The Aperitif – A Classic Revival

Peter Morrell meets an old friend and discovers a new one in the world of aperitifs

The word aperitif is derived from the Latin word apertitiuvum, which means opener, and that is exactly what it does, it marks the beginning of a meal by stimulating the appetite.

It is generally acknowledged that the aperitif was invented in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano, an Italian distiller based in Turin. His infusion of herbs in white wine fortified with the addition of alcohol was the original vermouth.

Other producers followed Carpano’s lead including one Gaspare Campari, who had started life as a master drink maker at the Bass Bar in Turin. His recipe for the now iconic Campari contained more than 60 natural ingredients including herbs, spices, barks and fruit peels. The recipe has not changed in all those years, and the company still keeps the complete recipe confidential today.

My first acquaintance with Campari was in the 1970s, I moved from a provincial town to London and had to lose my regional accent and gain some sophistication fast. The accent went quite easily but the sophistication came more slowly, however an early start was always to order a ‘Campari Soda’ with a slice of orange before a meal.

It was pleasantly astringent, an adult taste, and really did sharpen the appetite. As time went on I also found that it was the essential ingredient for the classic Negroni cocktail. The simple recipe for this equally adult taste is one part dry gin, one part sweet vermouth and one part Campari. Mix with ice until cold, strain into a cocktail glass and ‘Ecco Fatto’ (Hey Presto) another drink to savour

Over time I lost touch with my sophisticated old friend, with its retro label designed in 1932 by Fortunato Depero. But I am pleased to see that there has been a big revival in people drinking an aperitif before dinner and one brand in the forefront of that trend is Campari. And with this trend, for a limited time, has come a new livery for the Campari bottle. A brand new label designed by the renowned Brazilian-born artist Romero Britto.

This is fourth in a series of Campari limited edition bottles which began in 2010 to celebrate Campari’s 150 Year Anniversary. Britto’s new label is an adaptation of his famous “A New Day” artwork and is designed to represent the pulsating red heart of the brand and its connection to Campari lovers everywhere.

So I am now back in the fold as regular Campari drinker ordering my ‘Campari Soda’ before dinner.

But I have also met a new friend in the world of aperitifs, it’s another Italian, Aperol. This was created in 1919 by the Barbieri Brothers. Again it has a secret recipe which is unchanged since it’s inception. It is similar to Campari but has about half the alcohol content and is slightly sweeter.

I first came across Aperol at Redhook, the restaurant in Farringdon, in a cocktail called East River Fizz, a mix of Grey Goose vodka, Aperol, honeydew melon, lemon and champagne. However the most famous aperitif that features Aperol is the Spritz.

The Spritz is attaining cult status in Germany and Austria, it is the ideal al fresco summer aperitif. Making an Aperol Spritz is as easy as 3,2.1. Get a tumbler or large balloon glass with some ice, mix 3 parts white wine or ideally Presecco, 2 parts of Aperol, and a dash of soda to stop the Aperol from sinking, garnish with a slice of orange. This really is a ‘sit back and relax’ drink.

So if you want to exude that raffish air of sophistication this summer make it a Campari or Aperol.

For more information and cocktail recipes visit and

Campari and Aperol are available from good supermarkets, off licences and wine merchants.