The Most Delicious Thing: Vergano Americano Aperitif Wine
I was trying to buy Punt e Mes the other day—it's a surprisingly hard bottle to find in San Francisco—and my local shop was out. When I was offered this bottle of Americano instead, I hesitated (it's not cheap at around $40) but ultimately caved, because the salesman was so very excited about this stuff. Now that I've popped it open, I'm glad to have made the purchase.
There was a time when people would give you a strange look if you mentioned drinking vermouth on purpose, especially unmixed with anything else, but that time has passed, and a wide range of vermouths, aperitif wines, bitter liqueurs, and amari are all over bar menus these days. If you've noticed how good Dolin can be, or you're a Campari junkie who has flirted with Fernet, it's time for your next step. Mauro Vergano's Americano (imported by Louis/Dressner) is one bottle to seek out.
The key seems to be the use of quality wine as the base: Vergano uses Grigolino from Casina Tavjin in Piedmont, which is infused with wormwood, gentian, and bitter orange zest. The bitterness is pungent but welcome; it cuts through the soft sweetness enough to make the aperitif sippable undiluted. But swirl in a handful of ice cubes and the menthol side steps forward, along with citrus and a lovely herbal richness. It might remind you a bit of Gran Classico, though it's easier-drinking on its own. A splash of soda is optional but refreshing, and orange twist is a good idea if you want to get fancy. Serve before dinner with a bowl of green olives and some hunks of Parmesan.
Just because you don't have to mix it doesn't mean you shouldn't. I'm a big fan of the Boulevardier, and loved a variation with 2 parts Americano to 1 part Campari to 1 part Breaking and Entering Bourbon from St. George Spirits. (Negroni lovers, feel free to experiment with your favorite gins.) But my inclination is to keep it simple: a touch of lemon juice, two ounces of Americano, and you.