Choosing the right wine to pair with a meal can make a big impact, whether to impress dinner party guests or simply jazz up a casual weeknight. But there's just as much fun to be had, and rewards to be reaped, from putting some extra thought into what you're drinking before and after the main event. The right aperitif can awaken your palate for the feast to come, while a delectable digestif can be the cherry on top of the evening.
What picks do the pros recommend? We asked seven sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners to share their favorite pre- and post-dinner drinks specifically for summer. From a refreshing craft beer to off-dry wines and homemade cocktails, here's what the experts are into right now.
Wine Spectator: What are your favorite pre- and post-dinner drinks for summer?
Will Jones, wine director at the Hope Farm in Fairhope, Ala.
Here at the Hope Farm, and throughout Fairhope, we have all fallen in love with a simple aperitif of Mata Blanco vermouth [from Spain], a dry sparkling white and a twist of lemon. We mix 2 ounces of the vermouth with 3 ounces of Prosecco or Cava, ice and a lemon twist to garnish. This creates an easy-drinking, crushable summer spritzer. Around here, you can easily order one by asking for an "aperitif."
Amanda Abbott, wine director at the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive in Bow, Wash.
One of my favorite drinks in the summer is my own cocktail made with homemade limoncello. I pour a shot (or two) into a tall glass filled with ice, fill it to the top with club soda and finish it with a squeeze of fresh lemon. It tastes like sunshine in a glass.
Mark Cartland, wine director at Island Vintage Wine Bar in Honolulu, Hawaii
A few years back, I spent three days in Lisbon, Portugal, and it was there that I discovered the magical Porto Tonico. It’s a simple drink: One part white Port, two parts fresh tonic, an orange wedge and a mint sprig, served over ice in a highball glass. It’s the perfect balance of sweet, bitter, tangy and herbal that makes this aperitif so refreshing.
Steven McDonald, wine director of Pappas Bros Steakhouse in Houston, Texas
I usually enjoy more before-dinner drinks like spritzes. I thoroughly enjoy a classic Aperol spritz, however I sometimes make it half Aperol and half Campari. And I have been known to make exotic versions of spritzes from other products like Napa Valley's Matthiasson's Sweet Vermouth or South Africa's Caperitif.
Kuan Lim, wine director at Lucky Palace in Bossier City, La.
My favorite after-dinner drinks for summer are Champagne and craft beer. The effervescence cleanses the palate, refreshes and energizes—nothing too heavy during these oppressively hot Louisiana summers. The craft beer that I like to have after dinner is a rotating dry hopped saison called Farmhouse Slang from our local brewery here, Great Raft, in Shreveport, La., which is only 3.3 miles from Lucky Palace. The beer is bone-dry, effervescent, earthy and very refreshing.
Jaime Pinedo, wine director at Spruce in San Francisco
A Summer Picnic Collins. Any combination [of the below ingredients] will work, depending on how tart, boozy or bitter the crowd is feeling. Any unappreciated combinations or heavy-handed mixes can be easily recalibrated. My favorite combo is gin, Aperol, grapefruit juice and ginger ale.
- 2 parts base spirit: gin or vodka
- 1 part bitter: Aperol or Campari
- 1 part citrus juice: lemon or grapefruit
- Sparkling to fill: Prosecco, ginger ale or soda water
Jody Davis, wine director at Aretsky's Patroon in New York
Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui Pineto 2020 from Piedmont, Italy. Slightly sweet and aromatic with low alcohol, it over-delivers as an aperitif or light after-dinner drink. I even served it as a complement to our yuzu sorbet palate-cleanser at Patroon.
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