Lillet (French pronunciation: [li'le]) is a brand of French aperitif wine. It is a blend of 85% Bordeaux wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for the Blanc; Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the Rouge) and 15% macerated liqueurs, mostly citrus liqueurs from the peels of sweet oranges from Spain and Morocco and the peels of bitter green oranges from Haiti. Lillet belongs in a family of aperitif known as tonic wines because of the addition of a liqueur of Cinchona bark from Peru which contains quinine. Lillet is matured in oak casks and available in red and white versions. With the assistance of the Oenology institute of Bordeaux Segalen University Lillet Blanc was reformulated in 1987, and Lillet Rouge in 1990 in order to lower the sugar content and bitterness.
Lillet is an aperitif wine (a blend of Bordeaux wines and citrus liqueur). It must be served well chilled at 6-8°C (43-46°F). In France it is generally served on ice with a slice of orange, lemon or lime. In other countries, especially in the USA and UK, it is more often used as a cocktail ingredient or long drink. The best known Lillet cocktails are the Vesper, the Corpse Reviver #2, the 20th Century and the Old Etonian. Recipes appear in cocktail books like The Bartender's Bible by Gary Regan, the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock and the Complete World Bartender Guide by Bob Sennett, although all of these originally called for 'Kina Lillet' which has been unavailable since its reformulation in 1986.
The idea of making aperitifs in Bordeaux came from Father Kermann, a doctor who left Brazil at the beginning of Louis XVI's reign. Back in France, he settled in Bordeaux, where he produced liqueurs and fortifiers from plants such as quinine. During that time, Bordeaux became one of the most important places for the European wine business. It also represented France's main harbour for products imported from the Caribbean Islands.
In the 'Roaring 20s', Lillet became very famous in France especially due to advertising campaigns. During this period, exports greatly increased in Europe and in Africa, and eventually reached the Americas. Harry Craddock appeared in 1930s ads for Lillet in a UK trade magazine.  Lillet Rouge is specially created for the American market.
Kina Lillet was reformulated in 1986 and rebranded as Lillet Blanc, a “fresher, fruitier, and less bitter” concoction. Cocchi Americano is generally considered to be the nearest contemporary drink to the original recipe Kina Lillet and is often used as a substitute for it in cocktails.
Appearances in popular culture
- In Ian Fleming's 1953 novel Casino Royale, James Bond invents and orders a Kina Lillet martini, which he named the "Vesper" after his love interest in the story. He asks the bartender for a dry Martini, a fraction of a second later he adds to the order: "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet." It is present in both the Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace films. The company has been known to use its appearance in Casino Royale in its promotions.
- It is also the preferred drink of serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the series of books written by Thomas Harris.
- Architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen includes a bottle of Lillet in his architectural drawings at the bar - with a note of N.I.C. (Not In Contract).
- In Episode 13, Season 1 of The Sopranos, entitled "I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano", Carmela Soprano and Father Phil Intantilo have a glass of Lillet.
- In the Preston and Child Pendergast novels, Special Agent Pendergast is a regular drinker of Lillet over ice.
- Lillet 1862-1985 Le pari d'un entreprise girondine, Olivier Londeix, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, p29-37
- Lillet 1862-1985 Le pari d'un entreprise girondine, Olivier Londeix, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, p13-29
- Lillet 1862-1985 Le pari d'un entreprise girondine, Olivier Londeix, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, p141-156
- Lillet 1862-1985 Le pari d'un entreprise girondine, Olivier Londeix, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, p157-165
- Savoy Stomp Kina Lillet
- cocchi americano « liquor is quicker
- What's the Deal with Cocchi Aperitivo Americano? | Serious Eats: Drinks
- Case Study | Cocchi Americano: Waking the Dead - NYTimes.com