Lillet Blanc is a wine-based apertitif made in Bordeaux, France. It was invented in 1887 by Paul and Raymond Lillet, who took advantage of Bordeaux's position as a center of trade to blend white wine from the region with distilled citrus peels and cinchona bark. They called their tonic wine Kina Lillet due to its quinine content.
The Lillet brothers were brilliant advertisers, using print media, deals brokered with ship lines, and the advent of cinema to promote their brand. Ian Fleming's 1953 novel Casino Royale has James Bond ordering a version of the Martini called the Vesper, with "Three measures Gordon's gin, one measure of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken until ice cold, then served in a deep Champagne goblet garnished with a large, thin slice of lemon peel".
In 1962, Michael Dreyfus, an American wine importer, conviced the Lillet company to make a red version of Lillet — Lillet Rouge. They also renamed the original white version Lillet Blanc (in some markets, called Lillet Blonde). In 1985, Bruno Borie, a French wine importer, bought Lillet, modernized the cellars and production, and reformulated Lillet to reduce the quinine bitterness and corresponding sweetness. Beginning in 2000, Lillet began to make some of their own base wines.
Lilllet Blanc is made of about 85% white wine aged in oak, with the remaining amount a fruit liqueur based on both bitter and sweet oranges -- fruit and peels macerated separately, and quinine. It is then aged in oak barrels for 8-12 months before being blended in a solera system with older versions of Lillet.
Lillet Blanc is golden in color and clear, with aromas and flavors of honey, citrus, mint, and pine. It is both lightly sweet and bitter, with 34 proof.
Lillet Rouge is a red wine based aperitif invented in 1962 by the Lillet company, and reformulated in 1990 to be both less sweet and less bitter. It is made in the same way -- red wine is aged in oak barrels, blended with approximately 15% of a liqueur based on sweet and bitter citrus and quinine, rested in barrel for 8-12 months, then blended in a solera system with older versions of Lillet Rouge for complexity and consistency.
Lillet Rouge is ruby red in color with a bit of ambering at the edges. It is intensely fruity, with aromas and flavors of raspberry and cherry, then spicy notes of ginger and cardamom that give way to a slight quinine bitterness.