The Basics History & Trends

6 Things You Should Know About the Aperol Spritz

Including what it owes to Austria.

Aperol Spritz
Image:

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog 

Can you have a festive summer evening anymore without the fiery sunset glow of an Aperol Spritz lighting the way? This northern Italian pre-dinner drink has taken the country—and if the global double-digit uptick in sales of its namesake amaro are any indication, the world—by slurpable storm. Aperol, prosecco, a splash of sparkling water and a juicy orange slice (or Cerignola olive, if you prefer) are the simple ingredients that do the trick. 

Since the Spritz shows no sign of slowing its orangey-red flow, it’s time to learn a thing or two—or six—about this refreshing classic quencher.

1. Aperol Is an Amaro

While its vibrant orange-red hue might lead you to believe that it’s the stuff of high-octane shot fodder, Aperol clocks in at an easy 11% ABV as part of the amaro family. But while you might associate anything in that category with post-dinner digestion-aiding sipping, Aperol was created in Padua, Italy, in 1919 as an aperitivo—that is, something to be sipped before dinner to whet your appetite for what’s to come. 

2. “Spritz” Isn’t Italian in Origin

Technically, the Spritz category comes from Austria, which had possession of what is now the Veneto and Lombardy regions of northern Italy from 1805 until about 1866. Austrians didn’t love the acidic northern Italian white wines being made and poured in the region and would ask for a spritzen of water to make it more palatable. And so the notion of Spritz came to be.

3. Prosecco Is the Bubbly of Choice

Made from the glera grape, prosecco has long been one of Veneto’s and Friuli’s greatest exports, but it’s also extremely popular right on its home turf. The Spritz mix began to morph once Aperol made its way east to Venice. By the early 20th century, the combo of the mildly bitter aperitif, fruit-forward bubbly wine and a splash of soda water became the iconic cocktail-in-a-goblet it is today.

4. Choose Your Sparkling Wine Wisely

You shouldn’t just blindly pick up any ol’ bottle of bubbly and pour it into your Aperol Spritz. You’ve probably heard that old trope “prosecco is sweet!” Well, it can be, but it can also be dry. The key to knowing which is which is finding the word “brut” (dry) or “extra brut” (mildly off-dry) on your label—and it may be in tiny letters on the back of the bottle, so be prepared to hunt. If you see the word “dry,” that actually means the bubbly in question is sweet and probably will wind up making your Aperol Spritz taste awfully cloying. (Aperol itself isn’t terribly bitter.) So read that label before you pour.

5. It’s Best on the Rocks

You might be inclined to forego ice. It’s a wine cocktail after all, right? And you never put wine on ice, you say. Well, sure you do. (Sangria, anyone?) And an Aperol Spritz is absolutely a drink that benefits from the chill and dilution of a few cubes in a double-rocks or wine glass. Just make sure you use slightly larger cubes so they dilute more slowly in your drink. And make them with filtered water, if possible.

6. Its Popularity Is Thanks to Another Italian Aperitif 

While the Aperol Spritz certainly had its fans over the years, they were likely those who’d had the lovely aperitif while vacationing in Italy, via friends or family who had, or in restaurants or bars that honored the Italian aperitif tradition. But in 2003, a deal was forged with Gruppo Campari, who makes that popular red aperitif of the same name. As the cocktail revolution swelled, Aperol hitched a ride on the wave, and its once-dusty bottles earned a heavier rotation. By the end of 2019, Aperol became the company’s biggest earner with double-digit growth, thanks to beyond-summer thirst for the Spritz from Hamptons beaches to snowy ski slopes. The Aperol Spritz, it seems, is no one-season pony.