Explained: What Is An Aperitif?
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Aperitifs are drinks taken before meals, accompanied by cicchetti or small snacks. Called aperitif in France and aperitivo in Italy, the word comes from the Latin word, 'apertitiuvum’, which means 'opener'. The Italian tradition of aperitivo hour takes place around sunset everyday. Italian culture looks at aperitivos as an opportunity to prepare the palate for the larger meal that is to follow. 

People started producing spirits flavoured with herbs and spices for medicinal purposes by the 16th century. These were very bitter and so the makers of these drinks made them more palatable by diluting the chosen ingredients in wine. When they became popular as non-medicinal drinks, they were served to stimulate the appetite before meals and this became a social norm in many parts of Europe.

It is believed that vermouth was first produced in Turin in the 18th century, when King Vittorio Emanuele II chose a spiced white wine (which came to be known as vermouth) for his pre-dinner drink. Then, in 19th-century Tuscany, Count Camillo Negroni accidentally created a vermouth-based cocktail. He called it Negroni, which became a staple during aperitivo hours in the region.

Today, Italy has brought prosecco in the limelight as an aperitif. The crisp sparkling wine with a hint of apple and pear is made with the Glera grape, which is grown north of Venice. It goes especially well with fried gorgonzola and polenta cakes. A mix of prosecco and water, also known as the Spritzer, is also considered fashionable. The story goes that during the Hapsburg occupation, Austrian soldiers in northwestern Italy found the local wines to be too strong and asked for a “spritzen” of water to dilute them. And so, the spritz was born. These days, spritzes use Aperol or Campari.

In France, popular aperitifs include champagne, chartreuse (a blend of brandy and herbs), kir (a cocktail with white wine, crème de cassis and blackcurrant liqueur) and ricard (a star anise and licorice flavoured drink), among others.

Aperitivo hour could be considered a rendition of happy hour that goes beyond just drinking before dinner. It’s a celebration of life and a sign of warm hospitality on the part of restaurants and bars that offer it.