Translating more or less to mean ‘the opening of your appetite’, the ritual of aperitivo in Italia takes place in the hour preceding the evening meal. This tradition has a long history in certain regions and is thought to have become more firmly cemented in Italian culture under the rule of King Vittorio Emmanuele II. In the mid-nineteenth century, the sovereign declared that his tipple of choice, for a pre-dinner palate cleanser, was white vermouth, a speciality of Torino. The darker variety of this spiced wine, vermouth rosso, is now a staple component in the most iconic aperitivo option, the Negroni. If you find yourself wandering the beautiful streets of Italy as daytime turns to dusk, you will notice that the bars and restaurants which adorn these thoroughfares will spring to life. Laughter hangs in the air as locals and holiday-makers alike regale their friends with aggrandised accounts of the day’s events, and the atmosphere is pleasantly relaxed as people gather together to eat and drink as the sunlight slowly ebbs away.
Whilst it would be easy to perceive aperitivo as a ritual dedicated to food and drink - the process of preparing yourself for a meal with a palate cleansing cocktail certainly gives this impression - it is in fact a celebration of companionship and human connection. This delightful tradition captures the essence of Italia, where appreciation for time spent with family and friends is paramount. Whilst tourists may spend hours pouring over a cocktail menu, many Italians will order a Negroni or some kind of spritz without even thinking about it - they are there, first and foremost, to enjoy an evening spent together.
In many ways, the Italian concept of aperitivo is very simple. The magic hour before a meal begins is designed to set the scene and to allow guests to relax into the evening. Whilst many opt for classic drinks like the Negroni or the Americano for their pre-dinner fix, the star of this show is undoubtedly Prosecco. Whether you prefer an ombra (meaning ‘a small pouring’) of bubbly on its own or you enjoy the amber-tinted effervescence of an Aperol Spritz, Prosecco will always hit the spot. Native to the region of Veneto, this particular sparkling vino bianco is the most popular across Italy and is the single most widely enjoyed aperitivo. However, if you prefer its rosy counterpart, then a glass of Fragolino, derived from the Lambrusco grape, is a delectable alternative.
Any Italian bar worth its salt will serve its aperitivo guests small plates of food with their drinks. Sometimes known as stuzzichini, these little appetizers - though no substitute for a hearty meal - are the perfect light bites to keep the hunger pangs at bay. Some of our favourite accompaniments to aperitivi include Prosciutto di Parma - a delicious dry-cured ham originating from Emilia-Romagna - sometimes served with figs, fresh olives and sun-dried tomatoes and Italian cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano or burrata. Depending on the setting you’ve chosen to spend the aperitivo hour in, the accompanying nibbles may vary considerably and some places will serve more substantial offerings than others; but this element of the unknown is part of the joy of aperitivo! In coastal regions like Veneto you may expect to see more seafood antipasti and the small dishes that are served before dinner here are known as cicchetti in the local dialect.
If you’re planning on hosting your own Italianesque gathering, then allowing time before the meal for guests to chat and mingle is a wonderful way of imbuing your evening with a little authentic Italianità. We suggest ensuring you’ve got a plentiful supply of Prosecco and a carefully curated cocktail menu to offer your guests alongside some tasty antipasti. For more information on the latter, we’d love to direct you to our ultimate antipasti guide where we have outlined some of our top tips for nailing this element of your dinner party. As far as the drinks go we would recommend a classic Italian cocktail like a sharp, bitter Negroni or a Milano-Torino as well as a couple of lighter choices like an Aperol Spritz, a Negroni Sbagliato, or a Lambrusco Spritz. With our step-by-step recipes you can easily host the perfect aperitivo hour. For the ultimate Italian experience we recommend starting your gathering off al fresco (weather permitting, of course), allowing your guests to bask in the warm glow of twilight.
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