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Lurking in the Cupboard: Rosso Antico, the Prince of Aperitifs

December 31, 2014

If there’s one thing nicer than an Italian aperitif, it’s a good aperitif glass. Lucky then that the ‘curiosities’ section of my mother’s sideboard was able to deliver the goods.

Neatly hidden from view were two remaining glasses from her original Rosso Antico set of eight. I’d borrowed them long ago to use in an ironic 1960s-70s kind of way, put them back and forgotten about them.

Rosso Antico glasses

Rosso Antico (Ancient red) was invented in Italy in 1962 and soon became the aperitif of choice. It was known as ‘the prince of aperitifs’ and featured heavily in promotional segments of popular Italian TV sketch show Carosello.* Here in Australia, Italian Australians took to it with gusto.

An aromatised wine – with 32 herbs including sage, rosemary and thyme (yes really, but no parsley) – Rosso Antico is deep ruby red and bittersweet, with an aftertaste of peel and spices. In some circles it was considered (cruelly I think) the poor cousin of other Italian aperitifs like Campari or Aperol but was often substituted in drinks where they were used.

Back then, the glasses with the Rosso Antico moniker were nearly always promotional giveaways. One glass was included in a fancy box with each bottle purchase, so depending on how much you entertained, you either built up a set of eight very quickly or never. My parents’ circle of friends loved it at dinner parties served straight up, with a slice of orange or soda water.

I associate the trends of the time with it: wide ties and sideburns for the men, palazzo pants and big hair for the ladies and a look of disdain on our teenage faces. We were, after all, just discovering Harvey Wallbangers.

Rosso AnticoRossoAnticoHead

After its initial popularity, it was withdrawn from sale in the late 1970s due to one of the ingredient’s perceived carcinogenic qualities. It re-surfaced, but I lost touch with it until I spied some recently in a Sydney bottle shop. It’s had a design makeover (I’m guessing) to entice people to substitute it for Campari in their Negronis. I’m pretty sure there are new, bigger promotional glasses too, but I prefer the originals. All related advertising at the time carried the words: ‘‘Rosso Antico’ – l’aperitivo che si beve in coppa” meaning the aperitif should be drunk in ‘coupe” glasses, similar in shape to the saucer glasses preferred for champagne during the swinging ’60s. The glasses, with their shallow bowls on top of slender stems are now only used for cocktails, so the Rosso Antico marketers will have had to come up with a new tagline.

Aperitifs done and dusted, I’ve also put the glasses to good use for the leftover Christmas cherry granita.

CherryGranita2

The Gelato Messina Cookbook published in late 2013 includes a recipe for Rosso Antico and Marmalade gelato. So it’s definitely trending.

PS – For Italian speakers, you might enjoy this 1974 Rosso Antico animated advertisement inspired by the fairytale ‘The Princess in the Well’.  
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20 comments

  1. You are so lucky to have access to your mum’s ‘curiosities’. My mum lives 2000km away, and besides, I think she got rid of anything I would have found interesting when they moved house about 12 years ago.


    • Yes, reasonably lucky. Although there are still some gems that have been thrown out over the years. Guess I wasn’t diligent enough to oversee what was thought to be redundant. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Ooooooh, I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted Rosso Antico, but I do love those purdy glasses! Happiest of happy new years, lovely one xo


    • Here’s cheers to you too Liz. All the best for 2015.


  3. I don’t speak italian but I got the gist of the advert … imagine the cost of making it now. Did the prince also become blond, having started off being so very dark-haired? (too much aperitif?)
    I have 6 of my mother’s tiny liquer glasses from the 1950s.
    Good fun, thank you.


    • Isn’t that animation precious? I’d seen it many years ago so it was time to revisit. All the best for 2015 Julia.


  4. Antico’s Fruit shop was where we met all our favourite Italians in Kingsford.


    • Must bring back some nice memories for you. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. Ambra – after having taken your tip on trying Aperol as a substitue for Campari (think Campari still my favourite) I’ll now try out Rosso Antico to complete the trilogy of red aperitifs. – unfortunately I’ll have to do without the groovy glassware.


    • Oooh, I feel a three-way Italian red aperitif drink-off coming up Johnny. Cheers to you and Anne.


  6. 32 herbs! I love that man’s hat – very Mad Men. My mother always drank Campari on holiday and as a child I just loved the colour and the fact that she was relaxed and happy when she drank it!


    • Yes, you can’t beat that ’60s style can you. I agree with you – these Italian aperitifs make you feel so relaxed, you just can’t get drunk and aggressive on them. Thanks for stopping by!


  7. I had forgotten about Rosso Antico. Takes me back.


    • Takes me back too. So scary but feelgood at the same time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  8. I have two of those glasses, inherited from my grandmother. I really like Rossa Antico as it has a sentimental association – when I was young and did not drink much (a long time ago!), a friend suggested I try it as an ‘adult’ aperitif, and I was hooked (and thought myself tremendously sophisticated!). I’ll have to check out the new branding now – great, nostalgic post for me!


    • Vicki, let me know what you think of the new branding for Rosso Antico. I think it’s a bit vulgar. But what do I know.


  9. My mother has a couple of those glasses Ambra, i will have to dig them out. i think she used to serve “zuppa inglese” (ie trifle) in them though i reckon she omitted the port wine jelly (or rosso antico jelly). absolute classics! buon anno a te x


    • Dig out those vintage glasses Paola. Who knows, they might be collectors’ items in the future. Buon anno to you too.


  10. That advertiesment in glorious B&W is enough to make me go out and find a bottle of Rosso Antico. They don’t make Handsome Princes (or ads) like that anymore!


    • Yes Augie, I’d like to see you try the Rosso Antico, but more importantly, I’d like to see you wearing a hat like the guy in the ad.



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