The French certainly know how to enjoy a meal – they begin slowly with an apéritif. Images of people relaxing and unwinding, sipping at some chilled concoction in their hands whilst the street slowly loses its bustle and the sun sinks down towards the rooftops spring to mind. The French don't just prepare dinner – they prepare themselves as well. The apéritifs are known as apéros and are usually stronger than 18%. They are designed to arouse the appetite and are refreshing.
Traditional wine-based apéritifs include vins doux naturels (fortified wines) such as Muscat de Rivesaltes, Banyuls, Port and Sherry; vins de liqueurs such as Pineau des Charentes and Floc de Gascogne; vermouths such as Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi and Cinzano; and quinquinas (so-called because of their high content of quinquina, French for "quinine") such as Dubonnet, Lillet, Byrrh and St. Raphaèl. All are fortified wines: wine to which a spirit has been added to stop the fermentation, leaving it sweet and more alcoholic than table wine.
There are spirit-based apéros which include anises such as the ever-popular pastis (including Ricard, Pastis 51 and Pernod), bitters such as Campari and Fernet Branca, and gentianes (flavoured with the bitter root of wild gentian flower) such as Suze, Salers and Bonal.
And then there are the famous sweet wines from the Sauternes which are the best of all . . .
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