Spritz: Italy's Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, With Recipes by Talia Baiocchi & Leslie Pariseau, Ten Speed Press (2016), 165 pages, $18.99
When Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau decided to write a book about the growing popularity of Italian spritzes, we expected the two to offer more than recipes with lively headnotes. After all, the authors are, respectively, the editor in chief and features editor of Punch, a James Beard award-winning online magazine (punchdrink.com) that offers recipes, columns, and in-depth stories about spirits, beer, and cocktails.
While recipes do fill the back two-thirds of the book, the opening sections are so packed with carefully researched and engagingly written histories of the drink and the eras and regions in which it evolved (as well as the marketing campaign that brought it to worldwide prominence) that it is hard to think of it as primarily a cookbook for would-be mixologists.
In the first few pages, we learn about the early iterations of the spritz, from the ancient Greeks and Romans, who cut their wine with water to lower the alcohol content, to the 19th-century Austro-Hungarian soldiers occupying northern Italy who also added a spritz of water — the word means “spray” in German — to make the unfamiliar Italian wines more palatable. Over time, sparkling soda water replaced plain water, and bitter spirits — alchemical brews of herbs, citrus, and sweeteners — were added to the mix. The spritz as we know it today appeared in the 1990s when bubbly prosecco — sometimes called the poor man’s Champagne — replaced still wine as its base.
While regional variations of the drink are defined and examined, it’s the prototypical Venetian spritz (“the spritz that launched a thousand spritzes”) that gets the most ink. Although today’s most popular iteration is the brilliantly orange Aperol spritz found in all regions of Italy, as well as the rest of Europe, the United States, and parts of South America, a spritz can be made with any bitter liqueur. What ultimately makes a spritz a spritz is the drink’s adherence to a basic formula: two parts bitter liqueur to three or four parts prosecco, sometimes topped with two parts soda and garnished with citrus or a green olive.
“Aperitivi 101” and “Prosecco 101,” self-contained primers on the essential ingredients in an Italian spritz, are balanced by a humorous flashback to the white-wine spritzer popular in the United States in the 1980s. “While the Iron Curtain was coming down and the stock market was going up, the spritzer was conceived from the same health fads that birthed Jazzercise, the cabbage soup diet, and aspartame,” Baiocchi and Pariseau write, and had “zero connection to European pre-dinner rituals.”
The “spritz life,” they argue, is more than a drink and snack that marks the transition between work and play. It’s also an “attitude, a devil-may-care moment in the day when the Italian dream ... seems a little more tangible” — an opportunity to live “la dolce vita, if only for an hour.”
A comprehensive overview of the bubbles, bitter liqueurs and wines, vermouths, fruit liqueurs, syrups, and shrubs that are the building blocks of a home spritz bar, and a guide to the historic and modern bars the authors visited while conducting their research broaden the scope of Spritz from a collection of recipes to a practical handbook you can take to a local liquor store or on a northern Italian road trip.
The final segment, “The Aperitivo Table,” offers recipes for snacks ranging from olives and potato chips to a variety of crostini (little toasts) that typically accompany a spritz. This is not a throwaway chapter. “Without food,” Baiocchi and Pariseau write, “there would be no aperitivo hour in the modern sense. There would be no name for the crescent of space carved out between the end of the workday and the dinner hour. ... And there would be no spritz.” ◀
(Makes 1 drink)
This is my go-to summer cocktail — bitter, sweet, bubbly, and totally refreshing. Its origin credited to the historic Bar Basso in Milan, this lower-alcohol little cousin to the classic Negroni substitutes prosecco for the gin — hence sbagliato, which means “incorrect” in Italian. To make an Aperol spritz, substitute 2 ounces Aperol for the Campari and vermouth and top the prosecco with 2 ounces soda.
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
3 oz. prosecco
Build the ingredients over ice in a rocks glass and stir. Garnish with orange wheel.
— from Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau’s Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, With Recipes