Wines, beer, spirits, liqueurs, and cocktails enhance the meal, especially if you know how to order them.  Part four gives you pointers, including what to do when the sommelier pours a sample in your glass. You will also be able to pronounce the names of almost every wine you encounter. There are special tips on beer drinking, in addition to a handy Drinker’s Lexicon on pre-and post-dinner potables.

apéritif [ay-pehr-ee-TEEF - ah-pehr-uh-TEEF] (French)

An alchoholic light drink served prior to eating to help stimulate your appetite.

Because aperitifs do not overload the taste buds with acid, today they are served before meals to start the flow of gastric juices and stimulate the appetite.

Some wines are both aperitif and table wine, such as dry white wine and dry champagne. Because hard liquor dulls the palate for wine served with a meal, to provide a continuum of taste from preprandial libation to table wine, white wine and champagne are also served as aperitifs.

Aperitifs are flavored with herbs, barks, resins, and flowers, and are also called aromatized wined.Some aperitifs have a bitter taste while others are sweet.

Bitter aperitifs, such as dry Vermouth, stimulate the palate with a sharp taste and were originally taken as medicine, perhaps the origin of the expression "bitter medicine." The taste contrasts with light salty foods, such as caviar, nuts, olives, and cheese, foods the French call amuses-gueule, meaning "to amuse the mouth." Sweet aperitifs, such as cream sherry, are taken late in the day when sweet foods are served, such as at afternoon tea.

Vermouth is made from red or white wine infused with herbs, notably artemisia, an aromatic plant. Cinzano is a sweet red vermouth from Italy, and Noilly-Prat is a dry white vermouth from France.

Anise is made from the seeds of the star anis, a licorice-flavored member of the carrot family, with pods similar in shape to a starfish. Anise-based aperitifs include Pernod and Ricard from France and Ouzo from Greece.

Bitters are a neutral spirit infused with aromatic plants and roots. Campari is one of the best known, a reddish-brown bitters from Italy.

Aperitifs are served at various temperatures: dry sherry is served at room temperature; champagne or dry white wine is served slightly chilled, Dubonnet can be taken on the rocks, Pernod is diluted with a little cold water, and Campari is served with a twist of lemon and a dash of soda water over ice.

Dessert Wines

Sweet flavors kill the taste buds, and to promote satiety, sweet wine is served with dessert. At one time dessert wines were reserved for royalty and called liquid gold or the sweet wines of winter. Each year on the occasion of her birthday, Franz Joseph I, king of Hungary, sent Queen Victoria cases of Tokay in an amount multiplied by her age. At age 81, Queen Victoria received 81 cases - 972 bottles of Tokay.

After-Dinner Drinks

Liqueurs, cordials, brandy, and cognac are fortified wines served after dinner, notably to stimulate and aid digestion after a multi-course meal.

Although the terms liqueur and cordial are used synonymously, technically the drinks are different.

Liqueur is a strong drink made with alcohol, sugar syrup, and aromatic plants or herbs that also add color, such as:

Amaretto di Saronno: almond-apricot-flavored; amber color

Bènèdictine: made from twenty-seven herbs and spices; called a proprietary liqueur because the recipe is secret; a brownish-yellow liqueur produced by the Benedictine monks.

Cointreau: orange-flavored; the color of clear waterCrème de Cacao: cocoa-flavored and colored.

Drambuie: Scotch-based liqueur the color of amber and flavored with honey and herbal oils; name derived from the Gaelic expression an dram buidheach, meaning "a drink that satisfies”

Grand Marnier: orange-flavored; pale amber colorIrish Cream: a blend of whiskey, cream, and chocolate; the color of light

Kahlua and Tia Maria: coffee-flavored and colored

Cordial is a liqueur infused with fruit, herbs, berries, or other flavoring. Some examples:

  1. Aquavit: spiced with Kummel, a liqueur made of caraway seeds, anise, and cumin
  2. Chambord: black raspberry-flavored
  3. Crème de Menthe: mint-flavored

Brandy is an anglicized derivation of brandewijn, a Dutch word for "burned wine," a term attributed to the sixteenth century, when warring factions prohibited Dutch merchants from shipping wine and brandy was concentrated for restoration with water. Brandy is also known as aqua vitae and eau de vie, Latin and French terms for "water of life."

Brandy is distilled from white grapes and is aged in oak barrels rather than in bottles. Because oxygen enters the wooden barrels through the pores. the distillate lost through evaporation is called the angel’s share.

Although brandy and cognac are terms used synonymously, cognac is the "king of brandy," and not all brandy is cognac. Cognac is a blend of twice­distilled brandy made in Charente and Charente-Maritime, a delimited area surrounding the medieval walled town of Cognac that lies 240 miles southwest of Paris. Within the district of Charente lie seven geographical regions where seven grades of cognac are produced, in descending order of flavor: grand champagne, petit champagne, borderies, fins bois, bons bois, bois ordinaries, and bois communs.

When the term fine champagne appears on a cognac label it means the blend contains at least 50 percent grand champagne and the balance is petit champagne. Bois, a French word for "wood," designates cognac with an earthy flavor, a taste less delicate than grand champagne or petit champagne.

Cognac is aged in barrels made of oak, a hardwood that imbues cognac with a unique taste, a delightful aroma, and a soft amber color. Because oak barrels have a high level of porosity, it takes 7 liters of wine to make 1 liter of cognac, and the vapor released through the pores is estimated at 25,000 bottles a day, or more than 9 million bottles a year.

Table Wine

Table wine is served with meals. It contains 7 to 14 percent alcohol, a nonfortified wine served with meals to assist the assimilation of nutrients, notably protein. A totally natural nutritious product, table wine is a source of vitamins A, B, and C, calcium, chlorine, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, sulfur, and zinc. Wine is a food, a fact noted by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes in his address to the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1860.

The acidity of table wine produces a tart taste in the mouth that promotes saliva, and it is served with meals as a digestive. Moreover, as the taste buds become overloaded with the flavors of food, the acidic quality of table wine cleanses the palate and prepares the taste buds for the next bite.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is served as an aperitif, a table wine, and a dessert wine. When table wine undergoes a second fermentation, it develops carbon dioxide gas that produces bubbles and the wine is called sparkling. The most famous of these is champagne. Because the stomach immediately absorbs the bubbles and deposits alcohol into the bloodstream, sparkling wine accelerates circulation to the brain and is known as a wine of wit, a drink appropriate for special occasions.

Sparkling wines are both dry and sweet. Dry sparkling wine is served as an aperitif before dinner and as table wine to accompany a meal or a particular course.

Sweet sparkling wine is reserved for dessert.

lillet [lee-LAY]

A French apéritif made from a blend of wine, brandy, fruits and herbs. It originated in the French village of Podensac and has been made since the late 1800s. Lillet Blanc is made from white wine and is drier than Lillet Rouge, its red wine counterpart. Both are classically served over ice with an orange twist