The Perfect Italian Aperitivo

“I’ve come to think of aperitivo time as the fourth meal of the day, as important for my sanity, health, and social life as any formal sit-down dinner party of healthy lunch.” Elizabeth Minchilli, Eating Rome.


 Aperitivo in Chiavari


Is there anything more sublime than an Italian aperitivo? In my opinion, it’s one of God’s gifts to mankind, kissed by the angels. In fact, I remember my first time in Venice where I discovered the Cicchetti bars. My husband and I walked into a tiny bar where we became part of the crowd of locals standing together with tiny glasses of wine called ombre.’ On the countertop were trays of Cicchetti that were either complimentary or could be purchased for a euro.  Everyone around us enjoyed conversing with each other as trays of Cicchetti kept appearing, layered with the Venetian delicacies such as seafood on toothpicks, small rounds of bread or polenta topped with olive spreads, meats and cheeses, and hard-boiled egg halves. Typically, only a bite or two is consumed with a drink as it is meant to prime the appetite before dinner.

Cicchetti bar in Venice…photo credit

Just What Is An Italian Aperitivo?

An Italian aperitivo is quite similar to a tapas bar in Spain or Happy Hour in the U.S. But there are some differences. There are no food or drink discounts, usually. But snacks are often complimentary after ordering a drink. An aperitivo involves a pre-dinner drink to open or stimulate, the palate while nibbling and socializing. It is not meant to be a full dinner, although some use it as such. Dinner in Italy is usually eaten around 9pm, so a tidbit with a drink around 7pm can bridge the hunger gap.

When someone says, ‘pendiamo un aperitivo’ in Italy, it means ‘let’s go get an aperitivo.’ It is popular during the hours after work and before dinner so it is actually a cocktail hour. It is most popular in northern Italy where it originated. But central and the  southern regions are catching on as well. The term comes from the Latin word ‘apertitiuvum,’ meaning ‘open.’


A proper Venetian aperitivo in Venice at Luna Baglioni Hotel


A bit of History-

Aperitivi is actually a recent invention. Antonio Benedetto Carpano has been credited for initiating the idea of an aperitivo in 1786 Torino. He developed the vermouth, Carpano Antico, which is a fortified wine mixed with herbs, spices, and sugars to create a drink specifically meant to precede a meal. The word aperitivo meant the drink itself and developed into a ritual of meeting after work for a drink.

What do the Italians drink for aperitivo?

Each region in Italy often have their aperitivo specialties, but there are three traditional drinks that are typical of the aperitivo. These are all bitters, with a mixture of various herbs to stimulate your appetite.

Spritz– You many have seen the bright orange drinks in Italy at the bars or an outdoor cafe. Made from a blend of soda or prosecco and Campari or Aperol, it is as delicious and refreshing as it looks. Invented in the north of Italy by Gaspare Campari in 1860, the bright color originally came from the crushed shells of beetles. Thank goodness the recipe has been changed, and we can achieve the same bright color without the input of insects.

Negroni– My personal favorite, a Negroni is made of gin, vermouth and Campari garnished with an orange slice.

Americano– Everything the Negroni is except a substitution of soda instead of gin.


Wine is also a common aperitivo drink, especially the sparkling whites such as prosecco, spumante, fragolino, and brachetto. In Venice, the Bellini is popular and blended perfectly at Harry’s Bar, where it originated. It is a delightful combination of prosecco and peach puree.

There is a new type of aperitivo called an aperitcena, a combination term for an aperitivo and dinner (cena.) This ranges from a full plate of food to an all-you-can-eat buffet of usually left-over lunch items repurposed for meals and comes with the purchase of a drink. For me, this spoils the dinner as it’s too tempting to overindulge. However, if dinner is what you want, this is an inexpensive way to do it.

Ombre, the small glasses of wine served in Venetian bars, have an interesting origin. The name actually came from the shadow of the clock tower on Piazza San Marco. Wine sellers used to follow it to keep the wine cool.

The Martini was developed in Milan, the aperitivo capital of Italy, by the Martini family. They developed the vermouth drinks Martini Bianco and Martini dry.

Most people meet for an aperitivo like they would for a coffee, standing at the bar. It doesn’t last long like a dinner would, and the small bits of food can be as simple as nuts, chips and olives.

I personally love enjoying an aperitivo with a view, if possible, while sitting down. In Italy it will cost more, but the trade-off is worth it. There is no better way to unwind, recoup, and socialize a bit over a refreshing drink than this.

Tell me about your favorite aperitivo, whether in Italy or at home. I find sharing ideas or thoughts with others is not only helpful, but a lot of fun. So, please feel free to leave a message. I’d love to hear from you!




18 thoughts on “The Perfect Italian Aperitivo

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