Thursday, December 15, 2016
The last discovery in Rome
Rome was full of delightful discoveries and surprises. Everything from a Raphael painting to a building painted in an anomalous color of stucco could be a blinding and joyful revelation. Treats and wonders greeted my wife and I on a daily basis. And though the research I did before our month-long trip was exhaustive, reality has a way of evading the Internet and nimbly avoiding being put into any guidebook. You only find it walking the streets and breathing it in.
But you kind of have to be there to discover new things. So when I came home from Rome I thought I was all done with these Roman revelations. But one last discovery, charmingly, decided to hide in plain site, only to reveal itself more than a month after our return home, leaping out of hiding long after we were ensconced once again in normal life.
On the eve of our visit to Rome I decided one useful thing for me to have there would be a common, easy to order, readily available Roman Cocktail, something I could easily find and get at both the most casual street cafes and in the swankiest hotel rooftop bars. When I looked into this subject I found one common Roman Cocktail with virtually no competition. The Negroni. The Negroni is a classic and ubiquitous Italian Cocktail. Consisting of one part gin (my favorite spirit), one part Campari (a beautiful ruby red complicated drink of mystery made only in Italy), and one part Sweet Red Vermouth (whatever), all over the rocks with a slice of orange, the Negroni was probably the only thing I regularly asked for in Rome wherein when I asked I was always understood. Even asking for a Cappuccino might get confused across the language barrier, but never the Negroni. Ever it came. No one ever looked at me blankly or said something mystifying in reply. And it was nearly identical no matter where I got it. Simple glass, beautiful red, I usually wished it were stirred a bit more. Ice. Orange slice. Often it came with peanuts, sometimes olives too. Sometimes potato chips of all things.
I liked it. I had one Negroni and I liked it. Sweet, bitter, and with a complexity of fruit and herb flavors that were hard to pin down. Usually the flavor of cherry was in there. I love the flavor of cherry! In 1947 Orson Welles had a Negroni in Rome where it was newly becoming popular. He said "The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other." I drank a lot of Negronis. I guess I came out even.
And I kept drinking them after I came home. I got gin. I got Campari. And I got Red Vermouth. The gin was the power of the drink. The Campari brought the complex flavors. And the Red Vermouth was there for some reason. I wasn't sure.
So I looked up Red Vermouth. People liked it. You could drink it on the rocks. It was wine made stronger, sweet, and mixed with secret recipes of herbs and such. So one night I took my Dolin Rosso Vermouth, poured out a little over ice, and had a taste.
There were the cherries! There were all these flavors I knew from the Negroni. This was lovely! I was drinking Red Vermouth all along in Rome, but I only found it a month later!
I still have Negronis. That Campari gets expensive though. Sometimes I just have Vermouth on the rocks, and it's pretty and satisfying. Sometimes I have Vermouth on the rocks with a little gin. I love them all. All Rome. And done.