The half-serious story of the Spritz, the world famous Venetian aperitif
Only the origin of the name “spritz” (pronounced “spriss” or “sprissetto”) has Austrian origins: it was drunk in Venice long time before! Pierangelo Federici, blogger from “Veneziani a tavola”, tell us what really happened, and Spritz’s original recipe.
Venice was the master of ceremonies, under the guidance of Daniele Manin and Niccolò Tommaseo, during the 1848 Italian Renaissance revolts against the Habsburg dominion. On 17th March of that year, Venetians occupied the Arsenale and forced the imperial troops to abandon the city. And so – for little more than a year, the habits of Austrian soldiers, shopkeepers, diplomats and workers living in the Veneto region were forgotten. Venice resisted Radetzky’s attack until 22th August 1849, when it had to yield.
At that point, there was no choice but to make a passive stand: i.e. introduce the enemy to the grand variety and complexity of Veneto wines!
Actually, the Austrians had caught on very quickly about going to the taverns and inns in Venice and all over the Triveneto area. However, as they were used to wines with a low-alcoholic content, going to our bàcari (taverns) was disastrous. Hence, the request to add a dash or splash (“spritzen” in German) of water, in order to dilute the wine. Maybe you already know this story? Well then, I’ll tell you what really happened…
That beverage was drunk in Venice a long time before!
The Arsenal of Venice
The true story of Spritz
Only the origin of the name “spritz” (pronounced “spriss” or “sprissetto”) has Austrian origins: the summer habit of adding water to wine is a typical Veneto custom. Some say that it goes back to medieval times, others say that it dates back further – to the Roman era. Others insist that this use can be traced back to the Paleovenetian people with the birth of wine itself. An amusing story to tell, involves the arsenalotti or Arsenale workers, and how the Serenissima Republic took particular care of its naval employees.
The Arsenale occupies a vast area of the city and starting from the 12th century, it was the heart of the Venetian naval industry. Even Dante Alighieri, in Inferno’s Canto XXI dedicated beautiful verses to the Arsenale (“all’Arzanà de’ Viniziani”). It was connected to the Serenissima’s most prosperous period: thanks to the ships constructed there, Venice was able to fight off the Turks in the Aegean Sea and conquer the routes to Northern Europe.
Whoever worked in this huge industry (at that time, approx. 5% of the entire city population) was considered an esteemed person in the community, well-paid, given incredible health benefits and furthermore, a special daily “snack”. In fact, a mid afternoon pause was established, and bread and red wine was served. In the summer months, this was substituted by special crackers or crisp bread rusks that were called “frisopo” (or “biscotto”, i.e. biscuit: bis-cotto/cooked twice) and a cool water and wine based beverage…
Hence “Spritz” served five centuries before the Austrians arrived in town!
A recipe for “Spritz”
Today “Spritz” is varied, easy to prepare and has become known world-wide. In Venice it is mainly prepared with dry white wine and a “Bitter” like Aperol, Campari, Select, Cynar is added; otherwise “white / smooth spritz” (usually only water and wine).
- Put ice into the glass
- Add 1/3 of Bitter
- Add 1/3 of white wine or Prosecco or dry sparkling wine
- Complete with a dash of seltzer or soda water
- Garnish with a lemon or orange slice
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