At this point in the Italian cocktail’s evolution, the term “aperitivo” has a codified definition—a drink, accompanied perhaps by a bite, before the main event. But its enduring appeal has always been about atmosphere: the sun sinking into the horizon, the close of the workday, lifting a glass of something bittersweet and bubbly to toast another day done. Aperitivo would be nothing without the twilit hours before evening truly sets in, nor if it were separated from the category of drinks that give it its effervescence. What says Italian happy hour better than the bite of bitter liqueur swirled with a pour of sparkling wine? Aperitivo, in its most modern sense, is all about the bubble.
What was once a tradition shared by Italians each evening has evolved into a global symbol of leisure, heralded by the pop of a cork and the froth of Prosecco in cities from London to Miami to Los Angeles. Across the world, aperitivo has come to be recognized as the marker of Italian cocktail culture reclaimed.
Of course, the engine behind the aperitivo’s rise to juggernaut status is the inimitable Italian Spritz. According to Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau, the spritz, as defined in modern drink history, only solidified its modern blueprint once it gained its sparkle, lent by the doubly fermented wine made from glera grapes in Italy’s Valdobbiadene. The cocktail is indivisible from its signature fizz.
The recipe for the MARTINI & ROSSI Italian Spritz is dead simple: red Italian bitter topped with sparkling wine, garnished with an orange slice. Equal parts bitter, sweet and refreshing, it’s the drink that has become the patron saint for a generation of aperitivo drinkers—and one that’s ripe for riffing from bartenders professional and amateur who are eager to play in the burgeoning aperitivo space. Swap out the Prosecco for off-dry MARTINI & ROSSI Rosé Italian sparkling wine to achieve a pink-hued Piedmontese spritz, or try their cool, fresh Asti for an aromatic moment. Change the liqueur to elderflower, the garnish to fanciful (raspberries, herbs, cucumber slices, lime wheels and more), top with Prosecco and call it a French Spritz.
Not far behind the Italian Spritz’s rank in aperitivo royalty is the Negroni Sbagliato, that more-refreshing variation on the red bitter and sweet vermouth classic wherein gin is swapped out for Prosecco, resulting in a low-proof, sparkling take (whose moniker may mean “mistaken” but is truly anything but). Switch the Prosecco for either Asti or Spumante rosé, garnish with an array of citrus slices or add a splash of grapefruit to yield unexpected layers of flavor and a drink to suit any evening mood.
These classics have held steady at the fore of the aperitivo movement, but it’s impossible to overestimate the mark that sparkling wine has also left on the modern cocktail landscape. And with ready-to-drink cocktails, such as the MARTINI & ROSSI Frosecco frozen wine cocktail, the meaning of aperitivo hour is expanded beyond the skill of the home or professional bartender. A spin on the contemporary frosé category—rosé served from a frozen cocktail machine—the Frosecco mingles Prosecco with natural lemon flavor, while their Frosé blends still rosé with fresh fruit flavors.
Poured straight out of the freezer, they bring renewed ease to serving frozen cocktails at home and contribute to the ever-expanding potential for aperitivo hour beyond the tried-and-true—further proving that aperitivo is much more than a cut-and-dried category of cocktails. It’s an entire moment—a time of day, a style of service, a flavor profile and decades of Italian tradition—that holds within it the anatomy of a cultural touchstone, one cemented in the modern consciousness with the introduction of an element fleeting and ephemeral, yet wholly tangible: the unimpeachable sparkle of Prosecco.