People seem to love a little something red in their cocktails. Aperol, the beloved, ruby-colored Italian liqueur, has been having a moment for a while now. If you disagree, try finding a respectable bar that doesn’t offer their eponymous spritz. The gin boom of recent years has also fueled a Negroni craze, meaning Campari, that other, boldly scarlet bitter Italian liqueur, is similarly flying off the shelves (never mind the Boulevardier, which I seem to be seeing on every cocktail list now). But if you’re looking to enhance your cocktail game or just add a new aperitif to your happy hour, Cappelletti is another rosy Italian spirit that should probably be on your radar.
Cappelletti is distinguished from its more well-known crimson cousins by several features. For starters, the original bottle is an elongated pot still shape that should elicit a little wonderment from any dinner guest. (Current bottlings now come in a more boring but shelf-friendly shape.) More importantly, Cappelletti is technically a fortified wine, made from a base of mostly Trebbiano grapes instead of grain neutral spirits like most liqueurs. It also has bugs in it. Calm down. Not whole bugs. Just really tiny bits of bugs, the result of its Carmine coloring derived from Cochineal beetles. For what it’s worth, Campari was once colored the same way. Anyway, on to the tasting!
The aroma is certainly distinct from both Campari and Aperol. The sweetness is measured, not nearly as bold or syrupy as Aperol. There’s also far less bitter licorice bite than with Campari. The wine base gives quite a lot of texture to the nose, but it’s still light on its feet, not as bold or tangy as a classic vermouth. Secondary notes of orange peel, dry herbs, and baking spice create a bright, gently peppery profile. The palate shows superior balance to both Campari and Aperol with a lush, wine-inspired body and gentle, vinous sweetness. Mandarin orange and pink grapefruit notes offer a mild tartness, but nowhere near the bracing bitterness of something like Campari. Secondary notes of woody spice, clove, and gentian make this far more complex, as well. It finishes clean with refreshing acidity and a lingering note of blood orange. A superior aperitivo that may just change your cocktail game forever.