One of the many duties of a sommelier is to know and understand all of the beverages in a service and hospitality setting, not just the finest wines on the menu.
As part of the Court of Master Sommeliers’ curriculum and testing, many up-and-coming sommeliers will have to go through a service round of examination. During that time, they're asked to make recommendations on wine pairing with menu items, demonstrate proper service and sometimes even answer questions regarding cocktails.
One such cocktail made popular in mainstream conversations this spring has been the “Aperol Spritz.” On my trip to Italy earlier this year, it was incredible how many of these “happy hour” beverages were being served, always with a small tray of olives, chips, or snack mix. I had never tasted it until that trip across the pond, and I'm not sure what it was about the experience — the speeding Vespas, the loud conversations in Italian or looking out on the Spanish steps while I enjoyed my drink, but this is what became the souvenir inspiration for the summer season ahead.
Before you charge me with blaspheming this wine column with a conversation on cocktails, this and many other spritzes are, in fact, wine cocktails. Following the same easy to remember ratios you can make this at home the next time you entertain. 3:2:1, the Aperol Spritz comprises three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol or other aperitivo and one part club soda. Garnished with an orange slice and served in a wine glass, it’s a perfect pre-dinner beverage. Beverages known as “aperitivo” are traditionally served before the meal. Known for its sweet yet bitter qualities, Italians say this and other aperitivos aid the stomach to prepare the meal ahead and build an appetite. Not popular until after World War II, I find the Aperol Spritz is delightfully nostalgic of the old school cocktails of the bar and fits right at home with its friends the Manhattan, old fashioned, and the many sour cocktails that frequent the pages of any classic cocktail recipe book.
The Aperol spirit itself is made by blending many flowers, such as Gentian and Cinchona, and also by incorporating roots and fruits like rhubarb and bitter orange. While this is a sweet aperitivo, I find that with the addition of a high-quality prosecco and dash of club soda, the flavors all come to balance one another. Serve with marinated olives, crackers, or some other salty crunchy snack.
Primarily produced in Italy’s northern Veneto wine region, Prosecco is made from a combination of Prosecco grapes, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco. Like other wines, all Proseccos are not made equally. Some may say that since it’s going into a mixed drink, skimping on the Prosecco won’t make a difference because you won’t taste it. On the contrary, the result would be a lackluster cocktail that more resembles two-buck chuck than a refined elegant drink.
Look for producers like Adami, La Marca, Zardetto, and Mionetto. The best thing about Prosecco is, unlike the high-brow Champagne houses of France, most Prosecco wines are moderately priced and great for everyday consumption.
The Aperol Spritz, with its complex sweet and bitter flavors, coupled with the light and summery Prosecco, is the perfect patio pre-dinner cocktail and one that is sure to impress your guests. As we look forward to the many patio moments ahead, I encourage you to try your hand at this very Italian and effervescent drink for your next summer BBQ or dinner party.