What do you do with some white wine without much flavour but that has too much acidity to make enjoyable drinking? I might use it for cooking or in a salad dressing replacing the vinegar or lemon juice. But Felix Kir, mayor of the town of Dijon in France just after the 2nd World War, had a better plan: he mixed it with some local blackcurrant liqueur and served it at official receptions. Thus, the delicious aperitif we now call Kir, after the man himself, was born.
In fact, Mayor Kir didn’t actually invent the drink – he re-invented it. The blackcurrant liqueur, Crème de Cassis, was first sold commercially in Burgundy in the mid-1800s and, very soon afterwards, local café owners started adding it to the thin local red wine to make a sweeter, richer and altogether more palatable drink. And so it continued until much of the red wine disappeared during the War, leaving an excess of white – not the high quality Chardonnay we now expect of white Burgundy but of another variety, the neutral, acidic Aligoté mentioned earlier. Blanc-cassis, as it was originally known, was born, soon renamed ‘Kir’.
Initially 1 part of Cassis was mixed with 3 parts of wine, although, these days, 1:5 is more common (and the International Bartenders Association surprisingly recommends 1:10). Variations include using sparkling wine instead of still to make Kir Royale – don’t waste good Champagne for this! – or replacing the Cassis with Crème de Mûre (blackberry liqueur) or, my favourite as a summer aperitif, Crème de Pêche (peach).
If you can’t find Aligoté, any crisp and not-too-aromatic white wine works just as well. Or, try the original red wine mix – now generally known in French restaurants as a ‘Cardinale’ – very pleasant, but more of a winter drink. And, as for the Cassis, Marks and Spencer’s have a very drinkable one at £10 a bottle – and a little goes a long way.
But whichever you prefer, next time, raise your glass to Monsieur Kir for his enterprise.