As an Italian living in Germany, I am lucky because I am exposed to the highest quality craft beers. In Berlin, when I go out, I have a huge variety of interesting beers to choose from, while, when I’m in Italy, I definitely prefer to drink wine. But which is better for the traditional Italian ritual, the all-important early evening APERITIF!?
I’ll explain here the cultural difference behind the choice, wine vs beer, for the Aperitif hour:
-suitable for fatty and caloric food
-low versatility (only three big families: lager, pilsner, ale)
-quality depends on the recipe
-highly varied and versatile
-quality depends on territory, climate and on the grape variety
-there’s a wine to go with any food
Wine and beer are often drunk in the same contexts but remain very different. Luckily, choosing one of them does not stop you drinking and appreciating the other!
The Italian aperitif is the traditional daily moment when Italy downs tools to relax. Although there are differences and peculiarities from region to region, in Italy the main concept of an aperitif to enjoy with family and friends before dinner remains widespread everywhere. How it is done depends on the weather and the context. It usually takes place between 6-9 pm, with the aim, not to make you to feel full, but to get you ready for the evening meal. Drinks usually come with light dishes such as tomato bruschetta, olives, mozzarella, vegetable sticks, rustic shortcrust pastry and a wide variety of others.
We Italians don’t always follow ‘aperitivo’ with a full dinner. In the last few years the ‘Apericena’ – a buffet-dinner made with multiple appetizers has become quite popular and deliciously blurs the line between aperitif and evening meal. Perfect for hot days or when you just want something a little lighter.
The perfect match for the Aperitif is PROSECCO, a light, sparkling wine, or a light white wine, like Pinot Grigio or rosé. All quite easy to find and very popular at the moment.
Despite fashions and intercultural crossings-over, prosecco is still the most popular drink choice for the Italian enjoying their aperitif. It is also the most exported Italian wine in the world, therefore very easy to find in any supermarket.
It is a DOC wine, produced in the North East of the country, in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
It can be found in the sparkling version (frizzante), with an alcohol content of 9% vol, or spumante version in the three options brut, dry and extra-dry, in which case the alcohol content is more than 11% vol.
Prosecco has a fresh, fruity flavour with a hint of yeast, but like all sparkling wines, after opening the bottle it quickly loses the original taste and all the distinctive characteristics don’t last long. So drink up! It is a light wine with low ‘alcohol perception’ because it must be drunk very cold. In all cases, the alcohol volume always exceeds a normal beer so be careful!
Prosecco requires a specific glass – the flute, long and narrow, like the one in the picture. This shape keeps the sparkling effect for as long as possible, allowing the bubbles to rise without giving it too much oxygen. The flute can compromise the aromas, however, so there is also an argument for using a normal wine glass.
On the other hand, beer is usually recommended either between meals or, as in the case of pork shank in Germany, to accompany dishes with strong flavours.
The beer-based aperitif can also be the perfect match for Spanish tapas. Beer can enhance strong tasty food, cured meats, garlic-based seasonings, fried food and salty snacks. These foods are more complex and call for a drink with a proper structure to balance their aromas and robust flavours.
You can also enjoy tapas with wine. Just make sure to choose full-bodied vintages and air them well to enhance the taste of the food. In the Italian tradition, strong wines have always been associated with meat dishes.
Beer is, in many ways, much simpler. It can be served in a huge variety of glasses or drunk from the bottle – all are fine for enjoying the flavour. In Berlin, it’s not unusual to see people drinking beer anywhere – even in the subway, but I have never seen anyone drinking a glass of Prosecco while walking or travelling! It’s a drink to be shared with friends in a relaxed context, not while moving around.
Despite the tradition for Prosecco or light, white wines for Aperitif, the spirit cocktail is growing in popularity, particularly in Northern Italy. Spritz and Negroni are really catching on, bringing the Italians more in line with the Northern Europeans.
For my part, I love a good ‘aperitivo’ according to the old Italian tradition: a nice glass of Prosecco (maybe 2!!!), some light appetisers so you’re warmed up for dinner, good company and lots of joy! Salute!
“L’appetito vien mangiando”, popular proverb
My favourite ‘aperitivo’ is a nice glass of white wine and a salad. I don’t like sparkling wines, so I usually prefer a Pinot Grigio or, when I am in Abruzzo in Central Italy, I love Pecorino, a local white wine typical of the region. I have made a couple of simple salads, which will work wonderfully for your aperitif Italian Style.
Summer salad: simply mix lettuce, rocket, grated carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, marinated artichokes and mushrooms, almonds (or any other nuts), and sultanas. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and a tbsp of balsamic vinegar.
Cheese and lentil salad: drain a can of cooked lentils, add chopped red pepper, chopped cucumber, lots of mint leaves, the juice of half a lemon, some crumbled Italian cheese of your choice, a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Buon Aperitivo a tutti!