Wherever one goes to dine or drink in Paris or anywhere else in France, there is one ubiquitous aperitif, the Kir. When classically made, it is a mixture of aligoté a white wine, and crème de cassis, a currant liqueur. Aligoté is the only white grape besides chardonnay found in Burgundy, the district of that name south of Paris en route to Marseille. Cassis can be made anywhere there are black currants, but the best come from the Burgundy villages south of Dijon.
The drink is named after Felix Kir, a renowned Resistance fighter against the Nazis and once the mayor of Dijon. His favorite aperitif was called vin blanc cassis, but it was renamed the Kir to honor him, and so it has been the Kir in the 70 years since. It has been my favorite for some 50 years, ever since I discovered it at the Hotel de La Poste in Beaune on my first visit to that charming Burgundy hub.
The beauty of the Kir is that it can be tailored to one’s taste—sweet or dry. You simply adjust the amount of Cassis, which is the sweetener. In its traditional form, it is sweeter than most Americans would prefer, perhaps an ounce of Cassis to five or six ounces of wine. That is how it’s prepared at the Hotel de La Poste and how I prefer it. But chaqu‘un a son gout.
An aperitif’s function is to prepare the palate for the repast to come, to enliven the taste buds, to make one more eager to dine. That is precisely what the Kir does. It makes the meal taste better, almost like magic. It never deadens the taste buds, like a Martini or Manhattan, but does just the opposite.
In this country, it is difficult to find aligoté. The best substitute is sauvignon blanc, with a structure similar to aligoté. The worst would be riesling or chardonnay, both of which would make the Kir lack the crispness necessary in a good aperitif. G.E.Massenez makes an excellent Crème de Cassis de Cassis de Dijon that retails for about $28. Incidentally, the final “s” in Cassis is pronounced.
Each evening after 5 PM, I pour myself a Kir. Care to join me, wherever you are? A Votre Sante!