Negroni week is sponsored by Campari, which I’m sure by complete happenstance is one of the three ingredients in a classic Negroni. Participating bars and restaurants pledge a portion of their Negroni sales to a charity of their choice, and the establishment that sells the most Negronis gets an additional 10 grand from Campari for their charity. That’s no small twist in my drink.
But the focus of my research has been primarily to answer the following question:
What the hell is a Negroni?
In Italy, a Negroni is what’s known as an aperitivo, or what the French call an apéritif, but what we stateside sophisticates call “a drink before dinner.”
The Negroni’s proportions are elegant in their simplicity: One part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one part Campari. Shake those three ingredients with some cracked ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange, or if you’ve had a good week, a 10,000 dollar bill.
Italians are not renown for their inventive cocktails. In fact, they’re not known as big drinkers at all, alcohol in Italy being seen as an accompaniment, not a recreation. With the possible exception of grappa, which has a secondary life as fuel for Vespa motor scooters and nail polish remover.
Legend has it that the Negroni cocktail was invented in 1919 at the Caffè Casoni (now called the Caffè Cavalli) in Florence. As the story goes, Count Camillo Negroni (what a coincidence!) asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, at the café to make him a drink called an Americano, which is equal parts sweet vermouth and Campari with a splash of soda, but to hold the soda and use gin instead, just to kick it up a notch. But it was Signori Scarselli who added the orange twist, if only to distinguish it from the Americano, which has a lemon one.
From that moment a legend was born, and the Negroni family actually founded a distillery in Treviso to produce a ready-to-drink version of their eponymous concoction.
Famed film director, actor, writer and rotund epicurean, Orson Welles, became quite enamored with the charms of the Negroni in 1947 while in Rome filming “Cagliostro,” which was released in 1949 in the US as “Black Magic.” For you film buffs out there, the movie was based on the Alexandre Dumas Sr. novel, “Joseph Balsamo,” and it introduced a young actor named Raymond Burr, who went on to fame and fortune as Perry Mason and Ironside. Man, what you can learn in a wine blog!
Maestro Welles wrote about his new infatuation, the Negroni, not Rita Hayworth (they divorced in 1948) that, “the bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” I’m assuming the bitters he was talking about was the Campari and not Ms. Hayworth.
If this tantalizing taste on the history of the Negroni has been an aperitivo for your curiosity, there’s a wonderfully knowageable and funny local writer named Gary Regan who’s written the definitive work on the Negroni called appropriately enough, “The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, with Recipes and Lore.” Available, as they say, wherever books are sold.
If you’re interested in more hands-on research, stop in bin94wines, pick up some fixin’s and make your own batch of Negronis. Don’t you just love studying!