This week’s I•ATE Food Term is actually a Drink Term!
Known for its bitter-sweet taste and red-orange colour, the Spritz is a white wine-based cocktail containing bitter liqueur and soda water, generally served as an aperitif.
Originated in the Veneto region, in Northern Italy, this drink has become very popular throughout the whole Bel Paese and is recently making its way into the menus of bars and restaurants all over the world, to the point that it was added to the list of IBA [International Bartender Association] official cocktails in 2011.
A historical overview
For those of you wondering why its name does not sound very Italian, well, that’s because it isn’t! The term “Spritz” comes allegedly from the Austrian German verb spritzen, meaning “to spray”. Legend has it that the ancestor of this famous drink dates back to the 19th century when Venice was part of the Habsburg Empire. Those days, the Austro-Hungarian soldiers, merchants, and diplomats living in the region were accustomed to asking bar hosts to dilute local wines, which were apparently too strong for their taste, with a splash of water. Hence the Spritzer, half wine, and half water.
The drink has since seen different evolutions, but the cocktail we know today was only born in the Twenties-Thirties when bartenders between Venice and Padua came up with the idea of adding a dash of bitter liqueur to the mix.
Nowadays different ingredients are employed, depending on the region (or the city) you find yourself in, but we can say that the wine is always white and generally sparkling, Prosecco being the most widespread. As for the bitters, Aperol and Campari are probably the most popular, but some even use Cynar, while in Venice bartenders will very likely to prefer adding some Select. Different liqueurs will result in different hues and flavours, that’s why you should always specify your choice.
The Italian aperitivo
In Italy, when you say Spritz, you say aperitivo.
If you look it up in the dictionary, you will find this term defines a beverage, usually alcoholic, served before a meal and specifically meant to whet the appetite, but if you ask any Italian, they will tell you the aperitivo is in fact a proper ritual.
All over the peninsula, generally between 6pm and 9pm, people like to meet and relax over a fresh cocktail – and Spritz is definitely one of the most popular – or a glass of wine, typically accompanied some salty snacks. The type of food served can vary (a lot) from one place to another, but it often ranges from chips to cheeses, cold cuts, club sandwiches and pizzas, and sometimes even up to small plates of pasta. The same goes for the quantity, some bars bringing out just a platter of appetizers, some others offering a generous buffet. As we said, the idea is to prepare the stomach for the upcoming meal, but it is becoming more and more common – especially among students and young people – to have an aperitivo instead of a proper dinner, the former being significantly cheaper. From this comes the neologism apericena, combining the terms aperitivo and cena, “dinner”.
How to prepare the perfect Spritz
We need to say that there is no single recipe for the Spritz, its preparation and ingredient proportions varying from city to city, and sometimes even from bar to bar. However, the general formula recommends combining 3 parts white wine, 2 parts bitter liqueur and 1 part soda water.
If you wish to treat yourself with a refreshing cocktail, you will just need to build all these ingredients into a glass filled with ice, stir gently (don’t shake!), and garnish with a slice of orange for a fancier look.
Cin cin! (And if you want to be taken for a real Italian, don’t forget to tap your glass bottom on the table after cheering!)
Venezia Eventi. 2016. La storia dello Spritz. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160304173422if_/http://veneziaeventi.com/inviati/86-societa-e-costume-/3851-la-storia-dello-spritz#.VtnHeij7TIU [Accessed 09/08/2020]
La Cucina Italiana. 2019. Storia dello Spritz, l’aperitivo italiano che non voleva il bitter. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.lacucinaitaliana.it/news/trend/spritz-laperitivo-italiano-che-non-voleva-il-bitter/ [Accessed 09/08/2020]
Difford’s Guide. Spritz. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.diffordsguide.com/encyclopedia/1048/cocktails/spritz [Accessed 09/08/2020]
Eater. 2014. How the Aperol Spritz Became Italy’s Favorite Cocktail. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.eater.com/2014/10/21/7020183/the-story-of-the-aperol-spritz-a-classic-italian-cocktail [Accessed 09/08/2020]
Treccani, Vocabolario. Aperitivo [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/aperitivo/ [Accessed 10/08/2020]
Walks of Italy. 2017. Aperitivo in Italy: What it is and how to enjoy one. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/food-and-wine/aperitivo-in-italy-what-it-is-and-how-to-enjoy-one [Accessed 10/08/2020]
Written by Irene Zanardi, Schuman Trainee at the Euramis Pre-Translation Unit. She holds a Bachelor’s in Intercultural Linguistic Mediation and a Master’s in Specialised Translation and Terminology.