T’s spirits columnist, Toby Cecchini, debuts Case Study, his new bimonthly posting on all things alcoholic.
The Italian concept of a cocktail has always been a much more elemental affair than ours, but it’s a perfect mirror of the country’s way with things: simple but dashing. Witness the Venetian Spritz, a little-known drink here that has long been the call when Venetians take their ombra, the late-afternoon aperitivo break, and has become a national craze there over the past few years. In the Veneto it is simply called a “spreetz” and can be made any of several ways, but the best and most common is simply a glass of prosecco with two or three ice cubes and a dash of sparkling water, topped with Aperol, a twist of lemon or slice of orange and — importantly and strangely — one green olive.
The drink can be made with white wine and sparkling water, and Campari or Cynar turn up as options for the bitter, but the spritz a l’Aperol is the benchmark, and handily trumps the others. Aperol is a peculiarly fluorescent orange liqueur in the family of Italian bitters, or amari, and has only recently become available here. It is sweeter and smoother than Campari, lower in alcohol than most wines (11 percent), and it contains rhubarb, bitter orange and gentian among other secret ingredients.
The history of this drink is murky and disputed, possibly involving Austro-Hungarian occupiers in the 18th century. Is it they who put the olive in there? No one seems to know for certain. What is clear is that this drink has become my summer obsession. Sweet, bitter, citrusy and sparkling — even slightly salty — but with minimal punch, it is a graceful segue for an empty stomach to begin an evening, and a thing of perfection on a sultry afternoon. Now that those are dwindling, avail yourself of a bottle of Aperol and join the passegiatta.
THE VENETIAN SPRITZ
4 ounces prosecco
1.5 to 2 ounces Aperol
1 green olive.
In a rocks glass over three or four ice cubes, pour the prosecco, a dash of sparkling water and the Aperol, being sure to follow that order lest the Aperol sink to the bottom without mixing. Garnish with a slice of orange, a twist of lemon (or both) and an olive.