Lillet is an aromatic wine from the Bordeaux region in France; though not always marketed as such, Lillet is essentially a vermouth and can be substituted for dry vermouth in any cocktail recipe you’d like. The Lillet brand dates back to 1872, but the Lillet Blanc variety is the baby, created in 1986, when the original Lillet (Kina Lillet) was killed off in a New Coke-like apocalypse.
The results, of course, have been somewhat better with Lillet Blanc. Ask for Lillet and this is almost certainly what you’ll get in your glass.
Unlike most dry vermouths, Lillet Blanc is palatable straight. In fact, it can be very refreshing. It is invariably directed to be drank ice cold (and normally on the rocks), and pouring a glass fills the air with perfume and flower aromas. The golden color and honey taste are immediately reminiscent of young Sauternes, but there’s an evergreen, rosemary-like character to the finish that assures you this is not a strict dessert wine. It all ends with a slight bitterness, perhaps an ode to the original Kina Lillet, which was by all accounts an extraordinarily bitter aperitif.
Lillet has a bit of an aquired taste to it, but it’s an interesting spirit that I don’t mind always keeping on hand.