One Of Bobby Flay's Favorite Cocktails Is A Formerly Viral Favorite

The internet may have recovered from "House of the Dragon" actor Emma D'Arcy dramatically declaring a "negroni...sbagliato...with prosecco" their favorite drink. However, chef Bobby Flay's passion for the bubbly beverage is enduring. Although Flay isn't one to turn away a classic negroni — an equal combination of gin, Campari, and vermouth — his preference, like D'Arcy's, is the sparkling wine-forward negroni sbagliato.

"One of my favorite cocktails is something called a sbagliato, which literally means 'mistake' in Italian," the chef said on his and daughter Sophie's podcast, "Always Hungry," during an episode themed around retro cocktails. He continued, "I drink those all the time. When I'm in Italy, I drink sbagliatos, or if I'm in an Italian restaurant." 

Supposedly, the origin of the drink's "happy mistake" came about in the 1970s when a bartender in Milan accidentally used prosecco instead of gin to mix a classic negroni. Although, the son of the drink's creator says the sbagliato was purposeful and designed to contain less alcohol and fit the tastes of more international visitors.

Regardless of how it came about, the combination of the sweet bubbly, bitter Campari, and vermouth has lived on. The bracing flavor isn't to everyone's taste, but it's a classic in Italian bars and, increasingly, American establishments. The original negroni made appearances in U.S. media starting in the 1950s, but was slow to take off until cocktail bars added it to menus in the last 15 to 25 years — while TikTok helped usher the sbagliato to viral fame in 2022.

Bobby Flay has a secret ingredient in his negroni sbagliato

Bobby Flay's passion for a negroni sbagliato dates back to his former travels in Italy, as he explains on the podcast, so much so that his restaurant Amalfi offers a modern rendition of the drink, albeit with a secret ingredient. Instead of using the traditional Campari as one of the bitter elements, he opts for a liquor called Aperitivo Cappelletti. Flay describes the ruby-hued alternative as "a little bit smoother than Campari."

The alternative Italian spirit is a great choice to spice up a negroni sbagliato because it was originally produced to pair with wines and carbonated water in a spritzer. Those familiar with the bitter lovingly refer to it as "Specialino." It's made of Trebbiano grapes, which traditionally produce red wine, and gives off slight wafts of orange peel. Drinkers often compare it to Aperol and Campari, but note that it's not overly bitter like those can be.

Connoisseurs particularly appreciate its mouthfeel, while others simply enjoy how easy it is to drink. The bubbles and citrus peel twist that's typical of a sbagliato also accentuate its nuances. However, the spirit can even stand on its own if enthusiastic home bartenders want to pour an icy glass of soda and Cappelletti to taste. Serve it in a smaller rocks glass to accommodate ice cubes — or shake the mixture to chill it before doling it into an elegant coupe glass garnished with a nontraditional, aromatic slice of orange charred over the grill.

Other riffs on the negroni cocktail

The beauty of the negroni is in its simplicity. The drink is strong and settling in its classic form, and balanced and easy to sip when turned into a negroni sbagliato. The pared down ingredient list also makes it easy to customize, as bartenders well know, as the Italian favorite takes well to additional flavors and other ingredient swaps.

Vermouth, for example, comes in many shapes and forms. The aromatic fortified wine can draw out hints of orange to complement the cocktail's garnish or offer herbal notes that amplify the nuances of the bitters. For some, the sweeter Spanish vermouth is a must, and produces a red negroni cocktail with plenty of kick. Others prefer white vermouth, a lighter option with more floral and herbal notes, to make a negroni bianco. To get a clear color on the white iteration, swap the classic Campari for a lighter-colored bitter like Suze and enjoy all the spices, botanicals, and citrus aromas.

If you're sticking with Bobby Flay's favorite mistake, don't feel confined to the traditional sparkling wine addition. A mixture of sparkling water and a sweet white wine will capture a similar spritz effect without a run to the liquor store. Or, make your own sbagliato with sparkling rosé to dial up the sweetness, or a dry vermouth typically used in a martini to dial it down. Pair it with Cappelletti and your guests will be sure to call it stunning.