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A Guide to Italian Pre-Dinner Drinks

The pre-dinner drink in Italy is one of my favorite diversions. I’m usually tired from a full day of activities—whether hiking or visiting art museums—and having one of the many typical Italian drinks at a quiet table allows me to reflect on all I’ve done. My father once said, “When traveling, your mind is three days behind your body.” I’ve found lemon splash-1that this is often the case, but that an hour-long rest at a relaxed café can help the mind catch up with the body. Fortunately, Italy’s selection of pre-dinner drinks, known as aperitivi in Italian, while short, does offer unique cordials designed to restore the senses.

Italians never drink without food nearby, and the price of one pre-dinner drink may include a large buffet. Click here for more on Italy’s aperitivo tradition.  One of the first pre-dinner drinks that I stumbled across is still my favorite: White Vermouth. While it is low on alcohol content, this mildly sweet vermouth, when Campariserved over ice with a fresh slice of lemon, is silky, simple, and powerfully refreshing. Unlike the more common red and dry vermouths that we usually find in the United States, white vermouth has a soft, smooth flavor when sipped alone. It is a little lemony with a hint of vanilla, and when served on a hot day, it hits the spot like nothing else.

You’ll often find Italians drinking this next drink with breakfast, but I find it better suited for dinner: Campari and Soda. Campari is a bitters, known as amaro in Italian, which means that it is a liquor distilled from bitter herbs, aromatic plants, and fruit. While many bitters are dark in flavor and high in alcohol, making them great for post-dinner drinks, Campari is light and playful. Bitters are known for stimulating the appetite too. A Campari with soda is bubbly, bright red, and always served with a juicy slice of orange.

NegroniPerhaps the most famous Italian mixed drink is the Negroni. The main components are gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, to which a slice of orange is added. If you are looking for something powerful, a Negroni is the way to go. A playful alternative to the strong Negroni is the Negroni Sbagliato, which literally means the Negroni mistake, in which Prosecco is substituted for gin. The drink was invented in Milan, when a novice bartender made the mistaken substitution.

Prosecco is a light, bubbly white wine, and is itself an optimal pre-dinner drink. It is usually dry and, at its best, filled with flavors of peach or caramel. Often referred to as a pick me up because of it’s spirit-raising ability, Prosecco wines have recently been awarded a higher position in Italy’s government controlled standards listing. Most wine-industry specialists are predicting a rise in price, so enjoy it now while it’s still relatively cheap.

Written by Mattie Bamman for


Tuesday 5th of June 2012

The best aperitivo (Italian happy hour drink) is Spritz: Aperol, Prosecco, Tonic water and a slice of orange....Mmmmmm

Dominic Lockyer

Tuesday 15th of May 2012

 Nice article. The Negroni is my favorite pre-dinner cocktail.

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