We have Austrian soldiers to thank for the drink’s name. In the 19th century, men stationed in northern Italy and unaccustomed to the local style of wine started diluting glasses with a spritz — the German word for “spray” — of still water. Soda water replaced still water in the late 1910s, bitter wine- or spirit-based apéritifs were swapped in for wine in the ’20s and early ’30s, and prosecco got its skin in the game in the ’90s.
For me, a well-made spritz is an ideal opener to the night. The best ones are more nuanced than the Aperol spritz, but no more complicated. If your finished drink tastes like a children’s vitamin, it’s wrong, and it’s a hangover biding its time.
To build a spritz worth drinking, direct your attention first to the sparkling wine, then the apéritif bottle. In the 3:2:1 formula, sparkling wine takes up the most real estate, and most spritzes are being topped with garbage bubbles.
“I think people have the misconception that if you’re mixing it into something it doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to be able to tell,” said Natasha David, the owner of Nitecap, a bar in New York that dedicates an entire section of the menu to spritzes. “But it does indeed matter.”
When deciding on bubbles, quality prosecco is a good choice, though by no means the only one. There’s no need to dilute very good Champagne over ice, but I often opt for a pétillant naturel (often shortened to pét-nat). Whatever it is, make it dry, open it fresh, and serve it fast.
Choose your apéritif bottle next. Pick something you’re already likely to drink chilled or on the rocks. Bitter reds work, especially if you’re keen to keep things brightly hued; my home bar currently features Cappelletti, Contratto Bitter and Forthave Spirits Red Aperitivo. Vermouths skew the resulting cocktail slightly sweet, though not as quite sweet as Aperol. When I deploy vermouth at apéritif hour, I go with sweet red or sweet white, and balance it with seltzer, tonic or some combination of the two. I top the drink with a big green olive. This summer, however, if you’re spritzing with me, an amaro is going to get involved.
If you’re making them at home, know that spritzes are zero-intimidation cocktails — easy to make, easier still to drink. Forgo any tools besides the jigger; spritzes are built in the glass, and the garnish can do the mixing as it drops into the drink.