A guide to Italian drinks and how to drink them.

Italian life revolves around food, and drinks are matched to enhance the dining experience. There are a range of beverages for every occasion, so which ones should you try on your trip to Italy?

Whether it is a wine with dinner or a post meal liqueur, for the Italians drinking is a way to enhance a meal you enjoy with family and friends. They have a long tradition of drinking, with wine cultivation thought to have been introduced by the Greeks in 800BC. Since then, wine has become an essential element at the table, and newer concoctions such as aperitifs and digestifs have  planted themselves firmly into culinary culture. There are now hundreds of grape varieties, beers and liqueurs available in the country, drawing on regional cuisines and environments to create drinks with strong links to the land and people.

  • Vino (Wine)

    Wine in Italy. Where to start? The country’s long history and culture of making and drinking the nectar of the gods is hard to sum up briefly. Italy is the largest wine producer in the world, growing more than 350 different grape varieties in regions that cover the whole country. So, if you are an Italian wine novice, you can’t be blamed for feeling a little overwhelmed by the shear choice of what is available on the wine list.

    Italians take wine very seriously. All wines are classified into categories from Vini, generic wines, to Vini DOP, which must satisfy strict regulations specifying where the grapes are grown and how the wine is produced. Food goes hand in hand with wines, and regional cuisine will usually influence the flavours and style of the wine. You might not have time to sample all the 400 plus DOP classified wines on your trip, but you can start with these popular options:

    • Sparkling

      While Prosecco is the most well-known Italian sparkling, Francia-corte is often described as the “Champagne of Italy”. Moscato d’Asti is a sweet sparkling, usually served as a dessert wine.

    • Whites

      The Italian summer heat makes white wine the perfect accompaniment to your seafood risotto or spaghetti marinara. Some of the best to try are Soave (made principally from Garganega grapes in Veneto), Gavi di Gavi (Piedmont) and Fiano di Avellino.

    • Reds

      Italian reds are particularly well known world-wide and are usually matched with rich meat dishes. Try a Chianti, Barbera, Montepulciano and Nero d’Avola with your bistecca Fiorentina or spaghetti alla Bolognese.

    • Dessert wines

      Enjoy your tiramisu with a small glass of Passito di Pantelleria or savour a contuccini almond biscuit with Vin Santo at the end of your meal.

  • Birra (Beer)

    While beer certainly takes a back seat to wine in Italy, it is considered a perfect accompaniment to pizza and is still a popular refreshing drink. Best known internationally for mass produced lagers Peroni, Nastro Azzurro and Birra Moretti, a craft beer scene has recently started to develop in areas of the country. New breweries are taking on influences from their beer-centric neighbours such as Germany, Belgium and England and further afield including the USA, and using local ingredients to add a regional flavour. Keep a look out for beers by craft breweries including Re Hop, Birrificio Lambarte and Costa Est.

  • Aperitivi (Aperitifs)

    Often served with a light snack such as olives, nuts or crisps, an aperitivo is designed to make you hungry before a meal. You can drink a simple sparkling wine, or try one of the aromatic concoctions available behind the bar. Made combining alcohol with botanicals such as herbs, spices, fruits and barks, the exact recipes are usually closely guarded secrets.

    Popular aperitif liqueurs include Campari, Aperol and vermouth, which can be served by themselves, with mixers or as the base for delicious cocktails to be drunk pre dinner. Enjoy one of these to whet your appetite:

    • Spritz

      made with Prosecco, soda and liqueur, served in a wine glass and garnished with an orange wedge, the spritz is one of the most popular aperitifs in Italy. Try with Aperol for a sweeter, fruitier summer version (also known as a spritz Veneziano), or with Campari if like something with a bit more kick.

    • Vermouth

      traditionally made in sweet or dry variations, this aromatic liqueur from Turin is popular served on ice or with soda and a complimenting garnish. It is also an essential ingredient in many cocktails including the martini, negroni and Manhattan.

    • Negroni

      not for the faint hearted, this strong, quintessential Italian aperitif cocktail is made combining equal parts Campari, gin and red vermouth and served with ice and an orange zest.

    • Americano

      if a negroni feels like a punch in the face, try its softer cousin the Americano. It swaps the gin for soda water, making it more accessible if you aren’t used to strong cocktails before dinner.

  • Digestivi (Digestives)

    Digestivi cover a range of liqueurs that are served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. Like most Italian drinks, the flavours of digestive liqueurs draw on regional ingredients to reflect a strong sense of place. Northern liqueurs will usually be herbaceous, using alpine herbs and plants, while those from the south are fresher and feature citrus flavours.

    Like aperitifs, digestives are often made steeping a secret combination of botanicals in alcohol to create an aromatic liqueur drunk by itself or as part of a cocktail. Some such as amari and certain grappas also include an ageing process. Ask your waiter for one of these delicious post dinner options:

    • Limoncello

      Produced predominantly in the south, this lemony, syrupy liqueur is often popular with visitors for its sweeter taste.

    • Amaretto

      Another sweeter option if you haven’t yet acquired the taste of some of the stronger liqueurs, amaretto is almond based and usually served with ice.

    • Grappa

      Made using pomace from wine production, grappa is a strong spirit with flavours that will reflect the grapes used.

    • Amaro

      Meaning bitter in Italian, these liqueurs were originally sold as medicine. They are usually served neat or with ice and an orange wedge.

    • Sambuca

      While you may remember sambuca from doing shot on nights out, the Italians sip it after dinner to enjoy the aniseed flavours.

Related article: What is Italy famous for producing?

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