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A splash of sparkling water or even a bit of lemon soda, in your wine glass? The trend is becoming increasingly widespread and “contaminated” glasses are showing up on even the most exclusive tables and bar counters in the world, alongside flutes of French Champagne or elaborate cocktails.
The mixing – in an irreverent, casual way – the nectar of grapes with soft drinks is a game enjoyed all over the world. Beginning with the Spritz (which comes from the German verb, spritzen, which means to “spray” or “splash”), which is a very popular cocktail in Northwest Italy, Austria and Germany: a combination of high-quality prosecco, sparkling or soda water and a bitter spirit.
The history of the Spritz is said to date back to the Second World War when Austrian troops descended on Northeastern Italy: apparently, they weren’t used to drinking the high-grade wine from that region, and so they began diluting it with a little water. And today, in the gorgeous piazzas of Northeastern cities like Verona, Padova, Treviso, Trento and Venice, during the pre-dinner cocktail hour, Italians from all generations enjoy the Spritz as an aperitif.
In Milan, Italy’s fashion capital, one of the city’s drinking establishments, Nottingham Forest, features modern interpretations of this beloved cocktail using a “spherified” bitter: the cocktail glass is filled with solid little balls filled with either Aperol or Campari that spill out when crushed.
In the 1980s, the Spritz was included in the list of of the world’s best cocktails according to IBA (International Bar Association), giving this simple, but appealing recipe a big boost in visibility while leaving it open for personal interpretation. It’s no wonder, that the Italian Spritz is one of the most popular cocktails among the celebrity crowd: Liz Taylor loved it so much that in 2001, a special version was created in her name in Venice: instead of the traditional orange slice, blueberries are used as a garnish, and a touch of curaçao pays tribute to the actress’s famous blue eyes.
While it may be a tradition of humble origins, mixing wine and a carbonated beverage is a custom practiced all around the world – with specific recipes varying according to location – and, in its evolution, has become more and more refined despite its popularity. In fact, it’s one of the most transversal drinks on the planet, and not just among students who want to make what little wine they have last longer, or working men on their lunch breaks.
In New York, it’s celebrated in a thousand different versions: the famous heiress and art collector Peggy Guggenheim was famous for serving Spritz-inspired cocktails at her museums’ events. In Asia, the new wealthy class has adopted the habit of diluting the world’s most expensive wines, like Chateau Lafite, with fizzy water. The main idea is to delight the palate with surprising combinations and, of course, there’s the added benefit of watering-down the alcohol, which means you can drag out cocktail hour for longer, and still be clear-headed. What’s not to like about experimenting with wine dilutions, then?
In Germany, the Spritz is ubitquitous, often alternated with the Schorle (a drink made from sweet wine and either sparkling water or fruit juice). In Hungary, a country with wonderful native grapes, calls the mix of white wine (and in some cases, rosé), Fröccs, but the recipe tends to vary with regards to the percentage of wine and water used.
Spain is chock full of bizzarre and delicious combinations, like the Calimocho, which made from equal parts Coca-cola and red wine, the Sangria (fruit, cinnamon and perhaps a few drops of liquor in red wine), and the Verano – a summery drink made from red wine, tonic water and lemon (or else lemon soda). In all three cases, ice should be used in abundance. The Calimocho has even been exported as far as Cile, but there it goes by a different name: Jote, which follows the same recipe and is very popular among the young crowd.
Lessening the alcohol content during an important meal is the reason why, in many countries, wine is served in a carafe at the table alongside cool water (almost always sparkling). It’s common practice in Greek taverns, where tempering the effects of wine is helpful under the strong sun, and not unusual in Argentina, where you’ll find people mixing wine and water in even the finest restaurants – and it’s said that when it comes to important business lunches, wine is almost always served diluted with water. And in Argentina, before sitting down at the table, you may be offered an a glass of Cordoba champagne as an aperitif, but don’t be fooled by the name: it’s a local mix of white and sweet sparking soda.