of well-chilled white wine—Sauvignon Blanc works just fine, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. Pictured at left is Chateau Bonnet White ($13), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle that’s widely available and perfect for drinking on its own as well as making kirs.

Start every dinner off with one of these things, and I’ll guarantee you’ll enjoy everything that comes after it more fully.

2. Lillet. Made in the Bordeaux region from wine, fruit brandy, citrus peels, and other flavorings, this is traditionally served chilled, on ice, with a small slice of orange. Again, four ounces is plenty.

Remember--One Part Pernod to Five Parts Water3. Pernod. This anise-flavored drink isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy black licorice and intriguing herb-and-spice flavors, you’ll like this. With its sweet-crisp appeal, it’s incredibly refreshing, too. To serve Pernod, mix one part Pernod with five parts water and ice.

4. Sparkling Wine: When serving guests, a glass of sparkling wine does wonders to get everyone into the spirit of the evening. Of course, it doesn’t have to be true French Champagne, which can be costly. Try crémant (sparkling wine) from other regions of France, especially Alsace and the Loire Valley. Or sneak over to Italy (so to speak), and pour some inexpensive Prosecco.

What to Serve with Your Apéritif

Stateside, we sometimes fall all over ourselves making fussy little appetizers, but in most French homes the apps are often pretty basic. A bowl of nuts. A bowl of olives. Maybe a long, cured hard sausage, set on a cutting board with a knife in “serve yourself” fashion.

Or even, a small bowl of potato chips (and yes, you must serve them in a bowl—the prettier, the better—and not from the bag).

Yes. Potato chips are a common French pre-dinner nibble. Served just a handful, and with the right drink and the right people—and in the right spirit of slowing down to enjoy the pleasures to come—they’re utterly delightful.


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15 comments to The Art of the Apéritif–Or Why Potato Chips Taste Better in France

  • […] The Art of the Apéritif–Or Why Potato Chips Taste Better in France […]

  • […] The Art of the Apéritif–Or Why Potato Chips Taste Better in France […]

  • Oh, please don’t diminish the greatness of kir by suggesting to Americans that it can be made with “well-chilled white wine—Sauvignon Blanc works just fine, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive one.”
    It really should be made with bourgogne aligoté.

    The drink is named after Félix Kir, a mayor of Dijon in Burgundy, who popularized the drink by offering it at receptionsafter WWII to visiting delegations. Besides treating his international guests well, he was also promoting two vital economic products of the region.

    We can accept kir royale, made with champagne, but it really is a Burgundian creation and should be served as such!

  • Wini

    Thanks so much, Sediment Blog, for a thoughtful response. I definitely have enjoyed the “Kir Aligoté” in France (especially in Burgundy), but that white is so difficult to find here, I rarely bother. I do find that a decent S.B. does work well!

    In fact, I once heard/read that one of the reasons that Aligoté got made into the kir in the first place was because it wasn’t a very good wine on its own. If that is true, then I figure why chase all over the place for a somewhat so-so wine, if another decent wine will do.

    Most times I’ve had Kir elsewhere in France, it’s been made with an inexpensive local white…for example, do you really think a woman in the Languedoc is tracking down Aligoté to make a Kir? I’d bet she’d be making it with a Côtes du Roussillon white (made from grapes most of us have never heard of). And it would taste just fine….

    Merci for your posting!

  • Linda

    Wow, that brought back memories of drinking Kir in Strasbourg many years ago (the last century, as it happens)! Thanks for the memories. I’m going to try to track down some Creme de Cassis and Lillet–in WA, you can only buy wine and beer at the grocery store; everything else is at a state liquor store. I hope CdC and Lillet classify as wine. The local liquor store is as ugly as the back of a semi.

    • Wini

      Give it a try again, Linda. It’s amazing. Last night, as I put the first sip of a kir to my lips, I was suddenly transported to la belle France. Something about the way the light fell on the table, the savor of the berry-sparked wine….it just took me there. Santé!

  • […] to drink? Start everyone off with a French apéritif. It’s a must. Then move on to french wine, of course. In summer, you can’t go wrong […]

  • […] In French fashion, the apéritifs and appetizer part of the meal was incredibly simple. (See my treatise on the French appetizer hour). […]

  • […] it’s about 6 or 7 p.m. and my utterly favorite time of the day: The apéritif hour. Read my ode to the apéritif here.  The little drink has a way of readying the spirit for the joys to […]

  • […] chips). It’s  a way to ready the appetite and the spirit for the meal to come. Read my ode to the apéritif (and why potato chips taste better in France) and enjoy one tonight with the person you want to […]

  • Not sure that a lot of cafés, in Paris at any rate, use bourgogne aligoté for their kir, but I’m sure that would taste just grand. That said, it is what you make it, so if you want to use a Pinot Grigio or a nice flinty Chablis, porquoi pas? It’s like saying one can only make a martini if you use type X of gin, which as we all know is simply not the case.
    When in Indonesia, my wife and I use the dusk call to prayer as our “call to beer”; in Paris we use the late afternoon/early evening as our “call to kir”! And it’s lovely…..

    • Wini

      Call to Kir! I love that! We have that ritual at our home as well (though we don’t call it that). I agree–use any dry white wine. In fact, I often use Sauvignon Blanc, but Pinot Grigio also works, as does Chardonnay. I just wouldn’t use a sweet-style Riesling or another sweet wine, as the whole point of the creme de cassis is to mellow a sharp, acidic wine into a smooth apetite rouser (e.g., an aperitif!)….. Thanks so much for the great comment. Fun to read someone who’s on the other side of the world…yet on the same page as me!

  • […] The Art of the Aperitif – Or Why Potato Chips Taste Better in France […]

  • Cathryn and Bella D-H

    Thanks!! I needed a little help with correctly pronouncing Lillet – and I have happily, serendipitously, stumbled upon your website! I’ve signed up for your emails and eagerly await your missives. 🙂 I will do my best to purchase something(s) through your Amazon affiliate links to support your wonderful site and all your hard work.

    Keep up the great work!
    Best regards,
    –Cathryn + Bella the Wonder Dog

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