Friday, April 20, 2012

How-To: Pick a Before Dinner Drink

We spend a lot of time talking about what wines to drink with a meal, but sometimes you want to start with a glass of something before the meal starts. Whether you have to wait for a table at the bar, or you are celebrating a special evening, or you just want to sit and enjoy yourself for a little longer, there is a perfect aperitif for you.

Of course, in this situation there aren't any sort of rules you should follow, or even guidelines. If you are drinking for the sake of having a drink, you can select whatever you want. Remember, though, that the purpose of before dinner drinks really is to whet the appetite. While there is no "right" or "wrong," the experts would argue that having something too heavy will influence your taste buds all night.

So, here are some common options most people lean towards, and reasons you might select one choice over another:

Cocktails are a common option, and when well done they can be the perfect start to the meal. Complex, layered flavors will really set the mood for a quality meal. Of course, they can be dangerously strong, both in flavor profile and alcohol content. With too many sickly sweet ingredients, for example, you may never shake that flavor throughout your meal, no matter how heavy your wine selection. Long Island Iced Tea is a good way to put a quick buzz on, but it can leave you a little too drunk to really appreciate the finer points of your dinner. In terms of cocktails, ask your server for something on the dry side, to get the palate prepped and watering for the meal to come. One idea? A little campari or other cocktail made with "bitters."

Champagne (sparkling wine) is another common starter. A good, dry brut will stimulate the saliva glands, and make you anticipate your meal even more. As an added benefit, sparkling wine is a good way to make anything feel like a celebration. Remember, sparkling wine has many names based on where it comes from: Spain's "cava" and Italy's "prosecco" and Germany's "sekt" are all other ways to say "sparkling wine." The biggest downside to ordering a glass for your before dinner drink is that it is often the most expensive glass on the drink menu.

Sherry "fino" can also serve to whet your appetite. The "fino" in this case means "fine" and implies a lighter-bodied sherry.

And finally, wine isn't just for dinner. A light-bodied white wine is always excellent for sipping, and won't ruin your taste buds for dinner--no matter what you decide to have for dinner.

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