Shaken or stirred: Lillet

‘Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.

‘Certainly monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

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James Bond’s memorable instruction, “shaken, not stirred,” has become part of the world’s folk wisdom since the fictional secret agent first uttered it in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel, Casino Royale. You’re probably familiar with the concept even if you’ve never read the book or watched the Bond movies. (Trivia time! Bond actually said “stirred, not shaken,” in the book, but the movie creators decided it sounded better the other way ’round.)

But we’re not here to talk about James Bond today, or at least not any more. Let’s focus on the drink. The Bond/Fleming creation was essentially a spin on the Martini, but … pardon the expression … a martini with a twist. Sorry!

My variation on James Bond's Vesper cocktail, using a proper dose of Lillet.

My variation on James Bond’s Vesper cocktail, using a proper dose of Lillet.

The drink, which Bond later dubbed the Vesper after the name of one of the many women in his life, started with Gordon’s gin, added a splash of vodka and a glug of Kina Lillet; chilled with ice, shaken or stirred, and finished with, yes, a twist of lemon. So, it’s a cousin to the martini for sure, but using gin and vodka and substituting Lillet, a French white aperitif, in place of the traditional vermouth.

I’m not sure what put “shaken, not stirred” into my mind the other day, but once it was in, the only way I could get it out was to head over to a nearby wine shop and pick up a bottle of Lillet Blanc French Aperitif Wine. Bond’s brand, Kina Lillet, hasn’t been made since the 1960s, but Lillet is the direct descendant of this aperitif, which, tells us, “was founded in 1872 by Raymond and Paul Lillet as Bordeaux’s first and only aperitif. Lillet, as it became known in the 1970s, is produced in Podensac, in the region of Graves, France and is a blend of 85 percent Bordeaux regional wines and 15 percent handcrafted fruit liqueurs.”

“The Lillet aperitif blending process is done in stages. The fruit liqueurs that go into the blend are made from fruits, peels, and barks from around the world, undergoing aging, racking, filtering, and fining. Once both parts of the blend are ready, they are combined in a vat, stirred, and aged in oak for several months to cohere,” the Wine-searcher article concludes.

So it’s a white wine with spices, flavors (most notably quinine), and fruit; and 85 percent of it fashioned from the Bordeaux white grapes Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. I think that’s close enough to wine to qualify for a report in these pages, and why not? Lillet is good for sipping on its own, in a variety of cocktails, and of course in Bond’s iconic Vesper.

Does it taste like wine? Well, mostly, with a lot of added aromatics from those fruits, peels, and barks to give it a distinctive character. It’s rich, full-bodied, slightly sweet, with plenty of acidity and quinine bitterness to cloak the fruit sugars. It really is best served très frais – very cold – as the label suggests, to balance its unctuous mouthfeel and sweetness. I enjoyed it unadorned, straight out of the refrigerator into my glass. You’ll find my tasting notes below.

I also looked around my randomly stocked bar to see if I could try Bond’s vesper, and ended up fashioning a similar-only-different drink of my own. With no vodka in the house, and no Gordon’s or other London gin, I went instead with two parts Castle & Key, an artisanal gin from Frankfort, Ky, one part Lillet, a couple of drops of orange bitters, and a squirt of freshly squeezed satsuma mandarin along with a few mandarin segments right in the glass. I liked it just fine, and I’ll save the rest of the Lillet for occasional sipping. It keeps for quite a while in the refrigerator.

If you try Lillet, or if you’re already a fan, drop in on our WineLovers forum or our WineLovers Facebook Page and tell us what you think!

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Today’s Tasting Report

Lillet Blanc French Aperitif Wine ($21.99)


Poured on its own, Lillet Blanc shows a very clear, light straw color in the glass. Intriguing aromas offer a mix of fresh, dried, and stewed white fruit and orange peel, with a subtle hint of quinine, complex and hard to pick apart. That’s fine, it’s just as well to enjoy them as their scents entwine. Full-bodied flavors follow the nose, with faint sweetness cloaked by firm acidity, and a bitter edge of quinine that’s a little more apparent than in the nose but still far short of what you’ll find in a commercial quinine tonic. It’s brisk and refreshing, perfectly fine in the winter time despite its reputation as a summer drink. The label’s advice, Servir Très Frais (“serve very cold”) is not mandatory, although it definitely becomes more unctuous as it warms, and the bitter quinine edge and 17% alcoholic heat become more apparent then. U.S. importer: Pernod Ricard USA, NYC. (Jan. 14, 2021)

FOOD MATCH: As an aperitif it’s appropriate with snacks. Lillet’s Pinterest page offers a broad range of food companions, including all manner of sushi and salad-style hors d’oeuvres.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s not really meant for cellaring, although it won’t die on the wine rack or, within a reasonable time, in the refrigerator.

My local price matches’s $22 average U.S. retail. Given that it keeps well in the fridge and will be available for cocktails and sipping for a while, it’s a reasonal price for this tasty aperitif. Some shops offer it for as low as $17, though, so if a few dollars matter, check and shop around.

“For drink recipes and cocktail ideas, visit us at,” the back label advises.

Check prices and find vendors for Lillet Blanc on

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for a wide variety of other styles of flavored spiced fruit wines.


More affordable wines

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