In my ongoing effort to rid myself of the habit of drinking red wine as an aperitivo, something that for starters is not very Italian, but more important just makes me want to consume large platters of mortadella before dinner, I’m always experimenting to try to come up with delicious alternatives—real aperitivi.
On one of my first trips to Italy I noticed a bottle of bright red, cheerful-looking booze at the bar at the Siena train station. I asked the bartender about it and wound up drinking two little glasses of Aperol, straight up. The taste was sweet and slightly bitter. I was familiar with Campari, but this was different, sweeter and less bitter but still with that elusive herbal kick, sort of a junior Campari, and extremely easygoing in every way. I was so taken by it that I went to buy a bottle on my return home. I was saddened to discover it was not exported. Well, now it is.
I love it neat or on the rocks, but I’ve come to like it best as a seasoning for a glass of very cold, very light white wine, served straight up with a twist or orange rind. I call this drink the Aperolini.
According to Barbieri, the company that makes Aperol, the flavor comes from a mix of bitter orange, rhubarb, and a few other highly flavored ingredients including gentian, a bitter root that blossoms into little blue flowers. Its alcohol content is only 11 percent, making it a very harmless mixer.
A couple of months ago I posted a recipe for the negroni, a real cocktail, made from gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. My Aperolini is a lightened-up version of that, a perfect springtime drink and one that serves a wonderful purpose (beside the obvious one). As I mentioned in my negroni post, bitter drinks don’t go particularly well with food, so having one won’t tempt you to start your dinner early. However, I have found one thing that tastes truly nice with my Aperolini: a black olive, which is bitter and herby in its own right.
1 glass very cold, light white wine (a soave is perfect, but whatever you chose, try to avoid one of those heavily oaked California chardonnays, which will throw the drink off balance)
1 tablespoon Aperol
1 long strip orange peel
Chill a wineglass and fill it 3/4 high with very cold white wine. Pour in the Aperol, and watch the wine turn a beautiful peachy pink. Add the orange peel. Drink immediately.