The invitation from Le Méridian New Delhi said it was the debut of “New European Inspired Sips and Sound”, an apéritif based event called Santés, which coincided with the unveiling of a new 24 hour hotel soundtrack curated by the French Bossa Nova band Nouvelle Vague.
There is something about the French word apéritif which sounds so chic and sophisticated. It evokes images of traditional European culture, an old world style of dining , where gathering over a light alcoholic drink before a meal in fashionable cafés, acted both as a kind of a stress buster and worked as a transition to the evening meal. Someone has rightly called it, “a sip of Europe before dinner”.
The Italian counterpart of the word aperitif is apertivo which comes from the Latin aperire, meaning to “open”. Since it refers to a drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite, something to get the gastric juices flowing, it is usually light, dry, slightly bitter, modestly alcoholic and easy drinking. It comprises of drinks like Champagne, Spritzers, Sparling Wines, Vermouth, Campari, Ouzo, Sherry, Pastis, Dubonnet, Amari and others. A lot of them are infused with herbs, roots and botanicals, which prepare the taste buds rather than kill the palate and prime the senses for the meal to follow.
Le MéridianSparkling seems to be inspired by this European aperitif culture, giving a modern twist to the ritual “Cocktail Hour”. This new global beverage program is also cashing in on the popularity of sparkling wines in India. A spate of recent launches from Sula, Grover, Chandon and Fratelli, in this category, shows how it is being consumed more and more as a celebratory drink mostly by the youth, for whom Champagne is a little out of reach. Champagne incidentally, is a sparkling wine produced exclusively in the Champagne region of France, and outside of this region the French sparkling wines are referred to as Crémant or Mousseux. So not every sparkling wine can be called Champagne, a mistake commonly made by a lot of people. Giving a run for money to the French bubbly is the Italian spumante Prosecco, an easy drinking and a very popular fizz as it is more reasonably priced. Spain’s sparkler is called Cava, while the sparkling wines from Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic go by the name of Sekt.
There are some classic aperitifs on offer at Le Méridian. The first one which I tasted was a take on the famous Bellini, a drink invented in the 1930’s by Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice Italy, which used to be the favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. It was made with Prosecco, peach puree, fresh lime juice, vanilla syrup, and garnished with Vanilla bean shaving. It also had little pieces of fresh peach floating around which added to the presentation and the taste. I found it to be refreshingly fruity and light and a perfect way to start the evening.
There are some very interesting combinations on the Sparkling menu, like Anisette liqueur with freshly squeezed orange juice topped with sparkling wine. Anise or sauf as we know it in Hindi, is used as a popular digestive in India and the most popular anise based spirits & liqueurs consumed as aperitifs and digestives around the world are Pastis , Sambuca, Ouzo Mastik, Raki and Arak. Then there a drink named Mizzle which has Amarula with black pepper and soda and another one called Ripple which has Bombay Sapphire, Jägermeister, cucumber slice and tonic.
My favourite of the evening was an aperitif named Amore which means love in Italian. It had Grappa and Prosecco infused with five spices and honey. For those of you who are not familiar with Grappa, it is a uniquely Italian after dinner drink made from wine making leftovers like the discarded grape seeds, stalks and stems. It is a popular digestive and sometimes also added to the morning espresso to kick start the day. This one certainly lifted my mood and got me in the aperitif state of mind when time ceased to matter.
There are some unique non alcoholic options on the Le Méridian Sparkling menu like Paan and Perrier served with candied rose, Green Butterfly which has cooked green mango syrup and tonic, which I did not try, though they looked tempting. The beverages with alcohol are prices at Rs 750 while the mocktails are at Rs 350.
There was a time when a cocktail used to be a fairly simple drink. Now the concoction seems to be getting more complex with endless possibilities, as was evident in the Sparkling menu.