What Is Kir? It Is Wine Cocktail with French Flair

The Burgundy region of France is known for a variety of great foods and drinks. Dijon has given its name to savory mustard. True Champagne comes from the northern part of the region, while the rest of the region produces great red and white wines. Currants are among the region’s most famous fruit. Combining some of that wine and currants together makes another classic Burgundian delight; the refreshing aperitif or cocktail known as Kir.

kir wine cocktail

The Foundation of a Kir is White or Sparkling Wine

While red wines from Burgundy are as famous as any around the world, Burgundy also produces great white wine. However, the reputation of Burgundy’s white wine has suffered from a marketing decision. The first experience many Americans had with white wine used to be Gallo Chablis, an inexpensive white wine that Gallo labeled after the Chablis region of Burgundy to add some French elegance to a not-very-good white wine. The resulting corruption of the name “chablis” means many white wines from the Burgundy region, if not labeled after their vineyard in the classic fashion, are labeled “White Burgundy” rather than “Chablis,” a rather pedestrian name.

By contrast, chardonnay, which also comes from Burgundy is a widely recognized white wine that can range from awful to spectacular. Burgundian chardonnays are almost always known by their vineyards; Montrachet is perhaps the most famous. And the same grape that makes chardonnays also contributes to the world-famous champagne that come from Burgundy. Chardonnay is just one of the grapes blended to make the great champagnes, the others are some of the red grapes also famous in Burgundy (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier). In France, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of Burgundy can legally carry the name “Champagne.”

With this history of great white wine and sparkling wines, it is not surprising that great wine aperitifs come from the Burgundian region. However, it is not essential—in fact, it’s not recommended—that these aperitifs be made with famous or expensive wines. The flavors blended with the wine to create the unique flavor of these drinks hide the nuances of a great versus good wine. Any good white or sparkling table wine will be a wonderful base for a such aperitifs, including Kir. (Presecco is an especially good substitute.)

The Defining Element of a Kir is Creme de Cassis

When added to white or sparkling wine, Creme de Cassis is the defining ingredient to make a Kir. Creme de cassis is a liqueur made from black currents. This liqueur is used in a number of ways. Not only can it be drunk straight, but it is an excellent topping for ice cream and often flavors sponge cakes. Many duck and pork sauces in classic French cuisine use creme de cassis.

However, it is in cocktails that creme de cassis has gained its greatest popularity. A Kir is simply creme de cassis added to white wine; when that wine is sparkling, the aperitif is renamed a Kir Royale. There is no real recipe; the creme de cassis is added to taste. Start with about a tablespoon of creme de cassis and add more if desired.

And while drinking a Kir, raise to toast to Felix Kir, a priest and mayor of Dijon who was honored for his work in helping French Resistance fighters escape during WW II. Although the drink was created before the war, Mayor Kir’s actions merited renaming the drink after him.

The Classic Accompaniment to Kirs are Gougeres or Cheese Puffs

Kirs are meant to be drunk as aperitifs—before meals. In Burgundy, Kirs are often served with the cheese puffs know as Gougeres. Together, the lightly sweetened drink and slightly nutty pastry stipulate the appetite without being either filling or heavy.

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