April 10th, 2007
My friend Al Capone, proprietor of Capone Foods in Somerville (and the soon-to-open Capone Foods Cambridge on north Mass Ave.), is known to begin a night out with the classic aperitivo Punt e Mes and soda. Punt e Mes is an Italian vermouth called a “quinquina” because quinine, a bitter bark, is said to be among the many botanicals providing the wine’s color and flavor. At first sip, it has the rich, mellow sweetness you get with standard Italian vermouth, but then it reveals its own distinctive layers of flavor, finishing with that medicinal kick.
“Its name (‘point and a half’) in the dialect of Turin, came from the day when an absent-minded stock exchange agent called out the trading floor term in old man Antonio Carpano’s bar, asking for a vermouth with a half-dose of bitters,” according to drinkshop.com. That day was in the late 1800s, so needless to say the recipe caught on.
Now, in the early 21st century, with more and more people on the hunt for “forgotton” spirits, a lot more Boston bars are carrying Punt e Mes and other aperitifs like Lillet (Blanc and Rouge) and Dubonnet. Recently, I urged Al to switch up his usual Punt e Mes and soda, just once, for an Italian Greyhound: half fresh grapefruit juice and half Punt e Mes on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass with a salted rim. (A standard Greyhound is vodka and grapefruit.) Wow, talk about layers of flavor — and in a drink that doesn’t bonk you over the head with alcoholic strength. No. 9 Park introduced me to this heavenly cocktail, but I have to credit Scott Holliday, the former bar manager of Chez Henri, with first making me aware of the Punt e Mes and grapefruit combo (minus the salt). I have to admit that I tried making it at home once with Tropicana Grapefruit Juice, but it just didn’t work. You gotta go with the fresh fruit.
Oh, and check out the groovy Punt e Mes website. It’s mostly in Italian, but its tagline, written in a “Laugh In” font, says that “Punt e Mes is back,” and each page sports its own funky-lounge music clip and the mashup phrase “L’Appuntamento Yes.”