Originally made with Riesling Rhine wine, the Cardinale has become a Negroni made with dry vermouth, producing a lighter cocktail than when made with the more usual sweet vermouth. However, we encourage you to try the original recipe (below) with Riesling.
Although some have attributed the origin of this cocktail to Harry’s Bar in Venice, evidence and testimonies collated by Luca Di Francia, Head Bartender at the Orum Bar at Westin Excelsior in Rome, suggest this Negroni-like Italian cocktail was indeed, as many suspected, created in the 1950s by one of his predecessors, Giovanni Raimondo at what was then The Excelsior Hotel.
It was from a 2nd-floor balcony of the Excelsior that, on 5th June 1944, General Clark announced the end of World War II, heralding new-found liberalism and creativity in a more carefree Italy. Symbolic of this was the launch of both the Lambretta and Vespa mopeds. American tourists flooded to Rome, bringing with them a demand for cocktails, often fulfilled at the Orum Bar of The Excelsior.
This environment, the historic grandeur of Rome, plus the odd tax break, attracted filmmakers and stars who became regulars of the Excelsior, with the nearby Cinecittà film studios becoming an American production centre for epics such as Ben Hur and Quo Vadis.
But it was not a film star that inspired this cocktail, but another famous American, Francis Joseph Spellman, the sixth Archbishop of New York who was made a Cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1946.
The 1950 Christian Jubilee attracted almost three million pilgrims to Rome, including Cardinal Spellman, who like most famous Americans visiting Rome at the time, headed for the Orum Bar at the Excelsior. He was greeted by the head bartender, Giovanni Raimondo, who naturally asked the Cardinal what he’d like to drink.
The cardinal initially asked for a Moselle Riesling, his preferred wine, but Raimondo offered instead to create a bespoke cocktail based on Riesling wine, which the Cardinal is said to have eagerly accepted.
Whether or not Raimondo was inspired to make a Negroni-like cocktail by the vivid red cassocks worn by the Cardinal is not known, but the cocktail he created was both named after and fit for a Cardinal.
Original Cardinal recipe
Garnish: Lemon zest twist, cinnamon & clove
Method: STIR all ingredients with ice and serve in an ice-filled glass.
1/3 Dry gin
1/3 Riesling Rhine wine
1/3 Campari Bitter
Fittingly, Cardinal Spellman later gained his own cinematic connections as he is said to have been the inspiration for the protagonist in the 1963 movie The Cardinal based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Henry Morton Robinson.