Lillet Blanc Explained - What It Is and How It Tastes

By Timo Torner / Last updated on May 6, 2023

Summertime is Lillet Blanc time. The French fortified wine is the main element in many refreshing summer cocktails. But what is Lillet Blanc, and how does it taste?
Lillet Blanc Explained

Lillet Blanc has been around for a long time already, but it took a while until it made its way on the summer bar menus. It's a sweet and aromatic aperitif wine from France and is a delight when sipped neat or on the rocks, but it also works sublimely in cocktails. It tastes like a crisp white wine, only sweeter with more fruity and floral flavors.

Here's why it became so popular and why you might want to drink more of it.

What is Lillet Blanc?

Lillet Blanc is an aromatized and fortified aperitif wine from France that is produced since 1986. It is the result of blending white wine with fruit infusions and botanicals before resting in oak barrels for twelve months.

The Blanc variant of Lillet is the legitimate successor of Kina Lillet, which existed between 1887 and 1986. Kina Lillet was more bitter in taste because it had a higher quinine content. Quinine is a component of the bark of the kina-kina or cinchona tree. Hence the name Kina Lillet.

Semillon grapes used for white Lillet

In 1985, Lillet revised the recipe to make the liqueur even better. Not only is the quinine content lower but also the sweetness. Its less bitter and better-balanced taste made the liqueur more approachable to the masses and is the main reason for the success of Lillet Blanc in summery Spritz cocktails.

How Does Lillet Blanc Taste?

The flavor profile of Lillet Blanc is light and well-balanced. It tastes similar to white wine with subtle floral flavors, hints of honey, and citrus fruits like orange and lemons. It's light and super refreshing, which makes it an ideal ingredient in fresh and floral cocktails.

You still get a subtle yet distinct bitter note on the palate from cinchona bark. However, it vanishes quickly and makes room for more fruity and spicy notes. 

The scent is light and bright with subtle honey sweetness and a slightly floral and citrusy smell. You can smell fresh Jasmine flowers, honey, lemon rind, fresh orange, and minty herbal notes.

If you're looking for a substitute, Cocchi Americano works excellently as an alternative in cocktails. It has a slightly sweeter flavor profile which you can balance with aromatic bitters or citrus juices. 

What is it made from?

Lillet is made of 85% wine from the Bordeaux region, 15% macerated liqueurs, as well as herbs and spices. That template applies to Lillet Blanc but also to the other two expressions: Lillet Rouge and Rosé. The base wine for Lillet Blanc is made of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes

These liqueurs are usually citrus-based, made of orange peels from Morocco and Spain. The resulting aperitif wine is slightly stronger than your usual white wine, with 17% alcohol by volume.

Currently, Lillet offers three different versions on the market: Blanc, Rouge, and Rosé, with Lillet Blanc being the bestseller and best-known. 

Best Ways to Drink Lillet Blanc

Lillet Blanc makes for an excellent low-alcohol aperitif, either on the rocks served with a slice of fresh orange or with a mixer like bitter lemon soda or in combination with fresh grapefruit juice and soda water. When served on its own the ideal drinking temperature is between 6°C and 8°C (43–46 °F).

Its refreshing taste is also ideal for a variety of low-ABV summer drinks. You can pair it with fresh lime juice and ginger in a Lillet Buck or in combination with peach ice tea, lemon juice, soda water, and mint in a Lillet Peach cocktail.

Top Lillet Blanc Cocktails

The fresh and floral taste combined with a low amount of alcohol makes it great in light cocktails. The most popular cocktails made with it are the Vesper Martini and The Corpse Reviver No 2. 

The Vesper Martini is a drink known from film and tv, invented by Bond author Ian Fleming. It consists of vodka, gin, and Lillet Blanc. This twist on the classic Martini can is amazingly rich and full-bodied.

In Corpse Reviver No.2, you mix Lillet Blanc with lemon, gin, orange, and absinthe. The result is a cracking and citrusy hangover remedy. Other popular cocktails made with Lillet Blanc include:

White Negroni made of Lillet Blanc, Suze, and Gin served on table

Other Lillet Types

Kina Lillet was the original form of Lillet, first produced in 1887. Due to the higher quinine content, Kina was way more bitter but also sweeter than modern days Blanc version. Today, Lillet offers three types: Lillet Rouge, Lillet Rosé, and Lillet Blanc.

  • Lillet Rouge: In 1962, Lillet released the red-wine-based liqueur that is made from a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes.
  • Lillet Rosé: The latest addition to the Lillet lineup came to the market in 2011, and has a fresh, clean, fruity, well-balanced taste.

History of Lillet Blanc

The two brothers, Raymond and Paul Lillet, established the Lillet brand in 1872. They got the idea to make a white aperitif wine from a doctor who traveled to Brazil for Louis XIV, where he came across the bitter-flavored quinine that is contained in the bark of the cinchona tree.

On returning to Bordeaux years later, he started making liqueurs from the bark of the cinchona tree. These so-called tonic wines became quite popular as people soon declared them to be the most healthy and hygienic beverage to drink at the time. -And that probably wasn't far from the truth, considering we're talking about the time of smallpox, typhus, and pestilence.

Kina Lillet

In 1872, the Lillet brothers founded their company La Maison Lillet in the small village of Podensac near Bordeaux. Merely 15 years later, they started producing a fortified and aromatized wine naming it Kina Lillet.

At this time, aperitif wines were typically red, so their white-wine-based Lillet stood out from the competition. As you might have guessed from the name, Kina Lillet not only contained the popular ingredient quinine but it was also named after it.

Lillet soon became famous beyond the French borders. In the roaring Twenties, Paul and Raymond exported their product to other European countries, Africa, and the US, where it quickly became a success with New York's high society.

original Kina Lillet label

Kina Lillet becomes Lillet Blanc

Lillet Blanc bottle

In the 1970s, the grandson of the Lillet brothers removed the Kina and rebranded the product to Lillet only. Kina had become a generic term for beverages containing quinine and seemed superfluous.

Only a decade later, the company changed the original formula for Lillet to improve its taste and quality. Both, quinine and sugar levels, were reduced a lot. That is also why vintage cocktail recipes asking for Kina Lillet often need adjustments if you use the modern Blanc version of Lillet.

They added Blanc to the brand name to capitalize on the fact that most products on the market were still red aperitifs. To serve people who prefer red over white, they released Lillet Rouge in 1962. In 2011, they followed it up with Lillet Rose.

What Else Can You Make with Lillet?

The blend of sweetness, citrus, slight bitterness, and floral-herbal notes make Lillet Blanc extremely versatile. Yet, you can make it even more flavorsome by infusing it with aromatic ingredients like rosemary, thyme, basil, or chamomile.

By infusing the aperitif wine with additional herbs aromas and flavors are even more pronounced. Perfect for mixing flavorful cocktail creations. It's a great way to bring stronger flavors into your Lillet cocktails without relying on other ingredients.


Related Articles

Subscribe to Cocktail Society!

Receive our latest recipes, reviews, and insights - straight to your inbox.
Subscription Form

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ContactAbout usPrivacy PolicyTermsSitemap
Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases from

© 2023