Venetian Cocktails: Spritz and Bellinis
Try visiting Venice and you will run across one thing that is more abundant than the canals: the "spritz." Doesn't sound Italian to you? How about "Bellini," have you heard of that one? Both are wine-based cocktails that combine a sparkling prosecco wine and some type of mixer. Both are fabulously yummy staples of Venetian life.
The Bellini cocktail consists quite simply of 2 parts prosecco (or dry, sparkling white wine) and 1 part peach purée (ideally fresh). The desired color of the beverage is slightly pink, so if your peach juice doesn't provide that, a dash of cherry juice will do the trick.
The drink was famously invented in the '40's by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice, a hangout of such cultural powerhouses as Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Charlie Chapman, and Orson Wells. (And yes, that is the same Cipriani who opened the famed Cipriani Hotel.) Cipriani purportedly called the drink a "Bellini" because the color reminded him of a painting by the 15th-century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini, whose work was being displayed in a large retrospective at that time.
The spritz, less-known to Americans but more widely consumed by Venetians, also has a prosecco base, combined with some sort of bitters (such as Campari, Cynar, or Select) and sparkling water. The proportions are more or less one-to-one-to-one, and the spritz is usually garnished with a slice of lemon or orange, or an olive. It can be served with or without ice. If the recipe sounds rather vague, that is because there are as many ways to make a spritz as there are bars in Venice. The general rule, however, is the presence of prosecco, sparkling water, and a reddish, usually bitter liqueur.
Confused about the Germanic name? Remember that Venice was under Austrian rule for almost one hundred years (a period that ended in 1866 when Venice joined the newly unified Kingdom of Italy). In fact, legend has it that the spritz was created because Austrian officers were unused to the taste and high alcohol content of the Veneto's wines. They asked for the wine to be diluted with water.
If you find the taste too alcoholic, both spritz and Bellini can be prepared in non-alcoholic variations: just try using seltzer water in place of the prosecco. If you'd like to taste either in their natural setting, peruse our cooking vacations and one-day cooking classes in the Veneto!
By Peg Kern