La Dolce Vita! Drink Up & Embrace the Aperitivo Revival
The term aperitivo comes from the Latin aperire (‘to open’) and this summer it will open up both your palate and your social life. It’s a traditional time-out after work that’s high on refreshment and low in alcohol, and many cultures enjoy it via variations on amaro, vermouth, aromatized wines, amber and golden elixirs, even a spritz – all flavourful wine and spirit bases diluted with fizzy water.
The category’s recent rise in popularity is part of the low-ABV trend and session cocktail movement (most are 17-24%), but because the casual drink fix is also short on preparation it’s the ideal way for those short on time to enjoy the company of friends on short notice. Also short of cash? A bottle of good aperitivo rings in around $25 and goes several times the distance as wine, making it a smart way to entertain generously while on a budget.
The magical hour or two that divides the day after work mode and resets into evening is an exercise in moderation (translation: you won’t get blotto before moving on to dinner). The key is to make the ora del aperitivo feel like occasion. It needn’t be elaborate – in fact keeping it simple is why it’s so beloved.
La Dolce Vita, One Glass at a Time
As Madonna’s t-shirt once proudly proclaimed, Italians do it better — and that includes the cinq à sept built around the ritual of aperitivo. When it comes to the lifestyle it represents Kamin Mohammadi, the Iranian-born author of The Cypress Tree, is living our dream right now: a decade ago, the busy journalist burned out, slowed down and relocated to the Tuscan countryside. “Lots of your day and rhythm and rituals are being around food because it’s everything,” she explains; “it’s life, nature, love.” Naturally, Mohammadi is also the British ambassador for Aperol, the rhubarb orange drink most associated with aperitivo these days (for an Aperol spritz remember the 3-2-1 ratio of Prosecco, Aperol and carbonated water).
As Mohammadi shows – in delectable scene after scene – in her new book Bella Figura: How to Live, Love and Eat the Italian Way, it’s the ritual around aperitivo that is at as least as important as what’s in the glass. “It’s restraint,” she adds. “There is a different emphasis – it’s not the drink, it’s the moment. How you can get the most enjoyment of any moment.”
No drink without food, no food without drink is a good rule of thumb. Stock up on packets of fennel tarallini and cheese sticks, keep large jars of lupini beans and good olives on hand, and decant a few into small plates and mini-bowls as needed. Skewer small bocconini balls with toothpicks. The aperitivo ritual involves setting out just a few basic nibbles, but lively tableware will certainly elevate the experience. Look for Casa Cubista, the colourful contemporary take on traditional terra cotta earthenware; it’s designed by Canadian stylist Arren Williams and handmade in Portugal (casacubista.com). And always have soda or mineral water chilling in the fridge.
Aperitivo – Collect them All
Whenever I travel, I seek out a good wine and liquor store and bring home a regional bottle or two as a taste souvenir (pro tip: pack a plastic bag and a small length of bubble wrap to buffer it in your suitcase). Whether it’s ducking into Astor Wines for Brooklyn’s Forthave Spirits red aperitivo while on a weekend in New York or making the pilgrimage to hallowed Enoteca Alessi in Florence, local wine shops can recommend everything fom rare domestic gin to regional specialty spirits, including aperitivo.
But you don’t have to go far, or even leave home at all. Lillet, Aperol, Cynar, Peychaud’s Aperitivo and Luxardo’s Aperitivo spritz are all easily available in Canada now, as are homegrown variations. Stalwarts Martini & Rossi and Luxardo have also both launched premium versions in the category, as did the group of Canadians who created ruby red Capo Capo (a traditional aperitivo made in Italy but tweaked in taste for the North American palate) last summer.
The LCBO and several other provincial liquor distributors seem to be casting their sourcing in the aperitivo amaro category wider to respond to demand, so there’s better selection this season than you think, especially with a little virtual legwork. Try browsing your relevant supplier website by genre keyword. Drink expert Stefano di Dio’s Oscar.697 vermouth and Vermouth Del Professore from Turin, for example, are both readily available as online exclusives on the LCBO’s webstore, and with no order minimums. Alberta Liquor Stores carry several varieties of Cocchi as well as Washington distillery Brovo’s Witty and Pretty vermouths (search liquorconnect.com) and there’s gentian-based Suze at the SAQ (doubly nice to keep on hand because it’s the essential ingredient in a good white negroni).
Read on for our grand tour of aperitivo, and get sipping like you’re under the Mediterranean sun.