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A Look at the Negroni

By Steve Wells

Why am I so bitter?

I'm really not bitter. I'm a fairly easy-going guy. As a winemaker, I have my fits of mania when struggling to figure out logistics during harvest season, so I freak out in the corner by myself, regroup and figure it out, but other than that, I'm pretty relaxed. As my palate has continued to evolve over the years, I have noticed myself drifting more and more toward beverages of the bitter, sour, and acidic nature. Case in point is one of my favorite cocktails, the Negroni which is made with equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth.

There are slight variations to the Negroni: you can choose your favorite brand of gin and sweet vermouth, but the real star of the show for me is the Campari. You can use another bitter aperitif, but there really is nothing quite like Campari. Its vibrant red color is unmistakable. You may not like to hear this, but that red color comes from the cochineal insect. The cochineal is found feasting on prickly pears in desert areas in the southern United States, Mexico, and South America. When the insect is crushed, a vibrant dye is created and is used in many different industries. Along with this dye, there are some 60 different ingredients used in making Campari. The recipe has been a closely-held secret since its creation in Italy over 150 years ago. The known ingredients are herbs, tree barks, and fruit peels, but which ones exactly and in what proportions remain a mystery.

The general flavors of Campari are bittersweet orange with some hints of clove, cinnamon, and cherry. Its bright, refreshing aspect makes it the perfect precursor to any meal. The Negroni is categorized as an aperitif and is designed to get your stomach ready for food. I enjoy the tart and tangy nature of the cocktail, which makes your mouth salivate to prepare it for the coming meal. I find myself ordering a Negroni more times than not when dining out and usually have some premixed in a stoppered glass bottle in my refrigerator. The premade mix makes it nice and easy to have that cocktail ready quickly after a long day. I keep very large rocks glasses in my cabinet and very large ice cubes in my freezer so I can pull and pour at will.

The flavor profile of the Negroni is well suited to my palate and perhaps I make some of my wines in a similar style. They aren't astringent, but I tend to pick my grapes on the earlier side to take advantage of the naturally high acid levels. If the wine isn't stripping the enamel off your teeth, it isn't acidic enough for me. Only kidding. Acid in wine is an essential component to the structure of wine. Without it, the wines will taste flabby and too round. Wines with higher acid tend to pair better with food as well. In my former career, I was a sommelier, where food and wine pairing were part of the job. Using this background is something I do constantly when making wines. Wine is best enjoyed with friends and a meal so that is where I like to focus my efforts. But a refreshingly simple cocktail is always fun to start with.

December 2022

Steve Wells, Owner and Director of Awesome at Time & Direction, worked in restaurants in New York City, learning about wine along the way, from waiting to restaurant management to beverage programs. He joined the Court of Master Sommeliers and received his certification. Steve moved to Walla Walla, learned the production side of the business, attended the winemaking program at Walla Walla Community College, and started Time & Direction.


Time & Direction
4 N Spokane Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 524-8200

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