Aperitifs at The Little Nell

Sabato Sagaria is the food and beverage director at The Little Nell in Aspen. During the past 15 or so years Sabato has worn several hats as cook, restaurant manager, consultant, professor, author, food and beverage director and sommelier. He’s currently fighting bad beverages and spreading the cocktail gospel to the masses…

As our cocktail program has evolved, a variety of aperitifs have made their way into our bar program here at The Little Nell in Aspen…  vermouths especially.

We have exiled the Noilly Prats and Martini & Rossis in favor of the more crafted products from Dolin in France’s Jura Region, who makes delightful sweet and dry vermouth that is notably lighter, drier and less pungent than their larger commercial counterparts. We also favor Italy’s Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth. I mean, it’s a red vermouth with rich flavors. Why wouldn’t you?

A favorite drink of mine is very Italian-based, and I first sampled it in Boulder, Colorado, at Pizzeria Locale.  It blends Carpano Antica with Maraschino and is topped with soda water. So simple.  This is heaven in a glass for me, and it’s my go-to, year-round aperitivo.

Here’s the breakdown to create this lovely drink at home:

  • 2 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz. Maraschino
  • 3 oz. Soda Water

Fill large wine glass with ice; Pour ingredients over rocks; Top with soda water; Garnish with a Marasca Cherry

And while we’re talking about the importance of a good vermouth, if you have never had a Manhattan with Carpano, you’ve never had a Manhattan.

Mediocre vermouth is the easiest way to screw up an amazing Manhattan.

This fall, I wandered into a local restaurant here in Aspen, and it was the first cool evening in town. I was craving something brown to warm the soul.  They had a delicious rye behind the bar, so I thought a Manhattan would be the perfect call.  I ordered one and specified the type of rye.  Then I watched them make it using the bottle of sweet vermouth in the well that had probably been there for several months.  At first sip, I realized this was not a Manhattan; this was a Manhattan made with low-grade vermouth, or as I now refer to it “A Newark.”

So lesson learned, I now order my Manhattans and always specify the type of rye or bourbon and the type of vermouth. Life is too short to drink anything less than delicious.