What to Drink in Milan
Milan is home to some of fashion’s most famous brands and the oldest shopping mall in the world, but Italy’s second-most populous city doesn’t get its fair shake when it comes to tourism. Many travelers brush it off as a transit hub—or, perhaps, a place to promptly see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper before jetting off to somewhere better.
To those in the know, however, Milan is an energetic and vibrant metropolis. It is a city that if you put in the effort, will reward you. Unbeknownst to most, Milan helped define aperitivo culture—the cherished after-work, pre-dinner drinking tradition that’s meant to stimulate your appetite.
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Certainly, there are enough benchmark spirits created in Milan to fill an entire bar: Ramazzotti (1815), Fernet Branca (1845), Zucca Rabarbaro (1845), Campari (1860) and more. But the city’s proximity to some of Italy’s best wine regions also means the city teems with exciting wine finds that hail from Franciacorta and Barolo to Abruzzo and Sicily.
In short, Milan is a drinker’s wonderland ripe for exploration, from the modern bars that grace the World’s 50 Best Bars list to the historic watering holes, hotels and restaurants that dot the city. To understand Milan, you need to drink it.
Tucked into the corner of the jaw-dropping, late-19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with the Duomo di Milano as a backdrop, Camparino is the home of Campari. Opened in 1915 by Davide Campari, son of Campari creator Gaspare Campari, it is the place to drink the bitter apéritif that’s today the backbone of countless beloved cocktails.
When Camparino first opened, it quickly became famous for producing its own soda water in the cellars beneath the bar and running it up through chilled lines. There, it was mixed with Campari to make a now-iconic libation: the Campari and soda. Today, you can sip this and more—Camparino has an extensive cocktail list—at the spot’s Art Nouveau-era Bar di Passo, which features a striking floral mosaic by the painter Angelo d’Andrea that stretches up to the coffered ceiling.
Negroni Sbagliato at Bar Basso
The Negroni Sbagliato existed long before its internet stardom, but TikTok certainly introduced the libation to an entirely new generation. It only added to Bar Basso’s well-established fame as the birthplace of the “mistaken” Negroni.
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The classic Italian bar, which opened its doors in 1947, is known for its generous list of classic cocktails, sparkling wines and a delicious array of savory and salty snacks to prepare the body and soul for dinner. As legend goes, in 1972, bartender Mirko Stocchetto was preparing a Negroni when he mistakenly grabbed a bottle of Prosecco in place of gin. (Sbagliato translates to “mistake” in Italian.) Mirko quickly realized his accident was a happy one and a star was born.
The Negroni Sbagliato remains a fun, refreshing and easy-to-prepare drink that lends itself to long sessions at the outdoor tables of Bar Basso. The addition of Prosecco’s delicate bubbles lightens the drink, making for a fresh contrast with its boozier cousin.
Ginrosa Shakerato at Ginrosa
This “if you know, you know” cafe is tucked inside the Galleria di San Babila, just east of the Duomo. A combination bar, restaurant and bakery, Ginrosa provides a slice of the daily Milanese life and is always packed with fashionably dressed throngs and makes for great people watching. The spot has existed in the area, in some form or another, since 1820. In 1885, Annunciata Bournè took over the café and invented the bitter Ginrosa as an alternative to Campari. A blend of 20 herbs and spices, Ginrosa has, as its name suggests, a very floral, rose-like aroma. It is lighter than Campari and more lifted aromatically, but packs a classic bitter profile on the finish.
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The bar has an extensive menu featuring Ginrosa, but it’s particularly spectacular in the Ginrosa Shakerato. Ginrosa is poured over ice in a shaker and violently shaken for what seems like an eternity, lending the drink an ethereal, frothy texture. It is served up, with a pale red core topped by pink foam; floral, citrusy and spicy aromas seemingly leap from the glass. This is what an aperitivo is meant to do: Help you relax, refresh and get you hungry.
Just as the Bay Area in California is a short distance from wine country, Milan is just a one-hour drive from the sparkling wine region of Franciacorta. This short distance has made Milan a direct link to the region, and the city’s drinking options prove it. Almost every bar, café and restaurant has an offering of Franciacorta, and you see people sipping the top-class sparkling wine across Milan.
At iconic seafood spot Langosteria you can experience Franciacorta from aperitivo to dolci in one meal. The flagship location, located on the lively Via Savona, offers a deep list that features some of the most famous estates, such as Ca’ del Bosco and Bellavista, as well as up-and-comers such as Arcari + Danesi and Vigneti Cenci. The list is also filled with many verticals of top cuvées from various estates, which prove that Franciacorta’s wines can go the distance in the cellar. If you do not have time to make it to the region itself, Langosteria could be called the “unofficial” tasting room of Franciacorta.
Walking into TipA, as it’s called, one is immediately overwhelmed by the warm atmosphere that freshly baked breads, artisanal salami and home-style cooking provide. It’s located just north of Milan’s center near Naviglio Martesana, one of the many canals that for centuries provided a pathway for goods—aka food and drink—to enter the city. Today, TipA is similarly a hub of the community, with an inspired coffee program, impressive array of baked goods and a thought-provoking lunch menu. But aperitivo is its primary appeal: Daily from 6 to 11 pm, TipA showcases artisanal producers of exceptional cured meats, raw cheeses, beer and wine to soothe the soul and stomach.
The wine selection could make a wine nerd’s jaw drop, focusing on producers that have a less-is-more approach to their entire production. Many are certified organic or biodynamic, and most produce minuscule amounts of wine. There is an amazing array of rifermentati, also known as pét-nat, from across Italy, plus whites and reds primarily from Italy, but from other European hotspots as well. Champagne is in the mix, too. The sommeliers and service staff are extremely helpful and can lead even neophytes toward a just-right wine.
Published: January 24, 2024