After exploring the fascinating French fortified wine, quinquina, we decided to formally sample of its most famous specimens. Therefore, we’ll be exploring Lillet Blanc with this review as well as talk about why Kina Lillet doesn’t exist anymore:
- Spirit Overview
- Lillet History & Why Kina Lillet No Longer Exists
- Nose & Aromas
- Palate & Mouthfeel
- Ideal Pairings
- Overall Experience & Value For Money
Use the menu above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!
Lillet Blanc Overview
- Producer: Lillet
- Expression: Blanc
- Variety: Quinquina
- Region: Pondensac, Gironde
- Age: NAS
- Casking: Oak Vats
- Cask Strength: 17% ABV
- Parent: Pernod Ricard
Alongside Dubonnet, Lillet Blanc is probably one of the world’s most famous examples of quinquina. However, as you’ll learn in this review, it contains no quinine anymore, which is the main ingredient used to produce quinquina’s distinctive flavour.
Instead, Semillon wine is mixed with macerated sweet Spanish and Moroccan liqueurs with bitter green orange peels from Haïti. The ingredients are steeped in oak vats and then treated like Bordeaux wine during the ageing process.
Buy Lillet Blanc Now
Although we arguably cover Lillet’s transition in better detail in our quinquina guide, we’ll provide you with a brief summary so you understand what happened to Kina Lillet and what Lille Blanc is today.
Quinquina was invented in the mid-19th century, as France’s answer to the gin & tonic. Quinine is one of the main ingredients in quinquina, and it is a known antimalarial treatment. It was issued to French colonial troops that were serving abroad.
When officers returned back into France, they’d often order quinquina in a café, and it quickly became a popular apéritif.
However, Lillet wasn’t ever marketed as a medicinal drink. Instead, Lillet was invented by two brothers, Paul and Raymond Lillet. They were inspired by a monk, Father Kermann, following his travels in South America. Upon his return, he produced medicinal drinks using herbs and spices.
Paul and Raymond were based in Bordeaux and were inspired to create their variation of Kermann’s creations. With herbs and spices coming in from the Caribbean via Bordeaux, it was an excellent geographic area.
Not only could they easily import their ingredients but they could make the fortified wine locally and then transport it to Paris. The result was Kina Lillet, and it soon became synonymous with the Roaring Twenties. It was a very popular cocktail ingredient, and it was often used for a variety of different concoctions.
Kina Lillet was notably a key cocktail ingredient in both James Bond’s Vesper and the Corpse Reviver No 2.
However, this changed in 1985 when Bruno Borie acquired the brand from the Lillet family. In response to dwindling sales, the drink was reformulated and the quinine was removed.
Therefore, the name was changed and the Lillet we have today bears little resemblance to the original drink. You can learn more about Kina Lillet’s history and substitute drinks that you can still buy with our detailed quinquina guide!
Lillet Blanc’s Robe
- Hue: Chablis
- Transparency: Unctuous
- Body: Mild
First of all, the bottle should be very cold. I placed mine in the freezer but it’s recommended between 6–8 °C (43–46 °F). Typically, Lillet will be used in a variety of cocktails, but you can drink it neat. Although I do prefer the bitter quinquina like Byyrh or Cap Mattei, Lillet is still very pleasant.
Lillet’s robe simply resembles a Chardonnay or a Chablis white wine. Although it’s a little bit darker, it gives off the same kind of robe as a white wine. Indeed, it’s quite hazy and leaves tears around the glass if you give it a whirl.
Overall, it’s promising a mild albeit unctuous experience.
Lillet Blanc’s Nose
- Notes: Apricots, Peaches, White Flowers
- Nosefeel: Succulent
Lillet Blanc’s nose isn’t overly complex and reveals a syrupy sweet bouquet of apricots, peaches, and white flowers. Admittedly, it’s very alluring and has a somewhat sticky succulent property.
Lillet Blanc’s Palate & Mouthfeel
- Primary Tastes: Sweet
- Mouthfeel: Oily
- Opening: Lime, Tinned Peaches
- Heart: Honey, Golden Syrup
- Finish: Short [Oranges, Grapefruit]
As you can expect, Lillet Blanc’s primary taste is exceedingly sweet with a rich, oily mouthfeel. It opens on a mild lime zestiness with tinned peaches. This flavour quickly subsides in favour of honey and golden syrup.
Afterwards, the short finish is consists of oranges and grapefruit. While it is very slightly sour, the flavours are dominated by sweetness. As explained above, there’s no bitterness that you would get from a traditional quinquina.
Best Pairings & How To Drink Lillet Blanc
First of all, Lillet Blanc is typically enjoyed as an apéritif. You can learn how quinquina is traditionally drunk in our dedicated guide. Otherwise, it can be sipped neat or with a citrus wedge in the glass. You could potentially enjoy it with an entrée such as foie gras or oysters too.
If you wish to smoke a cigar with it, we’d recommend a mild and creamy option like a Davidoff Aniversario or a JC Newman Brick House. However, we would refrain from something too mild like a Davidoff Signature as it would easily be overpowered by the drink’s sweetness.
Best Lillet Blanc Cocktails
We recommend a number of quinquina cocktails in our guide. However, none of these would really be appropriate with a modern Lillet Blanc. Instead, we would consider something like a Lillet Vive.
A Lillet Bive is a popular Germanic cocktail that consists of 1 part Lillet Blanc and 2 parts tonic water. These ingredients are stirred together and served with a slice of cucumber, a strawberry, and mint leaves.
Alternatively, Lillet is a sweet substitute for vermouth and you can use it instead for making a variety of different Martini cocktails.
Overall Experience & Value For Money
Lillet Blanc is beautifully presented with a distinctively French branding that is reminiscent of a traditional French label. Meanwhile, the bottle is equipped with a screwcap rather than a cork.
In terms of value for money, it’s quite cheap and very competitively priced compared to vermouth. However, other quinquina can be much cheaper in France.
Lillet can easily be found through both Reserve Bar and Drizly. In both cases, it’s similarly priced at around $23. However, Drizly may not be able to distribute it to your area whereas Reserve Bar serves the entire country.
Finally, if you’re willing to spend a little more, Lillet now produce Reserve Jean de Lillet, which is said to be closer to the original Kina Lillet.
It appears that Lillet wished to present itself as an alternative to Martini rather than another quinquina. During the 1980s, Lillet likely witness Martini becoming center stage of the cocktail scene.
With hindsight, this is probably a shame. Had Lillet stuck to its guns, it would have been able to differentiate itself even more by offering its own identity. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant sweet liqueur that can be enjoyed with a variety of different cocktails.
"A sweet and syrupy fortified wine that can easily be enjoyed neat or as a cocktail ingredient."
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