If you were to think of Italian cuisine, almost everybody would come up with the same things. Pizza, pasta, cheese, olive oil, and cured meats probably immediately spring to mind. But what do Italians drink to along with all of this incredible food?
Of course, we all know Italy is famous for its wine, but generally speaking, most people know a lot less about Italian drinks than they do about Italian food. In fact, Italy has a sophisticated culture with respect to drinking just as much as it does in relation to eating.
So, what exactly do Italians drink? Well, they drink much the same drinks as people in other developed countries, from water and sodas to coffee, all the way to wine and spirits.
What we’re really talking about is the types of drinks that have traditionally been popular in Italy. In this article, we’ll be discussing some of the most popular traditional Italian beverages!
Where else to start but with wine? Wine has been a staple beverage in Italy since Roman times, giving birth to one of the most famous Latin quotes of all time ‘in vino veritas’, or ‘in wine, there is truth’.
Today, wine remains a cornerstone of Italian social culture. It is often, but not always enjoyed with food – Italians regularly enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and dinner, or simply nibble on some cheese or bread whilst they drink.
All twenty of Italy’s regions are wine-growing regions, and the country boasts the widest variety of indigenous grape vines in the world. It can be difficult, however, to understand the language of wine in Italy. Sometimes a wine is named after the grapes, and sometimes it’s named after the region or even the wine producer.
This makes the Italian wine industry one of the most varied in terms of taste, with some regions being world-renowned for their excellent wines. These include Tuscany, Lombardy, Piedmont, and Sicily to name but a few.
Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine, with Italians themselves consuming much of it – Italians are amongst the world’s biggest consumers of wine.
In fact, in 2020 the average wine consumption per capita in Italy was 46.6 liters. That puts Italians second on the list, behind only Portugal (51.9 liters) and ahead of France (46 liters). If you want to drink like an Italian, you can’t go far wrong with opting for Italian wines.
Yes, it’s technically just another Italian Wine, but prosecco is unique to Italy. In fact, it’s unique to Italy’s North East, around the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. It is named after the village of prosecco in Trieste.
Interestingly, although prosecco is almost always sparkling or semi-sparkling, it can come in still varieties, too. Whilst popular in many countries outside Italy as an Aperitif, in Italy prosecco is drunk ubiquitously.
Although Italy has long been regarded as a central part of Europe’s wine belt, lager beer is popular in Italy, just as it is in other countries across Europe.
In fact, Italy’s per capita consumption of beer is increasing. In 2010 per capita consumption was 28.6 liters, which by 2019 had risen to 34.6 liters.
Amongst the most popular and established breweries in Italy are Peroni, Moretti, and Poretti. Pizza is just about the only Italian food that is traditionally enjoyed with a beer as opposed to a glass of wine.
Italian Spirits and Cocktails
An often overlooked part of Italy’s food and drink culture is the role of spirits and Italian cocktails. Whilst wine is ever present, many Italians also enjoy a cocktail with their food, too.
Indeed, some of the world’s most popular cocktails have their origins in Italy. They are divided into two main categories; those to be enjoyed before food (aperitivo) and those to be enjoyed after food (digestivo).
An aperitivo is a dry alcoholic drink, usually nothing too sweet, that is designed to stimulate the appetite before a meal. Aperetivo has also taken on a wider cultural meaning, becoming something akin to Italy’s version of the ‘happy hour’.
Typically held between seven and nine, an aperitivo sees the bar charge a flat rate for drinks but open up a ‘free’ spread of finger food and nibbles to enjoy as you drink. Wine is often drunk, but here is a list of some aperitivo drinks and cocktails:
- Campari- Originating in Novara, Campari is Italy’s National Drink. It is an acquired taste, with its dark red color and bitter flavor a combination of fruits, herbs, alcohol, and water.
- Aperol- Similar to Campari, a bitter but somewhat weaker bright orange liqueur that is the key ingredient in the famous Aperol Spritz.
- Vermouth- Coming in either sweet or dry varieties, vermouth is a kind of fortified wine originating in Milan that has been flavored with various botanicals.
- The Spritz- A mix of either Campari, or more commonly Aperol, with prosecco and tonic water. The result is a crisp, refreshing beverage that is neither too sweet nor too bitter.
- Negroni- One part Gin, one part vermouth, one part Campari, this simple cocktail has become one of the most talked about in recent years.
These post-dinner nightcap style drinks are designed to aid in digesting food and are usually very flavorsome, coming in both bitter and sweet varieties.
- Limoncello- one of the most popular after-dinner drinks, limoncello is a sweet and tangy lemon liqueur.
- Sambuca- yes, sambuca is Italian! It is an anise-flavored, usually colorless liqueur that tastes a lot like licorice.
- Amaro- translating as ‘bitter’ in English, amaro is a bitter-sweet herbal liqueur that has an alcohol concentration of between 15%-40%.
Aside from its alcoholic beverages, Italy is best known for its love of coffee and its cafe culture. Espresso is the most commonly drunk coffee in Italy, so much so that the word “caffè” is both the Italian for coffee and what you say when you want to order an espresso.
Many other popular coffee beverages owe a lot to Italy. For example, whilst not invented in Italy, the frothy, creamy cappuccino as we know it was developed there in the years following the Second World War.
So What DO Italians Drink? – Summary
Italians drink many different types of drinks. Wine is one of the most popular, with Italians being the second biggest per capita drinkers of wine in the world as of 2020.
Beer is drunk too, but cocktails and liqueurs are a more integral part of Italian drinking culture, being drunk both before and after meals. Away from alcoholic beverages, Italy is also famous for its love of coffee.