BL16 - Page 57

Clockwise from far left,
award-winning bar owner,
Valentina Bianco; her bar,
La Bouche, in Courmayeur;
the perfect Negroni; popular
Vermouth staples.
Below, Negroni-maker
extraordinaire Alessandro
Palazzi of Dukes Hotel
awards for her knowledge about the
King of Cocktails. “For me, a true
vermouth must come from Torino – and
that’s why I have about 40 of them from
which to choose,” she says. “Many of
them tell their own stories and you can
sense that from the beautiful labels.”
Some names will be familiar: Punt e
Mes; Riserva Carlo Alberto; Del
Professore Classico; Cinzano 1757.
Others not: Ricetta Belle Epoque,
Ricetto Coloniale, Oscar 697.
Vermouth is aromatised, fortified
wine, flavoured with herbs, which must
be no less than 15% alcohol by volume.
The European definition stipulates that
the wine used to prepare vermouth must
be present in the finished product in
a proportion not less than 75%.
The name vermouth comes from the
Old German word for wormwood,
wermut. Wormwood can be toxic in
large amounts, but in small doses has
traditionally been used to treat parasites
– and, famously, flavour absinthe. In
addition to healing the gut, it is also
used to stimulate the stomach. I could
go on – and I think I will.
Vermouth’s invention is attributed to
Antonio Benedetto Carpano, a herbalist
from Turin, who in 1786 combined
herbs with muscatel and sent a crate to
King Vittorio Amedeo III. The king
made it the drink of the royal
household. So there’s a grand pedigree
there for any snobs loitering at the bar.
In 1820, Giuseppe Bernardino Carpano,
Antonio’s nephew, made the business
official and expanded it until brothers
Luigi and Ottavio, third-generation
Carpanos, founded a factory in 1898
to handle increased demand.
As it happens, my friend Richard and
I are writing a book about the Negroni.
Which is why, while I probe Valentina
about her favourite vermouth (“probably
Bordiga, but they are like children to me
so it is hard to pick just one”), Richard
wants to know what comes immediately
to mind when she thinks of a Negroni.”
Being with my boyfriend or with close
friends in a happy place. Carefree,
tolerant of others,” she replies.
Of course there’s a juicy twist of
intrigue, because no one knows what
goes into Campari. No ingredients are
listed on the bottle and the Campari
website merely says it’s “an alcoholic
spirit obtained from the infusion of
bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit
in alcohol and water”. Which isn’t very
helpful. There are meant to be three
people in the world who know the exact
recipe, but no one has been told who
those three are.
The secret has paid off. It is not so
much a case of Campari dominating the
market as Campari being the sole trader.
Aperol could be considered a young
pretender, but the boardroom at
Its beauty lies in
the equal measures
– egalitarianism
on the rocks...
Campari Towers in Milan can hardly be
shaking with fear.
The best sort of gin for a Negroni?
There are no rules, but it has to be a
straightforward London Dry rather than
a mish-mash of pungent botanicals
stuffed into a trendy bottle. Perhaps
Plymouth, Tanqueray or good old
Gordon’s would do, but my first choice
is Foxdenton 48, a high-strength gin
produced by a family business in
Buckingham. Foxdenton’s mother’s ruin
somehow doesn’t dominate the juniper
and dances happily with the Campari.
ack in London, Richard and I
fetch up at Duke’s, off St James’s
Street, where a young bartender
(I hate the word “mixologist”) called
Maria tries to woo us with various
Negroni spin-offs, including one called
The Count, which has a dash or two of
Ardberg single malt and Dom
Bénédectine liqueur in it. Nice try. But
we return quickly to the classic, one of
which features Antica Formula
vermouth, a popular fancy-pants but far
too herby for me.
Allesandro, Duke’s legendary
barman, who always sports an
immaculate white jacket, joins us. He
says the Negroni suddenly has become
popular with young people and is
experiencing some sort of a renaissance.
So we hop over the road to Franco’s in
Jermyn Street, part of the Wilton’s
group, and celebrate with another
Negroni classic, which is not quite a
classic because they use Martini Rosso
rather than proper vermouth.
Which brings me to my own “not
quite a classic” but one that I submit
humbly for when you need that Campari
fix but have a long evening ahead. Go
with equal measures of Campari and
London Dry Gin over plenty of ice and
add tonic. I love it; Richard doesn’t. But
it makes for a happy debate during this
unheralded but hugely important
centenary year. Even though it may not
actually be the 100th anniversary at all.

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