The Negroni – My First Italian Lover
Do you remember your first? I do.
It was in Florence in the mid 90s walking the piazza after dinner with my Italian wine producer host. She was English and had moved to Italy 10 years earlier, looking for love, and staying for wine. A wise, complex, kind, and brilliant minded lady, she drank, smoked, didn’t mince her words and drank negronis. Her knowledge on wine and life held me captivated, so when she suggested “one last drink” at a favorite bar, I couldn’t refuse.
We walked a dimly-lit block in the cool night air before happening up on “her place”. Stepping onto the gray marble porch and swinging open the heavy oak door, we found ourselves the subject of attention for the near all-male crowd, bellied up to the bar, smoking and conversing at varying decibels. Many held half empty glasses of assorted amaro and digestifs, but it was the negroni we came for.
In flawless Italian tinged with a hint of Oxford, my host Alex ordered our drinks and the room fell silent. A few quizzical glances ensued, then the fellow next to Alex turned and jested in Italian, she with retorts. I later learned he had asked what kind of ladies we were to be ordering such a drink so late on a Tuesday night, for surely we had a home to go to and a husband to feed.
Too busy to notice I was transfixed by the bartender. The mid 60s man was a looming 6’2”; the lines on his face had earned their place, his fleshy worn hands dried from years of acid, sugar, and the vagaries of bartending life. He went about his craft with the precision and concentration of a cardiac surgeon; the crystal-clear ice cubes stacked into an impossibly clean old-fashioned glass.
With a seasoned silver measure and keen eye, he coalesced one-third each of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin to their final resting place. Navigating the solid silver swizzle between the glass walls and ice, his hands came alive, pirouetting the swizzle to an imaginary tune, clockwise for certain turns then counter clockwise. Then, just as an appreciative opera audience tosses flowers to stage, in front of us landed two white cocktail napkins and atop, a pair of the most exotic adult drinks I had seen.
Catching my gaze, the youthful sparkle in his eyes told you he was proud of his handiwork. There was no request for money, no waiting on applause. He was gone. Off to create another cocktail for the throngs he knew would also appreciate his handiwork.
The heady aromas of orange, mandarin, rose and juniper filled my senses, and the unctuous liquid hit my lips, instantly warming my insides and flooding memories of my first sip of “real liquor”. But better.
My host raised her glass, took a sip, a deep look of contemplation and a wry grin before announcing: “it’s a good one”. Only in later years would I understand the makings of that great drink. A balanced juxtaposition of sweetness, bitterness, absence, presence, simplicity and complexity. Much like life.
Much like the martini, the negroni is a dangerous dance partner. And I stop at one. Orson Welles, who discovered the cocktail while filming Black Magic in Rome in 1947 said: “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” Smart man.
The negroni has been my loyal cocktail friend for the last two decades. He comforts me, challenges me, and is always the yardstick by which I measure a great bartender. In its birthplace of Florence, it is served in a tumbler glass on the rocks with a slice of orange. I find some bartenders want to mess with pricy vermouths, highly aromatic gins, replace Campari with sweeter Averna or, serve it blended and barrel aged, or on tap.
But nothing will replace the original. A classic negroni, like a classic martini is a crowd leveler, and for me, a friend selector. I give thanks to Count Cammillo Negroni and the day he strolled into Caffe Casoni in Florence and asked to replace the soda in his Americano with Gin. He may have been a philandering Italian turned American rodeo rider, but the Count sure knew a great drink when he saw one.
Now go out and enjoy this week’s Negroni Week celebrations, and may you also find that one love.
What We’re Reading:
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Meet the Tribe!
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Martina “Marti” Mirandola Mullen, Italian Brand Manager at Massanois Imports (USA)
Years in the industry:
Six. I started in Italian wine travel in 2013 curating the food and wine travel for an Italian travel company, Select Italy. In 2015, I moved into wine marketing, then sales with St Michelle Wine Estates, before joining Massanois Imports as Brand Manager in 2017. And I love it!
My biggest challenge to wellness:
I am a people pleaser - I'm 1,000% on or nothing, so it doesn't matter how much sleep I get or how much yoga I do, if I feel pressured on all sides, I'm highly stressed. In my job as brand manager and a person that loves sales, I am the quintessential middle woman - I have to serve winery suppliers, retail and restaurant clients, higher ups, and sales reps, but I still REALLY I love my job! However, making sure everyone is happy is not a small task.
How I keep it together to stay well:.
It’s about unplugging, meditating, and treating my body right. I do yoga almost every day - if I don't do yoga, I do 305 Fitness (an amazing club-like dance class) or bike and walk my way around the day. I have also discovered meditation and practice 10-20 minutes per day. It has really done wonders.
I bring my spit cup EVERYWHERE. My glass of wine at the end of the night in the comfort of my own home is sacred, but my professional role is tasting.
Finally, I focus on what matters the most in my life - my friends and family. When possible, I put my phone away at night and on weekends, so I can focus on them. I think the biggest part of leading a healthy lifestyle of all in this line of work in choosing physical and mental wellness every day, and for me the people that I love the most are those who support and even enable me to do this.
You can connect with Marti on Instagram @martinm85 .
Let’s Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you.
· Panelist at Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines in Bordeaux, July 4 to 6 (Cathy)
· Attendee at TEXSOM Sommelier Conference in Dallas, August 18 to 20 (Beck)
· Attendee at Australian Women in Wine Awards in New York, Sept. 17 (Beck)
· Speaker at Dream Big Darling in Paso Robles, September 15 to 17 (Cathy)
· Emcee at Australia Decanted in Lake Tahoe, Oct. 6 to 9 (Cathy)
· Presenter at the Vancouver International Wine Festival, February 25 to 29 (Cathy)
· Presenter at the Future Wine Expo in Santa Rosa, May 12 and 13 (Cathy)