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Campari & Vermouth: a review

Instead of my usual comments on food, cooking and recommended recipes, this week I thought you might enjoy some indispensible edification on a couple of my favourite aperitifs’- Campari and vermouth. Are they 1970s throwbacks or cutting-edge tipples? Let's allow Susy Atkins to decide.

'Make mine a vermouth' is not something you hear often in 2010. I do remember great-aunties sipping pink Cinzanos in the 1970s, and have a recollection of trying sweet vermouth and tonic in the 1980s myself. In short, on the rocks, but not rocking.
Yet there remains a dark corner of every wine aisle where bottles of advocaat, cherry liqueur and, yes, vermouth still lurk.

As is the way of things, some of these oddities are gently swinging back into fashion. Noilly Prat stands out today for its authentic and stylish bottle as well as a very dry flavour. This premium vermouth from the South of France is the mixer de nos jours in classic martinis and dry manhattans.
Vermouth is, essentially, an oak-aged, fortified white wine, somewhat oxidised in the manner of most sherries, and with herbs and spices soaked in it to add bitter flavours. If you want really bitter, though, buy Campari, officially a 'bitters', not a vermouth, an Italian 'infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in alcohol and water'. Whatever. Its bright-red hue and medicinal taste is very distinctive and still loved after 150 years.
Splash Campari into a jug with fruit, cucumber and mint, ice and ginger beer for a Pimm's-like, but drier, summer 'cup', or try it with cold fresh orange juice, sugar syrup and prosecco, or make a classic negroni by mixing Campari with equal quantities of sweet vermouth and gin. Fashionistas can head to Frank's pop-up café and Campari bar in Peckham, south London, for the next few weeks. It's on the 10th floor of a multistorey car park – you can't get more modern than that.
A decent stand-by vermouth for cocktails, off-dry with herbaceous, green-olive notes, and a steal at under a fiver. Buy inexpensive vermouth somewhere with a high turnover to ensure freshness
Campari, Italy (widely available, from £14.99 for 70cl)
There's nothing like it, though Campari divides opinion. If you like bitter, bone-dry, bright ruby-red long drinks and cocktails, this is heaven
Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth, France (Waitrose, on offer at £6.89 for 75cl until Tuesday 24 August; Oddbins, £8.99)
Containing a blend of 20 herbs and spices, this is a must-have for cocktails. Or simply mix one part with two parts vodka and serve with a slice of lime.
 By Susy Atkins - Fly at a Smile-Price