A pre-dinner drink is designed to help us wind down after work and stimulate the appetite for the evening meal. America has a cocktail culture, in Britain they once sipped dry sherry, and in Italy they still enjoy an aperitivo.
Aperitivi are low-alcohol drinks containing bittersweet liqueurs and/or vermouth. Popular examples include Aperol Spritz or Campari and soda. Many poisons are bitter, so when we taste a bitter food or beverage, the alarm bells go off and our bodies react by wanting to ingest nutrients to counteract the effects of the “poison”. Aperitivi are a highly effective appetite stimulant.
The world’s first vermouth was developed in the late 1700s by Italian distiller and herbalist Antonio Benedetto Carpano. It was a blend of fortified, aromatised wine that was sweet enough to be sipped, rather than drunk, for its claimed medical properties. Many others followed.
Now, thanks to Central Otago wine producer Terra Sancta, you can enjoy a New Zealand aperitivo, made from pinot gris grapes with a secret blend of 16 botanicals, including kanua, horopito, rosehip, elderberry, yarrow, thyme, sage, hawthorn and artichoke. If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, the other mystery ingredients will.
Terra Sancta co-owner/founder Sarah Eliott explains: “It is a product that really took on a life of its own and was the result of a number of years of exploration and experimentation and the right people coming together with the right interests and skills at the right time.
“I'm not sure it would have ever come to life if Mark [Weldon, Eliott’s husband] hadn't given us a deadline – as you know, pressure will bring almost anything to fruition. The blending process was a lot of fun, quite bamboozling at times, and the foraging never ending. It has connected us even more deeply to this part of our world.”
The development of Terra Sancta Aperitivo Botanical began in 2017 and is the result of exploration, experimentation, persistence and alchemy. With careful study and trials of more than 30 medicinal and flavourful flowers, fruits, bark, leaves, roots and seeds, the final secret blend of 16 botanicals was created in December 2019. Each botanical extraction is prepared from scratch by Terra Sancta before blending with the wine base. It is entirely natural, with no added colour, and is bottled at Terra Sancta under cork and wax.
The botanical ingredients are foraged from the company’s Bannockburn vineyards and surrounds during the grape harvest, which runs from March to May. They are then stored in the winery in preparation for drying and extraction during spring.
Eliott believes that Terra Sancta Aperitivo Botanical is New Zealand’s first artisanal wine-based botanical aperitivo. Others are sure to follow.
I think the Terra Sancta offering is delicious – an intense mix of tangy herbs and spices, red berries, brambles, and many other flavours that are hard to define. The net effect is impressive, with a lingering bitterness that certainly stimulates the appetite.
Once opened, Terra Sancta Aperitivo Botanical is best consumed within a month.
Terra Sancta recommend the following serving options:
Option 1: On the Rocks – pour 60ml into a glass over ice.
Option 2: Cube and a Splash – as above, but with the addition of a splash of soda (or to taste). Add mint and a slice of orange for additional finesse.
Option 3: Terra Sancta Botanical Spritz 1:1:splash – as above but with the addition of 60ml of dry sparkling wine (prosecco or similar).
I enjoyed it on the rocks and with a splash of prosecco, marginally preferring the fizzy version.
After tasting Terra Sancta Aperitivo Botanical, I popped the bottle in the fridge. My daughter poured herself a glass, thinking it was Terra Sancta Rosé, and exclaimed, “Dad, this wine tastes like Campari.” I felt proud of her.
Bob’s Top Picks
2019 Dry River Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $95
Dense pinot noir with flavours across the ripeness spectrum, from fresh herbs and rhubarb to cassis and dark berries. There is also a suggestion of violet/floral and liquorice characters. A little closed right now but with a promising future. The wine opened up as it sat in the glass. May be worth decanting.
2020 Mount Brown Pinot Gris, North Canterbury, $16
Truly aromatic pinot gris with the aroma of ripe honeysuckle. Pear and stewed-apple flavours with a hint of clove/spice. Soft-textured wine with a lingering finish. Nice purity. Good value at this price.
2018 Papa Luna Calatayud, Spain, $26.95
A blend of old-vine garnacha, syrah and mazuelo. Dense, spicy red with dried fruits/Christmas cake, chocolate/mocha, five spice and liquorice flavours. Fruit sweetness is perfectly balanced by fine, ripe tannins. Approachable now but should develop well.
Read more from Bob at therealreview.com