Italian Aperitivo Face-off

Campari v. Cappelletti

Sometimes, a question comes up that is simply too important to ignore. A question of such vital consequence to mankind that it must immediately be tested and put to rest. Today, dear friends, I have such a question. It’s an age old rivalry — the kind that puts the oldest of friends at odds and threatens to erupt in boozy argument. Also, it’s a question that required me to make — and consume — two cocktails at once. (You know, in the name of science). I am speaking, of course, of a classic Italian aperitivo face-off: Campari vs. Cappelletti. To the ring!

For you Negroni and Americano lovers out there (or for any of you with an Italian grandmother you call “nonna,”) Campari will not be unfamiliar. For the rest of you, I highly recommend you get smart on Campari immediately. It’s a worthy addition to your bar. Campari is a wonderfully (if not somewhat divisively) bitter aperitivo. There are those for whom the bitterness is a bit much, but once you get a taste for it, it’s hard to go back.

As for the Cappelletti, or more properly “Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo Americano Rosso,” I must admit to a certain ignorance until reading about it some months ago. Since then, we’ve been searching for a bottle at various area liquor stores, though mostly without success. Finally, we found a bottle at a specialty liquor store and went straight to work on a comparison plan with Campari.

Alas, I feel compelled to spoil the results of this little battle upfront. Both were absolutely fantastic. If you’re looking for a dramatic finish with one of these two delicious aperitivos standing triumphant over the other’s broken and battered corpse, you’ll be disappointed. These two liquors deliver their fruity and aromatic flavors differently, but both absolutely deliver. In the end, it’ll be a matter of taste for most drinkers.

Campari and Cappelletti, tasting straight.

As mentioned previously, this was of course a scientific endeavor, rather than an excuse for me to spend the night with two drinks in hand (you believe me, right?) So a scientific method was necessary. To start, a tasting of each drink straight, without additional ingredients…

Campari: Perhaps the most notable trait of Campari is it’s sharp and extremely distinctive aroma (as well as it’s deep red color). The smell fills your nostrils and leaves a lingering fruity bitterness. The sensation is not entirely unlike squeezing a citrus rind and taking a whiff of the oils. On tasting, Campari has a heavy body, and hits your taste buds aggressively on contact with a sharp, almost astringent bitterness. It’s a pleasant and alluring sensation, especially over time as your mouth grows used to the sensation.

Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo: Like Campari, Cappelletti has a strong aroma, though much sweeter in sensation and with less of an impact on the nostrils. The smell carries with it a familiarity that’s hard to pick out. The bitterness and fruity tones are rounded out well by the sweet notes. For me, the sweetness was very reminiscent of cookie dough, or perhaps brown sugar. On sipping, the sensation grows, rather than hitting you all at once. It has medium body and doesn’t linger as long as with Campari.

Campari and Cappelletti, with tonic.

For the next step in the taste test, I mixed up a cocktail for each liqueur — just a simple tonic with 1.5 oz of the liqueur, 3/4 oz of homemade tonic (more on that another time), and 2 oz of seltzer water, built in a rocks glass and garnished with an orange peel. Once mixed, both drinks took on a strong orange aroma from the peel, and saw their distinctive smells smoothed out somewhat. Both have a lovely color, with the Campari more of a ruby red and the Cappelletti with a slight grapefruit-like color.

Campari: On sipping, the Campari & Tonic retains a very pronounced “Campari-ness,” with a slightly bitter aftertaste that lingers somewhat with each sip. The sensation can only be described as “tingling.” Even with the tonic and seltzer, one still gets that distinctive, herbaceous, citrusy Campari flavor — which is exactly what I love so much about Campari.

Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo: The Cappelletti blends extremely well with the tonic, giving a sweet and smooth flavor, much lighter than Campari though somewhat less distinctive. The result is a refreshing and delicious drink that is somewhat hard to place in your memory.

As noted upfront, this experiment ended as more of a comparison than a battle. Both drinks are delicious and distinctive, and play well with sparkling additives. If you’re in the mood for something sharper, Campari should be your go to, but if you’d like a little more sweetness with your aperitivo, then check out the Cappelletti. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with a fruity and refreshing drink that gets any night off on the right foot.

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