Last month, I wrote about the enduring appeal and easy sophistication of Campari and soda — and then I walked into my favorite liquor store for a bottle of Campari and walked out with something I love even better: Cappelletti. Billed as a vino apertivo, Cappelletti is, like Campari, a bitter, herbaceous mixer with a touch of citrus.
Both Campari and Cappelletti boast that gorgeous red color. Unlike Campari, Cappelletti is wine based rather than alcohol based, and, as a result, its finish is a bit smoother. Adding to its attraction, a bottle of Cappelletti costs much less than its legendary cousin. The bottle, too, is shaped uniquely — like a WWI-era morphine bottle, according to my savvy salesman. I'm not sure if it's true, but it makes for a good story.
Since my indoctrination into the world of Cappelletti, I've noticed it on bar shelves across Memphis. At home, I prefer to drink it the easy way: over ice with soda, tonic, or Prosecco. At Acre in East Memphis, they up the ante by adding Cathead Vodka and tangerine to Cappelletti and sparkling wine for a cocktail called the End of the Line. Alchemy, at the north end of Cooper-Young, chose Cappelletti for its namesake cocktail, the Alchemist, which combines high-end bourbon, vermouth, and Peychaud's Bitters with the aperitif. Cafe 1912, a few blocks up Cooper from Alchemy, has the familiar-shaped bottle on the liquor shelf behind the bar, where they're happy to concoct a Cappelletti-based cocktail of your choice.
Now that the heat is here and farmers markets are in full swing, I've moved on to mixing Cappelletti with gin and basil, using a Tom Collins-esque cocktail I found on Food & Wine's website. Simple to make, the drink has high flavor rewards. Combine an ounce of gin, an ounce of Cappelletti, a half-ounce of lemon juice, a quarter-ounce of simple syrup, and three basil leaves in a cocktail shaker with ice. Do your thing for a few moments, then double-strain into a tall glass with ice. Garnish with extra basil leaves and lemon slices, and voila! Summer drinking at its finest.
Dinah Sanders' acclaimed cocktail book The Art of the Shim recommends a drink called the Teresa, which combines two ounces of Cappelletti, an ounce of lime juice, and three-quarters ounce of crème de cassis. Shake until well-chilled, letting some of the ice in the cocktail shaker dilute the alcohol, then enjoy.
Another great cocktail for your repertoire: the Ruby Diamond, which I found on Epicurious. This elegant drink combines gin, mescal, Cappelletti, lemon juice, and orange juice. The ingredients are shaken with ice, strained, and served in a chilled Champagne coupe.
You can't go wrong with Cappelletti — unless, like me, you decide to share your favorite new liqueur on social media. I Instagrammed a few cocktails — the bottle and its vibrant label in the picture — and the next time I needed a bottle, the liquor store was out of stock.