Tour Italy, one spritz at a time
If you’ve spent any time with us here on Giadzy, you’ll know we’re big fans of the Italian custom of aperitivo—early evening drinks and snacks meant to prepare you for dinner. The concept comes from the Latin word aperire (“to open”), as the point of aperitivo is to open up your stomach in anticipation of dinner. The tradition of sipping on a fizzy, bitter drink paired with salty snacks has been around in Italy since at least the 18th century, although the ancient Romans participated in a similar concept at their own dinner parties.
Enter the spritz. A perfect pre-dinner drink, the spritz is low in alcohol and helps stimulate your appetite, thanks to the combination of a bitter liqueur and dry, bubbly prosecco. Bitters are known to help with digestion, so drinking a spritz can help settle the stomach before a big meal. The spritz was first created in Venice, where prosecco originates. In the 1800s, portions of Veneto, the region where Venice is located, was controlled by the Austro-Hungarian empire. The story goes that Italian wine tasted too strong for the beer-drinking Austro-Hungarian soldiers, so they would dilute it with a “spritz” of water.
The drink became known as a “spritzer,” and when Italy regained its independence and the soldiers left, the idea of adding a splash of water to Venetian wine remained. In 1919, with the creation of Aperol in Padua, the bitter element of the drink was added to create the cocktail we know and love today.
Most spritz recipes follow the same basic formula, which can be remembered as the 3-2-1 rule: three parts prosecco, two parts bitter liqueur, and one part soda water. Of course, the amounts can be tweaked based on your personal preference; Giada’s favorite ratio is 3 ounces of prosecco, 1 1/2 ounces liqueur, and 3/4 ounce of soda water. Garnish with an orange slice, lemon slice, or a green olive.
Light, refreshing, and served on ice, the spritz is the perfect summer drink. While the Aperol spritz is the most well-known version here in the U.S., there are a variety of different spritzes that can be found all over Italy. Each spritz embodies the flavors and personality of the region from which they hail. There truly is one for every palate!
Meet the Many Types of Italian Spritz
Aperol Spritz, From Padua
What is it: Aperol hails from Padua in Veneto, not far from Venice. With a bright orange hue and a sweeter flavor, it’s no wonder that Aperol continues to be a favorite in both Italy and the U.S. Made with rhubarb, gentian root, and cinchona, many find it to be one of the most palatable bitter liqueurs. You’ll most often see an Aperol spritz garnished with an orange slice, or sometimes a green olive for a contrast of flavors.
What it tastes like: Citrus forward with notes of vanilla and an herbal aftertaste. With a sweet, orangey flavor, an Aperol spritz is less bitter than many of its counterparts.
Who will love it: Those looking for something sweeter and not too bitter will find an Aperol spritz the perfect entry point to the world of spritzes.
Select Spritz, From Venice
What it is: Select is the aperitivo liqueur of Venice—if you order a Venetian Spritz, it’ll most likely be made with this liqueur. It’s made with 30 different herbs and berries including rhubarb and juniper, giving it a gorgeous red-orange hue. A Select spritz is perfect for enjoying with a plate of Venetian cicchetti. Don’t forget the green olive garnish!
What it tastes like: With deep notes of vanilla and citrus, Select has a balanced, more bitter taste than Aperol, but is sweeter than Campari. A Select spritz has a similar sweetness and orangey flavor to Aperol, but a rounder flavor.
Who will love it: Those looking to try something with a similar flavor to Aperol, but slightly less sweet and a step up in depth and bitterness.
Cynar Spritz, From Venice
What it is: Dark brown and vegetal, Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar) is an amaro made with 13 different herbs and artichoke leaves. In fact, Cynar gets its name from the scientific name for artichoke, Cynara scolymus, and proudly displays the vegetable on its bottle. Created by a Venetian in 1952, Cynar is not only commonly found in a spritz, but is also served on its own as an after-dinner drink.
What it tastes like: Slightly sweet and slightly bitter, a Cynar spritz has a rich, smooth taste and light smokiness. With notes of caramel, cinnamon, herbs, and citrus, Cynar is both comforting and refreshing.
Who will love it: Those who prefer a more balanced, herbal flavor over a bitter, citrus flavor.
Hugo Spritz, from Alto Adige
What it is: A newer drink that hails from the Alpine Alto Adige region of northern Italy, the Hugo spritz isn’t made with an amaro, but rather elderflower liqueur. As elderberry is native to the Alps, the substitution seems apt! Lighter in both flavor and color, the Hugo is made with slightly different proportions than your typical spritz: Combine ½ ounce of elderberry liqueur with 4 ounces of prosecco and 1 ounce of soda water. Top with mint and lime. Having a summer BBQ? Check out our recipe for a pitcher of this wonderfully floral cocktail.
What it tastes like: The Hugo spritz is floral and sweet with notes of citrus and herbs. It has an incredibly refreshing, light, and aromatic flavor.
Who will love it: Those who don’t like bitters and enjoy a floral, not-too-sweet flavor.
Campari Spritz, from Milan
What it is: Created in Milan in 1860, Campari plays a starring role in a variety of classic cocktails, from the Negroni to the Milano Torino. Made with more than 50 different botanicals, Campari is an amaro characterized by its vibrant red color and intense flavor.
What it tastes like: Bold and bitter, a Campari spritz has notes of grapefruit, orange peel, cinnamon, and cloves. While there is still some sweetness, it is less sweet than Aperol and has a much more distinctive herbal aftertaste.
Who will love it: Those looking for something more bitter than Aperol or Select, but a similarly citrusy flavor.
Limoncello Spritz, from The Amalfi Coast
What it is: Limoncello, the famed lemon liqueur from the Amalfi Coast, is the star of the Limoncello Spritz. It’s often made in-house at restaurants in the region by steeping lemon peels in vodka and sweetening with sugar—you can even make your own! Garnish with a lemon wheel and enjoy a taste of sunshine.
What it tastes like: That renowned Amalfi lemon flavor is incredibly pronounced in this spritz. Sweet, lemony, and with a slight bitter flavor, the limoncello spritz is tart and refreshing.
Who will love it: Those who want something sweet, less bitter, refreshing, and acidic. Along with an Aperol spritz, this is one of Giada’s favorites! Try our herbaceous take on the drink here.
Averna Spritz,, from Sicily
What it is: Averna, a Sicilian amaro, was created by Benedictine monks in Caltanissetta in the 1850s. Made with pomegranate, citrus, and other botanicals, Averna is wonderful on its own or in a variety of cocktails. While high in ABV, it doesn’t taste as strong as some other bitters such as Campari, and has a wonderfully subtle sweetness to it.
What it tastes like: An Averna spritz has a rich, full-bodied flavor with notes of caramel, anise, warm baking spices, and citrus. It has a mild sweetness, fresh herbal quality, and just a little bitterness at the end.
Who will love it: Those who are looking for something more full-bodied and smooth, with less sweetness than aperol and less bitterness than Campari.