Scientists have found that sparkling wine (i.e French champagne , Spanish Cava and Prosecco from Italy’s Veneto) are packed with polyphenols, plant chemicals (commonly found in heart-healthy reds) that helps to widen blood vessels, easing the strain on the heart and brain. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition mentions the particular benefits of polyphenol antioxidants, which are believed to slow down the removal of nitric oxide from the blood, lowering blood pressure and therefore reducing the risk of heart problems and strokes and the effects of cell-damaging free radicals in the body.
Italians are so much more sophisticated about what they drink. They are intelligent drinkers, preferring lightly alcoholic drinks and always pairing the drink to the food so that one compliments the other. There is reason why the food of Tuscany goes well with a Chianti or a Brunello and a reason one never drinks a cappuccino after 12 o’clock noon. There are sequences of activities in the diurnal rhythms of the Italian day. Rituals where form follows function and function creates a sense of well-being that all other cultures aspire to.
The ritual of the Italian aperitivo, the pre-dinner drink, that “opens your stomach” and gets your digestive juices flowing is designed so you can fully enjoy your upcoming meal. The habit of taking an aperitivo in the evening before a meal is enormously popular in Italy. The low alcohol content and dry or even bitter rather than sweet flavor of Italian aperitivi are perfect accompaniments to an Italian amuse bouche. Drinks like prosecco, Aperol, vermouth, a Venetian spritz or the bitter-sweet, red herbal Campari are part of the typical Italian aperitivo hour, an after work ritual that offers a moment of relaxation at the end of a day where you go for a pre-dinner drink to nibble and nip and socialize with your friends.
And as the evening draws to a close and you’ve had a meal once served to popes and princes, your after dinner espresso is followed by a drink known as a digestivo ( sometimes referred to as an amazzacaffe – “coffee killer” for the fact that you take it after you’ve had your after dinner espresso). Digestivi are after dinner drinks to help you digest your meal. Drinks like Averna, Strega, Limoncello and Grappa are much-appreciated by Italians for their digestive properties. Mixtures of herbs, roots, barks, flowers and spices, Italian digestivi are traditionally known for their restorative properties. There are over 300 different kinds of after dinner digestive drinks Italians have concocted over the centuries. Today’s medical mixologists are using their flavors and digestive properties to create modern elixirs with a renewed popularity. So much so that many are now standard drinks at most international bars and restaurants.
One of the easiest ways to bring Italy home is to open a bottle. A good quality estate bottled extra virgin olive oil, a bottle of regional Italian wine or bottle of balsamico from Modena. Or in this case a bottle of prosecco from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the hills north of Treviso. The crisp, bright taste of prosecco, reminiscent of citrus, herbs and melon with a mere 10.5% alcohol content make prosecco a perfect drink for summertime entertaining.
My wine memories of prosecco center around two spectacular meals with our Italian cousins. One along the Brenta Canal in a town called Mira and another along the Levante di Caorle, an old fishing port on the Adriatic near Venice that is now a popular seaside resort. After we pored over the 7 page mouth-watering menu at Da Eugenio Ristorante La Ritrovata* , choosing all manner of seafood and shellfish for dinner, we ended the meal with a sgroppino, the “little unknotter”. This frothy fruit sparkler made with prosecco mixed with vodka and lemon gelato is a perfect digestivo to untie any knots in your stomach if you’ve eaten more than you should.
*Warning – Opening this video link will make your mouth water.
To Make the Sgroppino
1/3 cup Lemon Gelato or Sorbet, 1-1/4 cups Prosecco, ( 1-2 tablespoons chilled vodka – if desired)
Put the lemon gelato/sorbet in a bowl and break it up with a spoon. Stir in vodka. Add the prosecco, whisking by hand to form a soft, foamy mixture. Don’t whisk too much or it will become too liquid. Serve in a tall glass or wide-mouth goblet immediately. Makes 2-4 servings.