Dreaming of Negroni
And my post-pandemic restaurant meal
As more vaccines are administered, we all hope that the global pandemic exits as quickly as it came. In the last year, having for the most part eaten at home, my friends and I have spoken often about what we would choose as our dream celebratory post-pandemic restaurant meal. For me, it’s likely to be a more relaxed one.
Will it be fresh truffles shaved over pizza from Il Borro Tuscan Bistro Dubai, tapas from Restaurante Tapas 24, a caviar sandwich from Estimar, or one of my personal favorites — sautéed angulas from Restaurante El Pescador?
Choosing the meal and the place wouldn’t be easy. But choosing how I would start it is a no-brainer: The Negroni. I simply cannot think of another combination of ingredients with a greater power to elevate the human spirit.
The cocktail derives its name from an Italian Count, Camillo Negroni, who reportedly was looking for a stronger variation of his usual fashionable mixture of red vermouth and bitters (some reports claim the original mixture also contained soda water, a drink we now know as an Americano). His regular bartender and Florentine friend added soda water, or occasionally swapped it out for dry gin. Presto, faster than you can say Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the Negroni came into divine being.
Let us focus on the chemistry, or mixology if you prefer, for a moment. A Negroni is the three ingredients poured in equal parts into a glass with ice, preferably garnished with a twist of orange peel. Sounds simple but, like so many things in life that appear easy (scrambled eggs, anyone?), nuance is what elevates a Negroni from a delicious aperitif to a bittersweet elixir worthy of its birthplace in Florence.
For most people, Campari is readily available and their “go to” bitter. Originating in Milan, Campari is an infusion of a unique blend of herbs and fruit in alcohol and water, has a distinctive ruby red color, and an alcohol content of typically 24–25%. This is where a good Negroni begins.
As for the gin, which derives its flavor from juniper berries, I prefer brands of dry gin made in the UK and sold almost everywhere: Beefeater, The Botanist, Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s, Hendrick’s, and Tanqueray. Although sometimes harder to find, Aviation American Gin is produced in Oregon and worth a try. All work well in this cocktail.
And now for the sweet red vermouth, which is where too many Negronis miss the mark. Sweet vermouth is aromatized fortified wine that has been flavored with various botanicals (herbs, spices, roots …) and typically has an alcohol content of 16–18%. The vermouth acts as the all-important bridge between the Campari and gin. What you choose to build that bridge will determine the strength of your cocktail.
Although France and Spain produce some excellent sweet vermouth, this is an Italian cocktail, so why not keep it vermouth “rosso.” I recommend any of the following brands: Carpano Antica Formula; Cinzano Rosso; 1757 Vermouth di Torino; Mancino Rosso Amaranto. If none of these better brands are available, reach for the ubiquitous Martini Rosso.
That takes care of the three ingredients, but what follows separates the mixers from the masters. There are some who prefer serving a Negroni in a martini glass.
Don’t fall into that trap. What you want is a good quality, old fashioned (aka rocks) glass.
The glass should have cubed ice at the bottom before you pour in the ingredients to build your cocktail. Some prefer cracked ice, which dilutes the drink a bit more. Ok, if you must.
But, whatever you do, please do not shake a Negroni. Shaking destroys the perfect balance of ingredients. This is a cocktail that is meant to be stirred.
Finally, garnish with a twist of orange peel. Finito.
And there you have the perfect drink. Given a choice as to where to have it, I might stick with its Italian roots and have my final cocktail at the Bulgari Hotel bar in Milan. And while I’m there, I might as well order the truffled pasta for il mio ultimo pasto.
Danilo Diazgranados is an investor, collector, and lover of fine wines and a member of the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.