By: Emma Leiper of Little Bella Online
Italy has introduced to the world many wonderfully sumptuous drinks, from Treviso’s prosecco wine, to Giuseppe Cipriani’s Bellini, but perhaps none are as famous, or as aesthetically distinctive, as the Venetian spritz.
A concoction of prosecco, soda or water, and a splash of Aperol or Campari liqueur, the flame-coloured aperitif – or aperitivo in Italian – has grown up a lot since its creation for the Hapsburg Austrians occupying Venice in the 1800s. Having found the strong wine of the Veneto a little too much to handle, the soldiers requested that the Venetian watering holes dilute their wine with water. This request gave rise to the very first spritz, the German word for ‘splash’ lending itself to the drink’s name.
The spritz, as we know and love it today with its orange shade and tangy taste was developed by the Venetians after they decided to put their own spin on the Austrian’s inadvertent invention by adding a colourful liqueur to the drink in order to posh it up for their noblemen and women. As with their dialect and unique take on gothic architecture, the people of Venice have always liked to put their own classy mark on things. It may have been Austrian-German in origin, but the spritz is now distinctly Venetian in reputation.
Since those early days, the spritz has come of age. No longer reserved for visiting soldiers or the upper echelons of society, the spritz is now a key ingredient of the Venetian aperitivo and is a firm favourite with locals, students, visitors, and people around Italy and the world alike.
Just like its hometown, the spritz goes by many names: spritz aperol, spritz veneziano, aperol spritzer, spritz campari... Its numerous monikers are perhaps indicative of its many forms and flavours. No spritz is ever the same; each drink is always a little bit different, owing to the type of wine or prosecco used, the amount of water or soda added, or even the experience of the bartender. Again, like its birthplace, the spritz is always full of surprises.
Despite its coquettish allure, however, it isn’t always love at first sip for newbie spritz drinkers. The aperitif can be an acquired taste for some, due to its tangy and bitter taste, and it can take a bit of playing around with the different concoctions to get a flavour that your palate will appreciate. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
Just be careful of how much spritzy goodness passes your lips though – it is stronger than it tastes! In the past, the drinking of one too many spritz would have been one of the few ways in which to identify a non-Italian, but the rise in the drinking culture in Italy over the last few years has meant that an increasing number of younger Italians are also spritzing to their heart’s content. It may have been the tipple of the older generation’s in the past, but it is now very much part of the younger generation’s culture, too.
Like many other Italian drinks, the spritz has its place in the day. The cappuccino lives at breakfast, a glass of wine – an ombra – in the late morning or at lunch-time, and the spritz in the evening. The principal purpose for confining the aperitif to the early hours of the evening is to not only enjoy a beverage and a catch up with friends after a hard day at the office (or on the gondola), but to whet your appetite for your dinner.
Likewise, the evening spritz is intended to keep your stomach entertained until it’s fed in the later hours, a task of which is helped along with the customary side order of snacks that accompany a spritz, usually potato chips, nuts or a bowl of olives. So delicious are the orangey temptresses, however, that it is often impossible to have just one or two. By the third spritz and third bowl of goodies, your appetite may not just have been satiated for the interim, it may have disappeared altogether.
If you do still have room for your evening meal, the drink of choice in Italy is traditionally water or wine. Despite the changing drinking habits in Italy, an order of spritz with your evening meal occasionally still results in the raising of an eyebrow and a response of, ‘would you like a bottle of water, too? It may be perfectly acceptable to have an ombra in several quantities when out doing the shopping in the morning, but a spritz with your dinner is not customary.
Having undertaken extensive hours of spritz drinking across the globe myself – all in the name of research, of course – I have come to the conclusion that spritz is too yummy a drink to be confined to a specific part of the day and should be taken before, during, and after a meal. In short, there is never a wrong time for a spritz!