Lillet: Visiting a Favorite

Guest post by Chris Sanders.  His intro:  On a trip to France a few years ago, I visited Lillet and wrote the article below in hopes of publishing it in a local wine magazine… I can’t remember if I ever sent it in for consideration though…anyway, enjoy!

Lillet: Visiting a Favorite

What do James Bond, Hanibal Lecter, Sandra Bernhard and famed chef Alain Ducasse have in common?They all enjoy Lillet. What is Lillet you ask?  Quite simply, it’s an aperitif (French for “before dinner drink”) made of wine and fruit liqueur; and like the notable aforementioned, I quite enjoy the stuff.In fact, alongside red wine and small batch bourbon, Lillet Blanc ranks as one of my all time favorite adult beverages.

So it was that during a recent trip through France, I decided to pay a brief visit to the Lillet distillery in order to learn more about the drink that has drawn such an eclectic grouping of connoisseurs. Located a few miles south of the city of Bordeaux, Lillet is nestled in the small village of Podensac. I park and enter the main office where Roland Coiffe (whose family owns Lillet) greets me. “Welcome to Lillet!” he beams.

It’s a busy day at Lillet as the company prepares to participate in the upcoming Fete des vins in Bordeaux, which is the worlds largest annual wine trade show, kind of analogous to Atlanta’s own Wine South but on steroids – lots of steroids!!

Lillet is known as the ‘aperitif of Bordeaux’ and we’ll have a big presence at the Fete des vins this year,” Mr. Coiffe says excitedly. “We expect to pour more than 30,000 glasses over the two day period,” he adds. But despite his hectic schedule, he takes time out to give a private tour of the facility- NICE!

Tour of the Facility

The first stop is large warehouse where much of the production process takes place.Along one wall there are holding tanks for wine, most of which is purchased bottle ready from select vineyards – but this is changing, indicates Mr. Coiffe: “We are increasingly producing more of our own wine here at Lillet, in order to better control the quality.”

Across the room are a number of large steel containers in which the generations old secret recipe for Lillet’s fruit liqueur is compiled.“Once the wine and fruit liqueur are ready, we mix them together in a solution of 85% wine and 15% fruit liqueur”, Mr. Coiffe says pointing to several huge wooden vats on the far side of the room.

Continuing our tour, we arrive to the aging room, which resembles those I’ve seen at many wineries.Here the product rests after being mixed, in oak barrels, for 6-8 months before it is bottled and shipped out to the world.

Moving on, our last stop is the tasting area, a small bar located in the company’s own museum – it’s the moment I’ve been awaiting – its time for a taste!

Here, amid vintage Lillet posters and other colorful relics, Mr. Coiffe pours up a couple of glasses of Lillet Blanc.Into each glass he drops a small piece of lime, a mint leave, and a splash of Perrier.“This is a recipe you can find on our web site and it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy Lillet”, he remarks.After a sip, I can understand why: “Perfect harmony!” I exclaim.

Soon it’s time to leave and I thank Mr. Coiffe for his hospitality.Smiling, he hands me small bottle of Lillet Reserve – a special formula that includes sauternes wine instead of the traditional semillon. “You can’t get this in the States,” he says smiling. I thank him profusely and am on my way. As I pull out of the small gravel parking lot – beginning my long drive to the Riviera – I glance over at the bottle of Lillet next to me and ponder laying on a beach, enjoying Lillet my favorite way – ice cold with a splash of grenadine – yum!


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