How to drink Italian this summer
Words by Jane Ryan
Photography by Trent van der Jagt
There's a word in Italian, sprezzatura, which translates badly in English, or rather doesn't have a translation at all. It roughly means something crafted to look so beautiful it appears effortless, an I-woke-up-like-this attitude even if you didn't quite wake up like that. It's this word that best captures what it's like to drink Italian. Sophisticated merriment, sipping on cultured aperitivos and perfect Negronis, that looks effortless.
It's what we aim for each and every time we reach for a Spritz, an amaro or even an indulgent Sgroppino, and with a few pointers on your drinks, you can too. We may not be able to help you achieve the perfectly imperfect pocket square or the right cut of your cigarette trouser, but when it comes to Italian cocktails, here's how to drink fluently.
Keep your Spritz bright and light
Two or three Spritzes shouldn't see you legless at 5pm on Saturday - that's not very sprezzatura after all. In fact, the original Spritz was literally watered down wine, and the addition of aperitivo liqueurs helps to open the appetite, rather than serve as a way to booze up the drink.
If your Spritz is tasting too syrupy or strong, lean into the soda to lengthen and brighten. Our hot tip is try a more modern and fresh Italian aperitivo like Starlino Rosé that will give grapefruit and gentle berry notes in your Spritz rather than cloying orange. Use an easy equal-parts recipe and enjoy the drink at your own pace.
TRY: Rosé Spritz
Serve in Wine glass
Garnish: Grapefruit slice
How to make: POUR ingredients into ice-filled glass.
90ml Starlino Rosé
90ml Soda water
Take your vermouth seriously
Vermouth, as you probably know, is both a fortified wine and an aromatised wine, meaning it has additional alcohol and is flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices. Vermouth always contains wormwood, which distinguishes it from all other aromatised wines, but within the category there is a huge range of flavours, ageing practices, countries of origin and colour.
A staple cocktail ingredient in classics and modern recipes, the Italians will drink their classic deep-red and sweet vermouth chilled and neat, over ice or even long with tonic or soda. It's treated with the same reverence of wine and any Italian worth their salt knows these bottles are kept in the fridge and last no longer than 2-3 weeks. Don't go buying huge litre bottles because they're cheap and using 30ml a time for months on end - your vermouth will oxidise and ruin your drinks.
For an authentic taste but a modern brand, try Hotel Starlino Rosso Vermouth, a traditional Vermouth di Torino based on Italian Trebbano and Marsala wines, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Botanicals flavouring this vermouth include wormwood, tolu balsam, cloves, vanilla pods, rhubarb, ginger, cinchona tincture, grapeskin and bitter orange peel.
TRY: Starlino Sbagliato or Spumante
Serve in Rocks glass
Garnish: Orange slice
How to make: POUR the first two ingredients into ice-filled glass and stir. Top with the wine.
30ml Starlino Rosso
60 ml Manzoni Rosa Extra Dry Spumante
(to make it a Negroni Spumante add 30ml of gin with the vermouth and campari and top with the Spumante).
Walk on the dark side with an amaro
Vermouth and aperitivos aren't the only thing Italians love to infuse and flavour - they do this with amaro too, which is a bittersweet style of liqueur. Emphasis on the bitter.
There are hundreds of commercially available amari in Italy and many restaurants and bars also produce their own signature amaro, often "according to an old family recipe." They can have an alcohol strength as low as 16% alc./vol. or be over 40% alc./vol. and vary greatly in style with differing degrees of bitterness, sweetness and flavourings such as citrus, liquorice and spice. Fernet is a particularly bitter style of amari, while rabarbaro are made with rhubarb and carciofo are amari made with artichoke.
Again, you can sip an amaro neat and chilled or enjoy it long with tonic. If the idea of some very strongly bitter amari is off putting, we'd strongly recommend Stambecco Amaro, which is a balanced bittersweet product flavoured with maraschino cherries along with 30 other more traditional amaro botanicals. Try it on the rocks after dinner.
Turn dessert into a Sgroppino
There is no finer tradition to come out of Venice than the delicious Sgroppino (which also goes by the same of Sorbetto). Traditionally using prosecco, lemon sorbet and vodka, this easy drink is built in the glass by adding a scoop of sorbet, with vodka poured over and finished with the sparkling wine. Modern adaptations however have seen different flavoured sorbets, and additional liqueurs.
TRY: Rose & Grapefruit Sgroppino
Serve in Rocks glass
Garnish: Orange slice
How to make: Add your sorbet, and POUR the aperitivo over. Top with the wine.
30ml Starlino Rosé
1 scoop grapefruit sorbet