In Italy, a country where wine flows like water, drinking is just as much of an art form as dining itself.
One of the finer points of Italian style is found over cocktail hour, or Aperitivo as it is better known in the mother country.
More than just an Italian happy hour, Aperitivo is the time for sitting in a cafe, preferably alfresco, and catching up with friends over drinks and nibbles.
By comparison, our British happy hour can look rather unsophisticated. But Manchester Italian Don Giovanni is doing its best to change that.
A fixture on the St Peter’s Square approach for nearly 35 years now, it lays claim to being the oldest Italian restaurant in Manchester city centre.
Long respected for its wine list and a la carte offering, it’s only over the past few years the bar has started getting serious about its cocktails.
Two years ago, Don’s unveiled an adventurous new drinks list with a range of serves you could expect to find in a typical Milanese restaurant
Created in partnership with Nicola Olianas, global ambassador for Milanese distillery Branca, it featured authentic serves taken straight out of Italy as well as signatures created in house by Don Giovanni’s then-head bartender Artyom Motohin.
But now they’re switching things up: with a new head bartender, and a brand new cocktail menu.
It’s certainly different, that’s for sure. Less serious, definitely, with a lot more emphasis on having fun.
This makes sense. After all, Don Giovanni has always been a popular choice for celebrations and remains so to this day. And when you are celebrating, you don’t always want an amaro-heavy classic.
What if you want something a bit sweet, or you’re hankering after a bit of fizz?
We took ourselves down to try the new list, and can confirm it delivers – with an added and unexpectedly boozy kick.
Highlights include the Fizzy Combattente (a dangerously drinkable, supercharged mimosa containing a potent mix of Jamaican rum, pineapple juice and coconut), Pink Cloud (Don’s twist on an amaretto sour), and the deceptively named Rose All-Day which, given one word, we’d have to describe as LETHAL.
No way could you drink this all day. More like drink one and you’ll be good for the whole day.
We also tried the Honey-kissed Cosmo (a honeyed twist on the Carrie Bradshaw classic served with a torched rosemary garnish) and Hugo, a creation which the head bartender has named after himself.
Comprised of Muffato della sella 2011 (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto, Traminer, Sémillon and Riesling affected by Botrytis Cinerea, or noble rot), house prosecco and a dash of soda, it’s both savoury and complex.
Packed with garnishes of cucumber, mint, lemon and lime, Hugo is the stand out menu choice for us and unlike anything else we’ve ever tried. An unusual feat in the world of cocktails.
Drinks leaning in a more traditional direction, meanwhile, include the slow-sipping El Presidente (a twist on a refashioned, it’s booze-on-booze served in a martini glass) and the applewood Smoked Negroni – which provides an impressive bit of theatre, served as it is amid plumes of fragrant, woody smoke.
So those who still love an Italian classic needn’t worry. You’re still catered for.
But make no mistake, the party drinks have arrived.