Aperitivi - Happy Hour Italian Style

A pre-dinner drink for relaxing, socializing and enjoying a glass of vino with a few nibbles – sounds like happy hour! The aperitivo is a time-honored ritual, a drink in the early evening to sit and unwind, and enjoy the atmosphere of the piazza and good company. It’s also said to stimulate the appetite for the upcoming meal.

The tradition is more often found in the north, where it was in vogue in the 1800s in elegant bars in cities like Torino, Genoa, Firenze, Venice, and Rome. It’s now spread around the country.

Drinks come with snacks, sometimes as simple as peanuts and chips, though some bars offer more elaborate nibbles like finger sandwiches, pizza rounds, and vegetables. Some even have aperitivo buffets at a special price, making it a nice, light, inexpensive dinner alternative if you’ve had a big lunch. The appetizers are called “stuzzichini.”

Each bar has its own signature cocktails, though wine, prosecco (a dry sparkling wine) and Campari remain perennial favorites. For those who don’t want alcohol, try one of the non-alcoholic beverages specially made for the aperitivo hour, such as Crodino or Bitter. Non-alcoholic fruit drinks are always available, too. If you want to try something new, ask the waiter for the house specialty (aperitivo della casa).

Here’s a run-down of the most popular aperitivo drinks:

Spritz – A Veneto classic, it’s made with Campari or Aperol and prosecco. The real Venetian version uses Select and still white wine, though. (We tell you the history of Spritz in one of our newsletters!)

Bellini – An invention of the famed Harry’s Bar in Venice, it’s made with peach juice and prosecco.

Rossini – an off-shoot of the Bellini but with strawberry juice and prosecco.

Tintoretto – ditto, but with pomegranate juice

Sgroppino – a summer refresher, it starts with a dollop of lemon sorbet with a drizzle of limoncello on top and then the flute glass is filled with prosecco. In the south it’s commonly made with orange instead.

Negroni - A Florentine classic and one of the most famous Italian cocktails around the world, it is equal parts gin, red vermouth, and Campari, served on ice.

Negroni Sbagliato - the "Negroni mistake" is a Milan concoction that "lightens up" the traditional Negroni but substituting prosecco for the gin.

Garibaldi - Hailing from Sicily with its vast citrus groves, it is an orange juice-Campari cocktail on ice.

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