Italy is the birthplace of some of the most popular drinks enjoyed all across the world today. From locally produced wines and historic bitter liqueurs to the country’s distinctive coffee culture, there’s a lot to learn about Italian drinks. So to help you brush up on the basics, these are the most famous Italian drinks to try whether you’re planning a trip to Italy or fancy some of the dolce vita at home.
1. Italian Red Wines
It should come as no surprise that wine is one of the most popular Italian drinks. Both the production and consumption of wine play an important role in Italian history and culture. But going to a bar in Italy and ordering a ‘glass of wine’ is a sure-fire way of pointing yourself out as a tourist. No one’s expecting you to know every single wine produced in the country – there are a lot – but it is good to have a rough idea of some of the most popular Italian wines. Italy’s red wines are possibly more well known. Here are a few to try.
- Barolo – from the Piedmont region of Italy, Barolo is a full-bodied red wine with an alcohol level at the higher end (so be careful).
- Barbaresco – also from the Piedmont region, Barbaresco is made with nebbiolo grapes and is a great alternative to Barolo.
- Chianti – characteristically served in a bulb shaped bottle with a straw case, Chianti is a red wine from Tuscany’s Chianti region.
- Primitivo – a less well-known, slightly sweeter red wine from Italy’s Puglia region.
2. Italian White Wines
While Italy’s red wines may be a touch more famous, there are certainly plenty of Italian white wines that you probably already know and if not, should definitely get to know. Here are a few to try:
- Pinot Grigio – Pinot Grigio has become a staple white wine around the globe due to how drinkable it is. A zesty wine, it’s named after the grape its made from.
- Soave – from the Veneto region, near Verona, Soave is a dry white wine that’s pronounced “swah-vay”.
- Gavi – one of my personal favourites, Gavi is a white Piedmont wine dry in style. It’s one of Italy’s most underrated exports.
- Prosecco – Italy’s oh-so-wonderful and popular sparking wine. So delicious, it deserves a place of its own on this list.
3. Prosecco – Italian sparkling wine
A sparkling white wine from northern Italy, Prosecco’s popularity has grown massively over the last decade. Today, it’s one of the most famous Italian drinks inside and outside the country.
The popular DOC wine originates from Italy’s Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. For the highest quality DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) Prosecco, we can narrow down the production area even further to the rolling vineyards between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in Veneto. This region is also known as the Processo hills and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2019 thanks to its historical importance.
DOC and DOCG Prosecco must be produced using 85% Glera grape and is made using the ‘Charmat method’ (or tank method), where the second fermentation happens in tanks. These are the main factors that differentiate Italian Prosecco from French Champagne.
With delicate bubbles and subtle fruity and floral notes, Prosecco can be enjoyed on its own, paired with food, or mixed with spirits and other drinks to create several popular Italian cocktails, including Aperol Spritz and Bellini.
Campari is a bitter liqueur invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy. 150 years on, Campari is one of the most popular aperitifs (pre-dinner drinks) in Italy and one of the best-known Italian liqueurs across the world. The distinctive dark red liqueur is made from the infusion of herbs and fruit with alcohol and water – the exact recipe is still a tightly-guarded secret. It has a strong bittersweet flavour with notes of cherry, orange, clove, and cinnamon.
5. Aperol Spritz
Aperol is another classic Italian bitter liqueur, often described as the less alcoholic little brother of Campari. It’s made of an infusion of herbs and roots, including orange and rhubarb. Despite dating back to 1919 and long being a favoured Italian aperitif, Aperol has gained prominence across the planet in recent years thanks to the growing popularity of the Aperol Spritz.
With its vibrant orange appearance and aromatic citrusy taste, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Aperol Spritz is one of the most popular Italian cocktails. An Aperol Spritz is made using three parts Aperol and two parts Prosecco, then finished with a dash of soda and an orange slice. Here’s our full Aperol Spritz recipe.
A refreshing Prosecco-based cocktail that’s acceptable to drink with breakfast, what’s not to love about a bellini? The bellini is a sweet and fruity Italian mixed drink consisting of just two ingredients; Prosecco and peach purée. The traditional bellini recipe uses puréed white peaches, however as these are seasonal, yellow peaches or peach nectar are often used instead.
The origins of the bellini lie in the north of Italy at the now-famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, where founder Giuseppe Cipriani first created this delicious Italian cocktail in the 1930s.
7. Campari Soda
One of the simplest Italian cocktails but extremely popular nonetheless, Campari Soda is made by mixing Campari liqueur with sparkling soda water. The bitter yet refreshing aperitif is a great way to prepare for a filling Italian meal.
Named after Count Camillo Negroni, who first invented the cocktail in 1919 at the Caffe Casoni in Florence, a Negroni is a short drink served over ice, made with one part Campari, one part red vermouth, and one part gin. That’s right – no mixer (unless you count the ice or the spoon used to stir it).
For something a little different, you can opt for a Negroni Sbagliato with Prosecco rather than gin. ‘Sbagliato’ translates to ‘mistaken’, which is exactly how this cocktail variation was created – by mistake – when Mirko Stocchetto from Bar Basso in Milan accidentally added sparkling wine to a Negroni instead of gin.
Amaretto is a sweet, almond-flavoured liqueur that, depending on the brand, is made from apricot kernels, peach stones, or almonds. There are many brands of amaretto, but the most famous has to be Disaronno who skyrocketed the liqueur’s international popularity during the mid 20th century.
Amaretto is an extremely diverse Italian drink that can be enjoyed on its own, in numerous cocktails, added to coffee or hot chocolate, and as an ingredient in the popular Italian dessert tiramisu. It is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif.
Limoncello is a strong, lemon-flavoured liqueur made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. Originating from the Bay of Naples and the beautiful Amalfi Coast, limoncello’s sweet and citrusy taste is best described as Italian summer in a glass. The popular Italian lemon drink is best served chilled as an after-dinner drink.
Coffee is another staple of Italian drinking culture. Starting the day with a coffee and pastry in a charming local cafe is a must while in Italy.
If you order a coffee, or caffè, in Italy, you can expect to receive a single shot of espresso. An espresso is consumed quickly, often standing up in an espresso bar or on the go, and can be drunk throughout the day. A shot of espresso is also a common way to end a meal in Italy to help with digestion.
If you need an extra boost of caffeine to get you going, order a caffe doppio for a double espresso shot. Or, if you find espresso too intense, try a caffe macchiato, which comes with a small dash of milk.
While you can find every type of milky coffee in Italy, cappuccino is definitely the most popular. A cappuccino is a single espresso shot served with hot milk and topped with foamed milk and a dash of cocoa powder.
It’s important to note that in Italian coffee culture, milky coffees should only be drunk in the morning. If you want to drink coffee like an Italian, don’t order a cappuccino or latte after lunch.
13. San Pellegrino
If you don’t drink alcohol but still want to enjoy a traditional aperitif or digestif, there are some great non-alcoholic Italian drinks for you to choose from too.
San Pellegrino is Italy’s most famous orange soda and a popular drink in countries around the world. The traditional Italian orange drink is owned by the Lombardy-based natural mineral water brand by the same name. San Pellegrino produces a variety of flavoured sparkling waters and juices (as well as their natural sparkling water), but their orange soda has been the most popular for years.
Crodino is the most famous non-alcoholic Italian aperitif. The vibrant orange drink is made of herbal extracts and sugar and is known for its aromatic citrus and bittersweet flavour with notes of orange and grapefruit. A delicious non-alcoholic option for pre-dinner aperitivo.
Good to know: the difference between an aperitif and digestif
One of the most important things to understand when discussing Italian drinks is the difference between an aperitif and digestif.
An aperitif is an alcoholic Italian drink served before a meal to stimulate the appetite. An aperitif is traditionally a glass of wine or a dry, bitter, low-alcohol cocktail. This drink is usually enjoyed with small bite-sized foods and snacks. Together, this is known as aperitivo.
A digestif is an Italian after-dinner drink believed to help with digestion. Digestifs are usually a small glass or shot of Italian liqueurs, but can also be sweet dessert wines or cocktails.
That’s our guide to the best Italian drinks to try in Italy (or at home). Got any questions or suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.
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