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March 15, 2023

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When I walked into the recently reincarnated Major Food Group restaurant Torrisi in lower Manhattan, the first thing I noticed wasn’t the enormous tarnished mirror on the wall or the grand pillars seemingly holding up the very glitzy dining room. What caught my attention were two words written above the bar: negroni sbagliato. 

I’m a big fan of this drink—usually an equal-parts combination of sweet vermouth, Campari, and prosecco. And after a particularly horny TikTok went viral in October 2022, it became a national obsession. In that video Emma D’Arcy, star of the television show House of the Dragon, told their costar Olivia Cooke that their drink of choice was a “negroni”…“sbagliato”…“with prosecco in it.” The pauses were pregnant; the eye contact was intense; and the internet lost its damn mind. 

Pretty much every restaurant and bar in New York did the smart thing and put a negroni sbagliato on their menu the next day. Even as a sbagliato lover, I started to get a little bit tired of that reliable drink—probably because I ordered it every time I saw it pop up. There’s only so much you can do with bubbly wine and some vermouth. How different can one possibly be from the next?

At least, that’s what I was thinking when I approached the bar at Torrisi and was told that I “must order a sbagliato.” So of course I did. What came across the bar was not the cocktail I was expecting. 

The drink, a creation of Torrisi’s bar whiz Nathan McCarley-O’Neill, was much darker than a classic sbagliato, a deep plum color instead of sunset orange. The recognizable, subtle bitterness was there, but it was richer and more rounded than the cocktail I’m familiar with—which, after two or three rounds, can start to taste a bit like juice. “Lambrusco!” the bartender provided. 

The sparkling Italian red wine had transformed the drink into something very different from any of the sbagliato iterations I’ve seen showing up on menus. As I learned upon investigation (a few persistent emails), McCarley-O’Neill had also swapped Aperol for the classic Campari. So, I had to ask, was this… not really a sbagliato at all? While he “follows the same template as a sbagliato, with bitter ingredients” and the counterbalance of bubbly wine, McCarley-O’Neil says that with this version of the cocktail he wanted to expand upon the drink’s possibilities. It turned out those possibilities were vast, and whether or not it’s the traditional up-to-code cocktail, it put me squarely back on the sbagliato wagon. I finished my drink in a couple gulps, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

I never would’ve thought to make this version of a sbagliato myself, but there’s nothing complicated about it: equal parts Aperol, bitter Punt E Mes vermouth, and Lambrusco. An orange slice plopped in for garnish. The balance of sweet, bitter, and refreshing is just right. Plus, it’s easy to find a bottle of perfectly good, not-too-sweet Lambrusco for around $15, which means Torrisi’s version of the classic drink isn’t just good because it’s expensive. It’s easily replicable. And you really should replicate it.

A negroni sbagliato…with Lambrusco in it. It’s got a real ring to it. 

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