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Cocktail Hour: Lillet, an Apéritif With a French Accent

Lillet Rouge Sangria

Lillet Rouge Sangria

Ah, Lillet. Is there anything more refreshing in summer, whether over ice by the pool or in an inventive cocktail before dinner?

Brothers Raymond and Paul Lillet concocted this wine-grape-based spirit in the Bordeaux region of France in the late 1800s, developing two types, each a blend of 85% wine and 15% citrus liqueurs, that are still produced in Bordeaux.

Lillet Blanc is made from sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes mixed with orange and lemon fruit peels that have been macerated in pure distilled spirits for several months. Aged in oak barrels, it tastes of candied orange, fresh mint and honey, and is typically served over ice with a slice of orange.

An easy substitute for vermouth, but without vermouth’s herbal aromatics, it also makes a good base in a long line of cocktails, including James Bond’s Vesper Martini, the drink Bond orders in “Casino Royale,” a kiss to his double-agent love, Vesper Lynd.

Lillet Rouge, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes mixed with fruit brandy, tastes of ripe berries, spice and vanilla. Also aged in oak barrels, it tends to be more full-bodied, the oak accentuating much of the drink’s sweetness and spice.

Delicious on its own, it also benefits from a splash or two of soda water — with a bowl of pistachios on the side. It also makes a sweet pairing with shellfish.

Both kinds are ideally served chilled, in a wine glass like a wine, or in a bistro glass over ice. Stored in the refrigerator, a bottle of Lillet should keep fresh for about a week after opening.

Vesper Martini

Serves 1


2 ounces gin

¼ ounce vodka

⅓ ounce Lillet Blanc

Ribbon of orange peel


1. Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice.

2. Strain into a coupe or chilled cocktail glass.

3. Twist the orange peel over the drink, and drop it in.

Lillet Sangria

Serves 1


3 ounces Lillet Rouge or Blanc

½ ounce fresh lime juice

Lemon-lime soda

Diced fresh fruit of choice (berries, apples, grapes, oranges, etc.)

Slice of orange


1. Combine the Lillet, lime juice and fruit over ice in a wine glass or Collins glass and stir to combine.

2. Top with lemon-lime soda to fill the glass and garnish with an orange slice.

Photo: Lillet Rouge sangria. Credit: Lillet

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.