To precede a meal with a gentle Apéritif is very European. The word Apéritif comes from the Latin verb "Aperire" which means “to open”. The apéro is therefore designed to whet the appetite before a meal.
The most widely favored Apéritifs are aromatic wines, which are wines flavored with herbs and other products and fortified with alcohol. Many of the these wines have the bitter tang of quinine. I read somewhere (sorry don't remember where) that historically, Europeans living in the tropics helped to popularize flavored wines when they discovered that quinine (which was the antidote for tropical disease malaria) was more palatable when swallowed with some wine. Eventually, quinine flavored wines became appreciated in their own right for their refreshing bitterness.
Apéritif wines include vermouth (sweet or dry, or a blend of the two), Pineau de Charentes, Byrrh, Lillet, St Raphael, Campari, Dubonnet and Positano just to name a few. Serve straight or over ice-or my personal favorite is chilled Lillet with splash of club soda and a slice of orange. Accompany Apéritifs with snacks such as olives, roasted almonds or nuts, pate, crackers and bread sticks. Enjoy!
History of Spirits