Wine & Spirits: Summer of the Spritz

Take a cue from the Italians and mix up some easy-to-drink, palate prepping aperitivi this summer.

By Kelly Magyarics, DWS

The Aperol Spritz (or its cousin the Campari Spritz) is a great pre-dinner cocktail. Photo credit Kelly Magyarics.

The Aperol Spritz (or its cousin the Campari Spritz) is a great pre-dinner cocktail (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

After touring and tasting wine one day during a recent trip to Tuscany, I retreated to the poolside patio of my hotel to partake in what I consider to be one of Italy’s finest accomplishments: Aperitivo Hour.

Better than happy hour, Aperitivo Hour is that glorious time each day when it’s fashionable to order a pre-dinner cocktail designed to open up the palate (“aprire” in Italian means “to open) and get you ready for dinner. What’s especially inviting about an aperitivo is that it’s generally lower in alcohol and less of a palate killer than so many other cocktails people tend to drink before dinner (Martinis and Manhattans, I’m looking at you.)

“In Tuscany, the merenda [afternoon snack] of the past has become the aperitif of today,” said Beppe d’Andrea, global brand ambassador for Ruffino Winery and one of my hosts on the trip. “It’s a time when we get together with friends to relax a bit and be lighthearted; usually we grab a glass of wine, have a chat, nibble on charcuterie and cheese and interesting bruschette.”

In other words, Aperitivo Hour is late afternoon bliss.

The Aperol Spritz–with its easy to remember 3:2:1 ratio of Prosecco to Aperol to soda–is one of the most iconic and ubiquitous aperitivo recipes. (And I have to admit it went down super easily while sitting poolside at Villa La Massa overlooking the hilly Tuscan countryside and Arno River.)

The Spritz was invented in Italy’s Veneto region in the 1800s, when soldiers, diplomats and other employed by the Habsburg Empire during their domination of the Veneto asked bar proprietors to spray (“spritzen” in German) a bit of water into the local wines, which tended to have higher alcohol content and were made with varietals unfamiliar to them. Over the years, it became common to add a little Cynar, Aperol, Campari or another liqueur to the drink.

But after the first round I enjoyed that day, (again, what’s great about an aperitivo besides everything is the fact that you can have more than just one and still be fresh not fuzzy when it’s time for dinner’s first course), I decided to switch it up a little and order a Campari Spritz. The Negroni has long been my favorite cocktail, so I figured mixing my beloved Campari with bubbles and soda had to be delicious. I was right.

Depending on your mood, the Aperol Spritz can sometimes be a bit too orange and a bit too sweet. Subbing in Campari gave the drink a vibrant ruby hue instead of a neon orange one and ramped up its herbal and bitter notes, which were balanced by the sweet-ish Prosecco. I was sold.

I’m declaring this the summer of the Campari Spritz. You should be able to ask for one wherever you see Campari on the bar shelf, but these spots in the DMV are particularly good at making aperitivi. They’d also be able to make you a new creation destined to become your favorite pre-dinner cocktail:

Masseria, masseriadc.com

Vinoteca, vinotecadc.com

Fiola, fioladc.com

Alphonse’s, alphonsedc.com

Here are two basic recipes, but you can adapt this formula and swap out the Campari or Aperol for the liqueur of your choice, adjusting the garnish to taste.

Campari Spritz
3 oz. Prosecco
2 oz. Campari
1 oz. club soda
Lemon slice, for garnish

Add ice to a large goblet or wine glass. Add all ingredients, stir gently and garnish with the lemon slice.

Aperol Spritz
3 oz. Prosecco
2 oz. Aperol
1 oz. club soda
Orange slice, for garnish

Add ice to a large goblet or wine glass. Add all ingredients, stir gently and garnish with the orange slice.

For more information about the Spritz cocktail, check out Talia Baiocchi’s and Leslie Pariseau’s new book Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes.

Spritz Book

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.

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