Vinegar with your martini? When in Italy...

SOMETIMES you choose something off the menu because it sounds so awful that it will either be completely horrible or totally brilliant, but either way, it will make for a good story.

Faced with the cocktail menu at the Four Seasons Florence, a former Medici palace and papal residence that has been lovingly restored into one of Europe’s most beautiful hotels, I figured I could take a risk and live to tell the tale.

Which is how I came to order the drink called “Balsamic Martini”, whose ingredients were, simply, vodka and vinegar. Despite my show of bravura, the barman saw that I was scared and offered to soften the blow by adding just the tiniest bit of unsweetened strawberry puree to the drink.

It arrived a clear rosy colour and tasted completely delicious. The vodka had become all soft and silky around the tangy but not overstated vinegar (the key is to use the best, slightly sweet balsamic there is) and the drop of strawberry gave it the tiniest push towards summery softness. I certainly didn’t feel I was drinking almost neat alcohol – until I’d finished the drink, that is.

Over in Lombardy, I recently found myself utterly blown away by the Krug of Italy – Franciacorta, a sparkling wine grown in a small area of northern Italy from carefully-tended grapes that are turned into wine in a highly regulated fashion. The product is as expensive as some of France’s best, and tastes just as good – if not better. It goes brilliantly with food, and the rose is particularly lovely. Wine buffs call Franciacorta their little secret.