A seasonal taste of Venice and Milan

John Wilson: Time for a spritzer or spritz? The Italian classic is a great warm-weather drink

Spritzers and spritzes are hugely popular throughout the year but consumption really takes off when summer comes around. Generally lower in alcohol and drunk well chilled, they make great warm-weather drinks and are the favourite aperitif in Venice, Milan and other northern Italian cities.

The difference between the two? A spritzer is made from wine and sparkling water, a spritz from Aperol or some other alcoholic bitters or liqueur and (usually) sparkling wine, prosecco being the favourite, and sparkling water. Various legends exist as to how a wine spritzer was invented but the most likely seems in Hungary or Austria, where the newly invented carbonated water was added to wine to make a sparkling wine.

The classic, and by far the most popular, spritz is the Aperol or Veneziano. Once consumed exclusively in Venice, it has gained popularity around the world over the past decade. Aperol is an Italian bitter, made from various ingredients including gentian, rhubarb, bitter and sweet oranges and cinchona. It is a vibrant orange colour. To make an Aperol spritz, fill a very large wine glass with plenty of ice, add three parts prosecco to two parts Aperol, and one part sparkling water. Garnish with a slice of orange and serve.

Aperol was invented in 1919 by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri in Padova. The Aperol spritz was created in the 1950s and soon gained popularity as a refreshing low alcohol pre-dinner drink. Lidl has Bitterol, a cheaper alternative, for half the price of Aperol, available for some parts of the year.


However, there are plenty of other options. These days, any mix of liqueur with sparkling water or wine can be called a spritz and the possibilities are endless. Campari, the classic north Italian bitter, is drier than Aperol. To create a Campari spritz simply mix Campari, Prosecco and sparkling water, or you could try a bicicleta, made with still white wine, Campari and sparkling water. Negroni fans can enjoy a sbagliato, made with Campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling water.

Consumers and mixologists are adept at creating new variants, using all sorts of ingredients including St Germain (elderflower), Chambord (raspberry), Limoncello (lemon) as well as various vermouths too. Basically, as long as it has something alcoholic and something fizzy, you can call it a spritz. Aperol is 11 per cent abv, so the classic spritz is lower in alcohol than many cocktails, but you can make it even lighter by adding more sparkling water.

Here are four alcoholic ingredients you can use in a spritz. Remember though that there are plenty of non-alcoholic spirit alternatives that you can use as a base for your alcohol-free spritz. Simply add sparkling water and maybe some alcohol-free wine too.

Luxardo Limoncello

27%, €22-24

Most of us will have tried limoncello in Italian restaurants as a chilled digestive. Made by macerating lemon zest in alcohol, it is fragrant, lemony and sweet. You can make your own with lemon zest, sugar and vodka. Limoncello is widely available. The Luxardo is from Celtic Whiskey.


11%, €15-20

The classic semi-sweet bitter aperitif is made from a variety of herbs, roots and oranges. It has herbal flavour with bitter oranges and citrus, finishing sweet. Widely available in off-licences and supermarkets.

Campari Liqueur

28%, €20-28

Campari is more bitter and less sweet than Aperol, and is often drunk simply with sparkling water, fresh orange juice, or as an ingredient in a negroni. Widely available in off-licences and supermarkets.

Saint Germain Liqueur

20%, €32-35

A French liqueur made from fresh elderflowers, Saint Germain is floral and fragrant with sweet elderflower flavours. Available from O’Briens, Molloy’s and specialist off-licences