How to say “Summer” in Europe
By John Rittmaster, Prima Vini, Walnut Creek
Perched at a ringside table in the square in front of the Santo Spirito church in Florence, you’d ask your suave mustachioed waiter for ‘Il Spritz.’ 12 Euros per favore! On an old wooden bench overlooking the seagulls and fishing boats in the harbor of Marseilles, it’s a Cinq Euro ‘Le Spritz,’ and after a day seeing the sights of Salzburg, squeezed onto a chair in the crowded café across from Mozart’s birthplace, it’s ‘DasSpritz.’ 8 Euro bitte! But whether you’re in Madrid, Amsterdam, Prague, or seemingly anywhere else in Europe, it seems like any summer day after about 11 in the morning is ‘Spritz’ time! Anywhere with an outdoor table and a few rickety chairs can become an instant bar, and that icy, low-alcohol, fluorescent orange summertime treat will magically appear.
A Spritz, by the way, is fashioned from two parts of the northern Italian aperitif called Aperol. Aperol is a day-glo colored concoction created by the Campari company by infusing brandy with a secret combination of herbs, spices, tree bark and other plants to create an absolutely addicting orange-y bitter-sweet drink. Great all by itself or on the rocks, it reaches its apotheosis as a Spritz! To your Aperol, now add three parts dry Prosecco, the Veneto’s ubiquitous light sparkling wine. Tradition says Prosecco, of course, but you’ll get Cava in Barcelona, Cremant in Strasbourg, Champagne in, well, Champagne; so let’s not get too fussy here. It’s the bubbles that matter. Finish the drink with a splash of seltzer or sparkling water, lots of ice and an orange slice and Ecco! Voila! Hier! You have a Spritz! Most of the time I get mine served in a large wine glass, but I’ve had them in just about anything that doesn’t leak–the most common alternative being the common tumbler. Paper cups are not out of the question.
In largely un-air conditioned northern Europe, the summer Spritz is just another way to beat the heat, lubricate interpersonal communication, whet the appetite for whatever comes next and talk about the Brits. ‘Spritz time’ has become something of a summertime institution here in California too. Frank, our sommelier here at PRIMA, picked up the Spritz habit while travelling in France and now never ends a shift in the restaurant without one at the bar to help him unwind after a hard day. As for me, my first was 4 Euros at a tiny bar in a back street of Bolzano in the Alto Adige region of Italy, not far from the Austrian border. I’ve been back to re-experience my original Spritz at least three times here as I love the place and the drink has since become the aperitif of choice right here at home too. As soon as the sun is over the yardarm and we can stand to sit outside and put our feet up, pop, the Prosecco gets opened and we are on our way.
This past trip to Piemonte, though, my wife and I discovered a wonderful alternative to Aperol to create the base of this warm weather refresher. Made by our good friend Giorgio Rivetti at Contratto’s sparkling wine facility west of Milano, it’s called ‘Aperitif’and comes from an original 1935 recipe that includes 28 different delicately infused herbs, seeds, roots, spices and Italian brandy. Made 100% naturally and colored only with carrot and beet juice, I think Aperitif is much drier, more aromatic and far more complex than Aperol and, made the same way as an Aperol Spritz, makes a far more refreshing and intriguing way to start an evening. Frank, though, says he likes Aperol better and he’s not much interested in ‘complex;’ only ‘cool.’ He says I think too much.
But whether you choose Aperol or Aperitif, we suggest you try beating the heat like a European yourself this summer right in your own backyard and enjoy some Spritz time yourself!
So, in the words of our friends on the other side of the pond- Passa una bella estate, Je te souhaite un excellent été and Haben Sie einen schönen Sommerurlaub. Have a great summer!
John Rittmaster is the owner/partner at Prima Vini Wine Shop located at 1522 N Main St in Walnut Creek. To contact John, email him at email@example.com, or call him at (925) 945-1800.