Yes, spritz champions Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau know that plenty of Americans still associate the light, fizzy drink with its 1980s suburban incarnation, the white wine spritzer. But in their new book, Spritz, Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, the authors make an excellent case for the chic, Italian-style cocktail—bubbly, low in alcohol, and with an edge of bitterness, it's ideal for sipping in the golden hour before dinner.
Baiocchi is the editor of the drink site Punch, which publishes some of the most thorough and exciting writing on the subject, and Pariseau is the site’s former deputy editor. Together, the authors took a road trip through Italy in a Fiat 500, getting the measure of regional spritz styles and adopting the leisurely spirit that drives Italian happy-hour culture. In Venice, they found that friends bar-hopping for rounds of classic Venetian spritzes and snacks was still the norm, while in Milan, modern, ritual-bending cocktails were often served right alongside the Negroni Sbagliato—the city's classic of Campari loosened up with vermouth and prosecco.
The book includes 40-odd drink recipes (plus some for bar snacks), many from American bartenders who dig the tradition. The spritz is by nature not a very complicated thing to put together, though a few of the recipes might ask you to make a syrup in advance or to hunt down an esoteric bottle of Italian bitters.
First, Baiocchi and Pariseau guide readers much farther back than the 1980s, deep into the history of the drink, starting around 400 B.C., when the Greeks and Romans were drinking wine diluted with fresh water, seawater, and even snow.
The spritz’s other important defining ingredients—the bubbles and the bitterness—came a bit later in the story, and now a classic spritz is an easily hackable formula of wine, soda water, something bitter, and a little citrus. Take the delightful Venetian spritz, the very first recipe in the book. You build it in a rocks glass with 2 ounces of a bitter liqueur such as Aperol, 3 to 4 ounces of prosecco, and 2 ounces of soda water. Garnish with an olive and orange wheel, and you're done.
Once you’ve mastered that basic spritz, Baiocchi and Pariseau have plenty of other fresh suggestions, including this particularly delicious one that’s savory with Castelvetrano olive brine. It might look as potent as a dirty martini, but here’s the beauty of the fizzy, low-alcohol, and pleasingly bitter spritz: It’s a much softer way to land at the end of your work day.
1 ounce Amaro Nardini
¼ ounce Aperol
¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ ounce Castelvetrano olive brine
2½ ounces prosecco
2 Castelvetrano olives, on a toothpick for garnish
Add all the ingredients except for the prosecco to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass and top with cold prosecco. Garnish with olives.