As a bonus offer –– and to welcome you to our new format –– Happy Hour this week will bring you two, two, two columns in one. Talk about a good deal –– and in this heat, too!
Happy birthday, Campari
That quintessential Italian bar staple, Campari, turns 150 years old this year, and it does not look or taste a day older than 110.
Gaspare Campari was evidently quite the bar-man in his day in Novaro, near Milan in the Italian Piedmonte region. In 1860 he created Bitter Uso Olanda, which then became Gaspare’s eponymous mixture of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit, blended into a mixture of alcohol and water. Today, except for the alcohol and water, only a very few people know what the rest of the ingredients are. It is quite the closely guarded secret.
Some have guessed there are 60 ingredients in Campari; others feel there are 80. Campari is not saying, and given that it’s been 150 years, chances are they won’t be disclosing much at this advanced date. One variable of Campari is the alcohol level, which actually ranges between 20 percent and 28 percent, depending on what country you are in.
Campari’s distinctive red color and aroma add quite the identifiable character to excellent cocktails, such as the Negroni; the Americano; and the world’s first premixed packaged cocktail, the Camparisoda, introduced in 1937.
Campari is known to be an excellent aperitif and has long been considered a settler of tummies wrought out of shape by too much heavy drinking and fine food. Campari belongs to the category of bar accessories known as bitters. Bitters possess alcohol, are usually made from herbs and fruits and contain no sugar, hence the term. They are used to enhance a cocktail recipe, bringing many other flavors and aromas to a good drink.
The other aspect of Campari for which it is justly famous is the incredible body of artwork that was created on its behalf. Today, Campari posters are still proudly displayed on all manner of walls around the world.
Celebrate this unique beverage, settle in with a Campari and soda, add a twist of lime, and enjoy a most pleasant drink while pondering the eternal question, “How can a 150-year-old beverage still hold the secret to its ingredients?” Good luck with the answer.
Negroni (poured over ice)
1 part gin
1 part vermouth
1 part Campari
Orange peel garnish
Americano (shaken with ice)
1 part sweet vermouth
1 part Campari
Dash of club soda
Shake together, and garnish with orange slice or lemon peel
Just Be Natural, or Not
Maybe you should care that the wine you drink is a good deal for the environment. How do you get more natural than grapes? And the fermentation process is a natural process; the sugars in the fruit are going to be converted into alcohol by naturally occurring yeasts –– with or without the aid of a human winemaker. It’s better with the human in the picture, but it’s going to happen, one way or another.
Yet here we go with a whole group of wines labeled “organic,” “biodynamic,” “natural,” “sustainably grown” and the like.
And as in all things with complicated names for simple processes, the devil is in the details. But the one important detail, at least as it relates to you, is: “Do you like what’s in the bottle?”
It is not a good idea to be “guilted.” (That’s not usually a verb, and my spell check is telling me it’s not correct. My editor will tell you, with very little provocation, that this sort of deviation from the rules of good writing does not bother me … ever.) (Ed: This is true.)
You should drink what you like, and if there is some term that indicates that the beverage is saving the planet, then all the better. But as a primary reason to pick up one product over another, maybe that’s not the way to go for you.
The whole dust-up is occurring because so many winemakers and winemaking corporations are touting “natural” as if it suggests to the consumer that other wines not carrying such designations are not as good or not as fresh or not as pure.
It’s actually become a bit of environmental racism, and predictably, there is a little market backlash against the vocal save-the-earth groups. Enjoying wine is not a cry to conserve the planet. Let me state clearly, I’m not against tree-hugging and controlling dangerous manufacturing plant emissions and keeping my catalytic converter in top working order. That’s assuming I know what a catalytic converter is, which I really don’t.
Making wine is not a particularly dirty pursuit anyway. You’ve never heard of any rivers in wine country catching fire. But there are matters that can be improved. Spraying pesticides is not a wonderful thing to do, particularly if you are a pest. And many winemakers have ceased that practice, preferring instead to manage the problem with the release of beneficial insects that prey on the bad ones. Nature is a cruel place.
Then there’s the use of fertilizers or lack thereof. After harvest, vineyard managers are planting winter crops among the rows of grapevines, which after the cold season, die off and bring nutrients to the soil in their decaying state. And there’s the proper use of water in the winery by capturing what has been used (a winery uses a lot of water, mostly in keeping the place clean and free of bacteria), purifying it and reusing what would have been waste. Who can argue with any of that?
Also wineries, because they are located in areas that have lots of sunshine, are now installing huge solar collectors and powering the entire facility off the commercial electrical grid. That saves money, after the initial investment, and also means that as much coal or natural gas does not have to be expended at the power company’s generation facilities.
It’s all good, and it’s all in an attempt to be kind to the earth.
But it is not cause for elitism, depicting a neighbor’s product as not-so- good because they are not-so-considerate. We’re seeing that viewpoint in the marketplace.
At the end of the day, wine is made to be enjoyed –– by you. I just don’t see where you should compromise the pleasure of a fine bottle of wine because you are doing what you perceive to be your part to give the earth a break. There just is not that much environmental damage in the making of a bottle or two of wine. If it makes you feel better, go for it, but otherwise, choose a wine on other factors, such as taste, aroma and whether you like the label art.
There is the other matter of personal damage, however, and sometimes that is not of little consequence. Be good to the earth, but first, be good to you.
The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.