Italian Apertivo: what you need to know and where to try them
If you’re a Campari lover, Canelli’s Piedmont-based Contratto Bitter should be the next bottle in your basket. Founded in 1867 by Giuseppe Contratto, it is best known as the oldest continuously operating sparkling wine producer in Italy, but their flavored wines and bitter aperitifs are also very popular among bartenders and aperitif lovers. Over the past decade, Contratto has dedicated resources to recreating archival aperitif recipes, which culminated in their 2015 releases: Contratto Bitter and Contratto Aperitif.
The Contratto Bitter formula is inspired by a 1933 recipe, which uses an Italian brandy base infused with a variety of herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and seeds; bitter orange peel, cloves, gentian, ginger, hibiscus, rhubarb, juniper and berries. At 22% ABV, it has enough alcoholic backbone to use in any classic cocktail you’ll find Campari, including Negroni and Boulevardier.
Because Contratto also claims a vineyard and winery, travelers have the opportunity to try the brand at source by booking a day trip. But for those looking to find Contratto Bitter in the wild, the Four Seasons Florence Atrium Bar, one of the “Italian aperitif meccas,” according to Longo from Champagne Bar, is a destination to put on your list. Another is Caffe Mulassano in Turin where The Connaught’s Bargiani claims that the modern Italian aperitif was born. “It really is a precious place”, says Bargiani, because it is also “where they invented the tramezzino. [sandwich] to serve with their homemade vermouth liqueur.