BL16 - Page 56

As the Negroni celebrates its 100th
birthday, Mark Palmer goes in
search of the perfect version, from
the Italian Alps to St James’s. Just
don’t mention Martini Rosso…
ome anniversaries merit
more attention than others,
and rightly so. The 75th
anniversary of D-Day
Landings? I’ll raise a toast to
that, with my new Campari-based drink,
of which more later.
But some of us think this year’s
centenary of possibly the greatest
libation ever invented warrants public
recognition, ideally accompanied by
heated discussion about what exactly
goes into it, followed by poetic
references to its sublime colour and
texture and ending with the feeling that
all is well with this wretched world.
For it is indeed 100 years since Count
Camillo Negroni walked into Caffè
Casoni in Florence – now Caffè Giacosa
– and asked bartender Fosco Scarselli
to pour gin rather than soda water into
his Americano, the drink beloved by
Americans at the time, which comprised
Campari, red vermouth and soda.
Signor Scarselli added a wedge of
orange to distinguish it from the lemon
garnish in an Americano: The Negroni
was born. Equal measures of Campari,
gin and vermouth – a ménage à trois,
a three-part harmony, a Holy Trinity.
So popular was the concoction that
the count and his family founded the
Negroni Distilleria in Treviso and
produced a ready-made version of the
drink, Antico Negroni, in 1919. The
word is that the count – who was 51 at
the moment of his finest hour – drank
30 Negronis a day. He died at 65.
What a legacy, even though some
members of the Negroni family claim
there is no record of a Camillo Negroni
in their family genealogy.
Never mind the origins; today, purists
– and I claim to be one of them – find
the whole modern Negroni experience
as bitter-sweet as the drink itself. Yes,
the beauty of it is the equal measures –
egalitarianism on the rocks – but so
many betrayals have been poured into
the glass. The biggest of these is Martini
Rosso, which invariably stands next to
the Campari on a bar shelf, when truly it
has no place in such exalted company.
Martini Rosso may taste like
vermouth but it is not vermouth. It is
a cheap imposter that over the years
has gate-crashed so many parties that
everyone thinks it belongs.
Certainly Valentina Bianco would
never allow it in her bar, La Bouche, in
Courmayeur in Italy’s Aosta Valley –
and Valentina happens to be one of the
world’s great Negroni experts. She’s
only 33 but has already won countless

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