03/23/2012 09:13 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Pre-Dinner Drinks: The Aperitif

The aperitif is on the rise, and there's really no reason to fight it; because honestly, who doesn't love an excuse for a drink?

If there's one thing that Europeans do just right, it's the aperitif (and the digestif, too). In case you're not familiar with this term, an aperitif is a type of drink enjoyed before dinner in order to "open the appetite." (Aperitif comes from the Latin word aperire, which means “to open.”)

Most aperitifs are a blend of fortified wines with strong herbal qualities. It's a drink that invites you to slow down and enjoy the moment. And while most of us might not be used to taking the time to leisurely work up to our dinners, it's one routine you won't have trouble getting used to -- especially since aperitifs are also know to be accompanied by tasty nibbles such as olives, nuts or canapes.

The aperitif was first introduced with the creation of vermouth in the mid 1700s by Antonio Benedetto Carpano, but it was made popular in France a century later when Joseph Dubonnet, a French chemist, created a wine-based drink that would mask the unpleasant flavor of malaria-fighting quinine. So despite the fact that this drink was once used mainly for its medicinal properties, it has managed to stick around -- and is still enjoyed by many in France and Italy.

Usually served straight up, chilled or on the rocks (at times with a slice of citrus, too), the aperitif is a simple start to the meal. Click through the slideshow below for a look at the most popular aperitifs.

Do you drink aperitifs? Leave a comment.