When I first discovered Punt e Mes I felt like I’d been initiated into a secret club. It was in the 80’s. I was taking an Italian language class (one of the many I’ve taken over the course of too-many-to-mention years). There were just 5 of us around our teacher’s dining room table delving into Italian in a conversational, relaxed and fun way.
Bretta Bracali was our teacher. She was a stunningly beautiful woman with a sharp Italian-Roman style. She taught with enthusiasm and class. And we all loved her, which helped us learn. I was living in NYC at the time and Bretta’s apartment was in the world-class Ansonia “Hotel” on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The building is impressively ornate and huge. It always felt like a privilege just to have someone to visit there (later my tax accountant had offices there, too).
Bretta was on one of the highest floors. She had porthole-sized windows that were near the floor. If you leaned down and peeked out you’d see Broadway stretching out with its army of taxis.
One night she brought out a few small glasses and a bottle of Punt e Mes. No one had ever heard of it and I believe she had just brought it back from Italy. She didn’t describe it or say much about it, just gave us all some to taste as we struggled through speaking and understanding Italian.
I understood the Italian of Punt e Mes right away. The drink, on some rocks and maybe with a lemon twist, tastes like Italy. It’s a fortified wine, a vermouth, but it’s filled with subtle essences that are a little bitter and little floral and a little tart. If I want to feel like I’m in the atmosphere of a Roman street or an Umbrian hilltown or any number of quintessential Italian locations, I drink a little Punt e Mes.
I always remember one of Bretta’s language teaching points. To demonstrate how to pronounce a double consonant in Italian, she took your hand and pulled as you hung on. She’d say: “spaghet-ti.” And let your hand go between the two “t’s” (like pulling taffy together that just suddenly broke) …you got the idea of pronouncing both “t’s.”
Writing about her made me look her up on Google. She’s still teaching Italian. Here’s her website: