Mr. Italy is here to explain the Italian tradition of the “aperitivo”. Stopping off at the local wine bar for a glass of prosecco or Italian cocktail after work is the perfect way to end your day, or begin your evening by meeting up with friends to get the night started.
I also want to introduce my cousin Kristine Jannuzzi as a contributing writer for ASK MR ITALY. Our Pèpe ancestors came “over on the boat” from Avellino and landed in Hoboken, New Jersey. As Italian-Americans, Kristine and I are proud of our heritage, travel to Italy often, and share a passion for Italy that clearly runs in our blood.
Lastly, we’re having a cocktail recipe contest. All entries will receive a $25 Gift Card, and the Winner gets a cocktail named after them at Vino Napoli, and a dinner for 4 at Little Napoli.
The ABCs of the Aperitivo: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, Italian Style
By Kristine Jannuzzi
QUESTION:When my wife and I were in Florence for our honeymoon, we were a little confused when we stopped for a drink in the early evening and encountered the “aperitivo.” I think what threw us at first was that it was pretty sumptuous, at least compared to American happy hours. The bar we were in was a modest place, but the food they served was what you’d expect to find at a nice restaurant – I can’t recall exactly, but I think there was bruschetta and cured meats, among other things. We were just surprised at the quality of the food and weren’t sure if we were supposed to be paying for it or not. So what exactly is the concept behind the Italian aperitivo?
– Travis, NYC
ANSWER:Leave it to the Italians to take the already pleasurable act of relaxing with a drink in the company of friends and turn it into something even more enjoyable. The word aperitivo literally translates to “pre-dinner drink,” but it has come to represent a custom that is as essential to socializing in Italy as hanging out in the piazza.
Like American happy hours, the aperitivo is an opportunity to unwind at the end of the day. But rather than offering discounted drink specials, bars that host aperitivi serve complimentary appetizers called stuzzichini (from the verb stuzzicare, “to tease”) to tantalize your taste buds before dinner. And some places offer such an abundance of yummy dishes that you may not be hungry for a full meal later on.
Italians stop off for an aperitivo on the way home from work or before heading on to dinner with friends or family. Sometimes the aperitivo itself may be the main event of the evening. In Florence, the typical hours are from 7-9pm, but you’ll know for certain it’s aperitivo time by the people spilling out of the bars into the streets, talking, mingling, and checking out new arrivals as they pull up on motorini or exchange double kisses with friends. There’s an element of theater to this ritual that is distinctly Italian, and it’s an experience not to be missed when you are in Italy.
On a recent trip back to Florence, I visited some of the best places to get a taste of the aperitivo at its finest, from classic bars with an impressive history to trendy hot spots that are new on the scene. One of the most elegant is Cantinetta Antinori, the beautiful wine bar on Via Tornabuoni housed in the palazzo that has been the Antinori family’s official residence for centuries. Thanks to my cousin Pèpe, I had a chance to talk to Daniele Benci, longtime manager of the Cantinetta Antinori and a true aficionado of the aperitivo in Florence. Pèpe partners with Piero Antinori at their restaurant named Pèppoli in Pebble Beach, California and works closely with Piero in helping promote Antinori wines in America.
Daniele eloquently describes the aperitivo as un buon augurio di una bella serata, or “a good omen for a beautiful evening.” He elaborates, “I like to think of the aperitivo as a moment of introduction to the evening…if we are going to dinner with a group of friends, we know it is beautiful to start the night with a glass of wine, nibbling on something, and above all savoring the occasion to be together in good company.”
At Cantinetta Antinori, the aperitivo is based upon pairing an appropriate wine with seasonal Tuscan products of the highest quality. When I was there this summer, Daniele suggested we start with a glass of spumante and brought over a plate of pecorino and a basket of schiacciata al pomodoro, a traditional Tuscan flat bread. We then had a glass of rosé paired with a sampling of tasty Tuscan crostini (toasted bread) with different toppings such as tomatoes and mushrooms.
Another great place for an aperitivo just down the street from the Cantinetta is Caffè Giacosa. The iconic bar has been a favorite among Florentines for well over a hundred years and is the birthplace of the famous Negroni cocktail, one of the most popular aperitivo choices for Italians. Fashion designer Roberto Cavalli is now the owner, so it’s no surprise that the space is stylishly decorated with striking black and white photos on the walls and an outdoor terrace complete with overhead misters to keep patrons cool in the warm weather.
Across the Arno in the trendy San Niccolò neighborhood, there are several hip places that are always bustling with activity during the aperitivo and well into the night. Many of them, such as Zoe, Rifrullo, and Negroni, offer a full spread, buffet style, that could very well serve as your dinner. Plates might include hot and cold pasta dishes, pizzette (small pizzas), hunks of parmiggiano, affettati (sliced meats such as prosciutto and sopressata), orzo or rice salads, and more elaborate dishes, depending on the place and the season.
For a spectacular view from May through September, check out the hot spot Flò, just next to Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the city center. The large outdoor space has a real “see and be seen” atmosphere, with several bars and terraces for mingling and beds for lounging. Flò also offers an impressive buffet during their aperitivo and draws a mix of locals and expats throughout the summer.
Whatever setting you choose, going for an aperitivo is the perfect way to end your day and begin your evening in Italy. There’s little doubt that Italians know how to get it right when it comes to eating, drinking, and socializing, and the aperitivo is a happy union of all three.
THE “NEGRONI” Italy has been the leader of art and fashion of the world for hundreds of years, so it is no surprise that the same can be said when it comes to the world of spirits and cocktails. Perhaps one of the best cocktails ever created bears the name of an Italian Count and is made with the Italian liqueur that helped start the aperitivo trend. The spirit is Campari; the drink is the Negroni.
During the early 1900s, Florence was the center of the fashion world and a drink called the Americano was all the rage. It was made with Campari, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth, and a little soda water with an orange twist. To order this drink at the bar you were immediately recognized as a modaiolo – “a fashionable person in the know.” On the trendy Via Tornabuoni was the wildly popular Caffe’Giacosa (now owned by designer Roberto Cavalli), in the heart of the shopping district. One day in 1920, local trendsetter Count Camillo Negroni walked in and needed a little more punch to his Americano, so he asked to have some gin added to his drink. It became a surprise hit all over Florence and soon all of Italy was drinking what was to become known as the Negroni. I was introduced to this drink by the Antinori family, as their palazzo is also on Via Tornabuoni just a few steps away from Caffe’ Giacosa. It is my go-to cocktail and here I offer you this classic recipe. This drink is slightly bitter-sweet, so it may be an acquired taste for some, but it is surely a taste of Italy in a glass.
Ingredients: 1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth 1 1/2 oz Campari 1 1/2 oz gin Splash of soda water Orange slice or twist for garnish Preparation: Pour the ingredients into a tumbler with ice cubes. Shake very well, until ice cold. Strain into a martini glass Garnish with the orange slice.
Vino Napoli Wine Bar
In keeping with the Italian tradition of the aperitivo, last year we decided to open our own wine bar in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Vino Napoli is our own version of an Italian wine bar, wine shop and tasting room located next door to Little Napoli Bistro Italiano.
The wines featured at Vino Napoli are specially selected from partners and close friends of mine. Stop by and try the wines of Antinori, Silvestri, and my own wine, the Pepe from Atlas Peak. Enjoy a nice selection of fresh appetizers that we prepare on a daily basis.
/Vino Napoli is fast becoming a local’s hangout after work where friends meet up before dinner and where visitors gather before dining at Little Napoli.
The tables at Vino Napoli are all communal, and our guests sit together and converse about wines and other topics of interest.
Be the next Negroni!
Winner receives dinner for 4 at Little Napoli,
(and the cocktail named after them at Vino Napoli!)
We’re looking to discover a new cocktail, and name it after the creator. Want to be the next Negroni?
All you have to do is send us a new and original cocktail recipe, AND include a video of you making it. (or at least some cool photos).
Submit it to us via email, or on Facebook. Winner will receive a dinner for 4 at Little Napoli, and we’ll feature the new cocktail named after you at Vino Napoli Wine Bar!