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Level Up Your Canned Spritz

November 02, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Eric Medsker

Level Up Your Canned Spritz

November 02, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Eric Medsker

RAMONA’s new Amarino Spritz rebuilds a classic from the ground up, offering a RTD cocktail built on organic wine and all-natural ingredients.

After starting as a regionally driven creation in the Veneto region of Italy in the late 1800s, the spritz has gone on to become one of Italy’s most iconic drinks—a bright, vibrant and bubbly symbol of aperitivo culture and la dolce vita.

“The spritz’s ancestral homeland is still the north of Italy, particularly Lombardy and the Veneto, but indeed, as the cocktail has become an international phenomenon, it has also reached every corner of Italy,” says award-winning cookbook author Katie Parla, a Rome-based culinary guide and co-host of the “Gola” podcast. “The spritz, regardless of its red bitter ingredient, remains part of the aperitivo ritual in the north, while it has been adopted in the rest of Italy and spread aperitivo culture, to some extent, throughout the country.” Not to mention, much of the rest of the world: The spritz’s popularity knows no borders, and it’s simple formula of bitters, soda and sparkling wine makes it easy to order out or stir up at home year-round.

While the aperitivo liqueur component is the bittersweet backbone of the modern spritz, the body, texture and signature bubbles are driven by sparkling wine. Historically, wine was the primary ingredient in the spritz; the original formulation for the drink came about when Austrian soldiers, occupying Venice during the era of the Austro-Hungarian empire, diluted the local wine, too strong for their tastes, with carbonated water. Today, though, the grade of wine used in most spritzes isn’t often a priority—even in Italy, a country with a storied history of wine and viticulture. “You’re stuck with whatever low-cost sparkler the house has chosen,” says Parla. “The quality of the sparkling wine absolutely matters, and at home I use classical-method sparkling wines as well as those rifermentati in bottiglia. But that’s not even a choice in 99.9 percent of spritz scenarios at bars throughout Italy.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As the spritz has evolved from regional specialty to international sensation, and as variations and new takes on the cocktail have proliferated, so, too, has the focus begun to shift toward using premium ingredients. One pioneer in that movement is  RAMONA—a sommelier-founded, women-owned company whose portfolio of ready-to-drink (RTD) wine-based spritzes has aimed to capture the spirit of Italian leisure and prioritize the quality ingredients that have always been a part of Italy’s history. Rather than using a commercial red bitter liqueur as the base, the distinctive flavors of these canned cocktails are derived from organic fruits, herbs and extracts, while high-quality organic wines serve as the foundation.

This focus on wine is at the core of RAMONA’s inception. Prior to founding the brand, CEO Jordan Salcito, an award-winning sommelier, ran the beverage programs for David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants and worked as a sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York, in addition to spending time at several renowned wineries around the world. Salcito took inspiration in particular from her experiences with Italy’s forward-thinking agricultural practices, which is why RAMONA’s organically farmed and certified sustainable products are now produced exclusively in Italy. “Italy has a 4,000-year history of organic farming and viticulture,” she says. “In Italy, we have access to higher-quality, better-tasting, organically farmed grapes and citrus fruit that are not available in the United States, and in there we are not pressured to use the neurotoxin Velcorin as a preservative, which has become ubiquitous in the United States… As a bonus, it’s nice to be able to produce RAMONA in the country that birthed the spritz!”

That spritz, and Italy’s aperitivo culture in general, have played a pivotal role in American consumers’ embrace of a more sessionable style of drinking in recent years, as well as more bitter flavors, such as the ones found in RAMONA’s new Amarino Spritz. Drawing on a phrase that means “little bitter” in Italian, this variation offers layered, dry effervescence via a blend of wine made with organic grapes sourced from Sicily and the Veneto, alongside a slight, bittersweet kiss courtesy of oranges and Mediterranean herbs. “The Amarino is inspired by the slightly bitter, not-too-sweet spritzes of northern Italy,” says Salcito. “We knew we wanted something that could really transport you back to a piazza in Italy the way a good spritz does, minus the artificial colors and flavors.”

High-quality canned cocktails like the ones from RAMONA are emblematic, too, of the rise of RTD. Though it is one of the fastest-growing beverage alcohol categories in the United States, translating a classic drink into a canned version is a delicate art. “We love the cocktail movement because it steered us away from artificial ingredients,” says Lynnette Marrero, the bar director for Llama Inn and Llama San in New York and co-founder of Speed Rack, an all-female high-speed bartending competition that spotlights up-and-coming women in the cocktail industry while giving back to those impacted by breast cancer. “[With RTDs], things like acidity are harder to capture, and salinity is tricky because it can erode cans, so a lot of things we can do in a glass are a little different,” she notes, before sharing her checklist of canned drink essentials: “Balance of flavor. Not overly sweet, but not too bitter. Good carbonation.”

Marrero also points out that, because of their smaller size, canned drinks such as those on offer from RAMONA can be chilled quickly and are a perfect serving size for a gathering. She suggests offering a lineup of different flavors to party guests, rather than the standard punch bowl option. (She also notes that the RTD route helps keep hosts from having to play bartender all night.) And while the spritz classically evokes visions of al fresco gatherings over sunbaked afternoons, the drink (both canned and made-to-order) has actually become a year-round affair: it can fit in as comfortably at a holiday gathering as at a summer barbecue. Which means that, whether consumed directly from the can or poured over ice with a twist of citrus, an option like RAMONA’s Amarino proves to be dynamic as both a low-ABV pre-dinner choice and an end-of-the-evening nightcap, in any season.

“Like everyone else, I love the portability and possibility of this serve,” says Marrero. “You can see some real creativity in this space, and the elevated flavors are amazing.”

RAMONA Amarino Spritz

A slightly bitter, balanced and refreshing Italian aperitivo made from a proprietary blend of bitter orange, citrus and herbs for year-round sipping.

  • Price: $20 for four cans
  • ABV: 5%

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Tagged: Ramona, rtd, spritz