Nothing too cantankerous for today. I’m still remembering how pleasant it can be sipping a refreshing libation in a sidewalk cafe in Venice. Bella!
Drinking wine in Italy just seems natural. Hard liquor just isn’t right. Sometimes back home, I need a solid libation like a Martini at the end of a day. Not in Venice. A glass of wine at lunch. Maybe an ombra mid afternoon and then some wine and chicceti to hold you over until the ridiculously late Italian dinner hour. Wine can be white or red like at home. But there is also the Italian sparkling wine called prosecco. Without the pretension (and the price of French champagne) it is a refreshing pick me up anytime. In Venice you can find it everywhere. The message is simple and clear. You can and should enjoy prosecco often, by the glass, by the bottle or in a mixed drink, an Italian cocktail.
I was already sold on prosecco. What surprised me was the ways Venetians used it. They don’t just stop at drinking it straight. They mix it in a cocktail. I discovered that there are two signature cocktails in Venice- both using prosecco- the Bellini and the Spritz. Nothing provides a deeper insight into the Venetian mind than a comparison of those two drinks. They are as different as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for either drink but we intended the Venice trip as full exposure to the Venetian lifestyle and we had to try them both. We already liked prosecco (the common ingredient for both drinks) so why would we not like the cocktails. Billa, the neighborhood supermarket in our Venice neighborhood stocked bottles of pre-made Belinins and we bought some on our first visit. They were pleasant enough but not anything to write home about. It wasn’t until we stopped into a bar near Rialto later in our visit that we had a chance to experience a real Bellini and watch a master craftsman carefully preparing the beautiful elixirs. We found the Bellinni’s delicious. They were fresh, fruity and sparkling. Bellini’s are indeed sublime.
Then another afternoon we tried a spritz. We stopped in at a small bar in our local square after an afternoon exploring. I ordered spritz’s for us and the waitress asked if we wanted Campari or Aperol. I didn’t have a clue which to choose- and there was no point in trying to ask so I said Campari. I had at least heard of Campari even though I had no idea what it tasted like. I was soon to find out that Campari has quite a medicinal overlay. I expected a light, refreshing drink and found myself sipping bitter herbs. The drink was garnished with an orange slice and an olive leaving me to wonder why anyone would waste good prosecco in such a concoction. It is nearly undrinkable.
Later on I realized that the spritz is the perfect drink for the restaurant/bars you find all over Venice. You have to buy something to be allowed to sit but once you buy something, you can sit there as long as you want. With most drinks, I sip away and before long I’m calling the waiter over for a refill. Those view tables in the squares can be pretty pricy and before you know it the travel budget it seriously strained. Not when you are drinking a Spritz. One spritz can last me forever. My wife didn’t even finish hers and we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon sitting in the square for cheap, one drink was plenty.
I hear that Aperol is less medicinal but for me the bloom is off the spritz. I’ll just stick to an ombra of prosecco or a Bellini from now on.