February 22 marks the birthday of my favorite director, Luis Buñuel, and I wouldn’t be happier if you were to join me in celebrating with a martini. Primordial in his life, said Buñuel, the martini provokes or sustains reverie, and thus I find it crucial to have at least a martini or two if one is to understand his oeuvre. His martini recipe is discussed in his autobiography, and in the short biographical film El Náufrago de la Calle Providencia (Castaway on the Street of Providence) (1971), which is appended to the Criterion DVD of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
If you really want to show off your Buñuel chops, though, bypass the martini and head straight for his creation, the Buñueloni. In the documentary, Buñuel mixes up a pitcher of these beauties, which he claimed were 3 parts gin, 2 parts “Carpano,” and 1 part Cinzano or what he called “sweet martini.” These were served over ice in a tall glass with an orange twist, and the drink was deeply colored (red or brown). Simple enough, you think. But would you expect simplicity from the man who brought you the Andalusian dog?
The problem with his tutorial is that Buñuel doesn’t pour what he says he’s pouring. We got our geek on, and we discovered that he actually pours 1.5 gin, 1 Carpano, 1 (or maybe a skosh more) Cinzano. As you can see, the proportions are quite different.
A larger problem is that Buñuel doesn’t specify which “Carpano” he means. Because the drink is supposed to be a modification of the Negroni (1-1-1 gin-Campari-sweet vermouth), and because Carpano almost always signifies Punt e Mes in latter-day US of A, I initially thought the bitter Punt e Mes would be the substitute for the bitter Campari. But is it?
The Carpano family has been making four kinds of vermouth since, like, forever in Italy: Rosso (also called Classico), Bianco, Antica Formula (softer, gingerbready, chestnut-colored, complex and the most expensive of the four), and Punt e Mes (reddish-brown, raisiny, extra bitter). Since Buñuel didn’t specify which one, one might assume he meant “Classico,” but because he mentions the drink was expensive, he could have meant “Antica Formula,” which commands a higher price than the other Carpanos in Italy and the U.S.
Carpano Antica retails in California at about $30 for 1L and is hard to find. Punt e Mes, which is slightly cheaper at 750 mL/$21, is available at BevMo. Since 2002, Punt e Mes has been owned by the people who make Fernet Branca, Fratelli Branca, and there’s just one place on the bottle that mentions Carpano, but you’ll still see it marketed as Carpano Punt e Mes. The Classico isn’t available, to my knowledge, in the U.S.
I managed to get my hands on a bottle of Antica and poured myself a Buñueloni with it. Oh. My. God. The drink was still a warm, reddish brown, but the similarities ended there. The Antica smoothed all the tears of the bitter Punt e Mes away and left a comforting, haimisch spiciness that was absolutely lovely. It *completely* transformed the drink. It was sweet, and yet not cloying in any way. I might call it flirtatious — warm, supple, a skosh mysterious, coy, hints of bitterness, with an undeniable kick that lingered. By the second sip, I was mesmerized. It was perverse seduction, forbidden attraction, the pinch of love, necrophiliac fantasies, the caress of a shoe, a maid, a revolutionary cornered, the beat of wings, the path to salvation, mud flung, a sudden gunshot, the moon, the clouds, the moment of suspense before the razor strikes. Glorious.
So, without further ado, the final recipe.
1.5 oz. gin
1 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
1 oz. Cinzano Rosso (sweet vermouth)
Stir and pour over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with an orange slice. Drink with likeminded friends, or alone with the Marquis de Sade, Freud, Marx and Engels and/or the entomologist Lucien Fabre, all cherished by Buñuel.