Uvaggio Teaches the Lost Art of the Aperitif

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Coral Gables Restaurant Week (which ends next Monday, by the way, so eat up) includes a bevy of special events at the participating restaurants. The Local Craft Food & Drink had the Roast & Toast Beer Brunch. Bulla had Temptation Tapas Tuesday. And Wednesday evening, Uvaggio and Chat Chow TV teamed up to bring back the Lost Art of the Aperitif. New Times attended the drinking experience to learn more about aperitifs.

Heath Porter — Uvaggio's co-owner, sommelier, and head wino — led the lesson in sniffing and tasting. "I'm also the number one alchie here," he began. "So thanks for coming here to get drunk with me."

The sold-out event, priced at $35 per person, gave guests six glasses of different aperitifs. What is an aperitif? "Aperitif comes from the French word, and it means to open." Open the palate, that is, and get you hungry. In Europe, aperitivo hour is an everyday practice of drinking aperitifs. Most establishments set out free salty snacks to enjoy while patrons imbibe so that once aperitivo hour is over, they'll stick around for dinner. "Happy hour is basically taking that idea to an American pub with beer and peanuts and encouraging the palate to keep building." Yes, but aperitifs and crackers are much classier (and better for the waistline) than beer and peanuts.

Presented with six glasses, each filled with some type of liquid courage, guests were like little kids in school told not do touch the box of crayons. "Do not drink yet," Porter ordered. "We're smelling first only." Tease.

First up was Aperol from Verona, Italy. If you've never had Aperol, its potent, bitter, and overly aromatic orange base can be tough on the nose and palate. At first taste, it leaves a resounding bitter taste on the tongue. But there's a way to mitigate that: Throw in an orange peel, some soda water, and a few ice cubes. Then top off your glass off with some Prosecco. "Now smell it again." The profile completely changes in less than a minute, and now you know how to make an Aperol spritz, which might become your new go-to summer drink. "In Italy, this is the number one way to get you hungry. People drink Aperol spritzes left and right."

Next, guests traveled a bit outside Italy. "Let's go to France, because whatever the Italians do, obviously, the French can do better" — especially in Bordeaux, the mecca of dessert wines. Lillet Blanc falls into that category. Guests added a lemon peel and an ice cube to the equation. "Ice cube is my favorite rapper," Porter quipped.

Did you know vermouth starts with white wine? The one that guests tried at the event came from Chambéry in France, a city that feels so strongly about its vermouth production that it went the extra mile to get an AOC accreditation. And what made this Dolin Roushe even more special was the fact that it contained wormwood, which added a funky spiciness. So good on its own, it didn't need anything added other than an ice cube. And because Porter is full of alcoholic facts, guests also learned that wormwood is the shrub used to bathe absinthe and the reason absinthe became banned for its mind-altering effects. "Government blamed absinthe but never thought to look into vermouth." Moral of the story: If you wish to replicate the effects of magic mushrooms without the shrooms, find a vermouth with enough wormwood and drink your reality away.

The fourth aperitif was a house-made beet vermouth with origins in "Heath's Head, Cray Crayville." Yes, it's a fictional place, but Porter noted otherwise: "Cray Crayville is real in my head." Basically, it's a combination of the prior vermouth with crystallized beets and a bit of toasted beets macerated in and left for six weeks. The result is a beautiful and easy-to-drink aperitif that Uvaggio's regulars request all the time.

For the penultimate aperitif, guests played bartender and made their own Pimm's cup, in which Pimm's liqueur did the work. "Pimm's originated during the 1940s in Great Britain and is a result of baking spices, citrus, oils, and bitters into one bottle." Basically, you make a salad in your glass. All you need is a cucumber slice, lemon, mint, and some ginger ale to transform the profile of the liqueur and take it from a simple Pimm's to a "pimp's" cup. "When cucumber hits, magic happens."

Last but not least was something at the opposite end of the aperitif spectrum: a digestif. Whereas aperitifs help open and whet the palate, digestifs help quell the bloating after a bunch of food and too many aperitifs. "Gio [Gutierrez of Chat Chow TV] was really hell-bent on doing a digestif, so we decided to play with one of my favorite liqueurs." That would be Fernet from Italy. It's made from a number of spices, herbs, and figs. Guests threw in some more figs to further enhance and draw out the fig.

If you want to replicate the Lost Art of Aperitif but with wine, which just so happens to be Uvaggio's forte, the wine bar has the same concept with a wine tasting every Saturday at 5 p.m.

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