If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my elders, it’s that you never need much of an excuse to enjoy a glass of prosecco.
Meet Giuseppe and Liliana Minato, my grandparents on my mother’s side:
In true Minato style, the dapper couple is making short work of a bunch of bubbly. This shot was taken sometime in the late 1960s, but it shows a familiar scene: bottles strewn across the table, with sweets and savory pastries laid out for the taking – or as it’s called in Italy, a brindisi.
A brindisi is a celebratory toast, a way of honoring family and friendship over a drink. It can be as formal or spontaneous as you like; anywhere from a baptism reception to an unexpected visit from a neighbor is an appropriate occasion to toast to health and happiness, especially during the holiday season. Swinging by your great-aunt’s apartment to say hello on the way back from an errand? She’ll promptly whip out a plate of cookies and a bottle of prosecco. A friend pops by to pick up their kid who you’ve babysat for the day? Now’s a good a time as any to open up that bottle of wine you’ve been saving in the cantina. Dropping off a Christmas present at your second cousin’s house? Time for a cocktail!
That being said, Italy, on the whole, is not a nation of raging alcoholics. Yes, it’s totally acceptable to toast anytime beginning at about noon, and theoretically you could transition from your morning cappuccino (acceptable until strictly 11am) directly to booze, but most tend to stick to prosecco earlier in the day, because it’s a lighter, less alcoholic option.
Prosecco, a white sparkling wine, has been getting a lot of press these days since its popularity in the U.S. is rising, while champagne is slightly lagging by comparison. The main differences between prosecco and champagne are the type of grape used (Glera for prosecco, versus Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and/or Pinot Meunier for champagne, with a few exceptions), the geographical area in which the varietal is grown, and the method of fermentation (champagne is fermented for a second time in bottles, while prosecco is usually poured in large vats after the first stage).
Though now it’s also made in other areas of Italy, like Friuli-Venezia Giulia, prosecco production has been long-rooted in the Veneto region, which claims Venice as its capital city. Because of its access to top quality sparkling wine, Venice is the birthplace of many fizzy cocktails, like the famed bellini, which mixes prosecco with fresh peach juice. (My grandfather Giuseppe’s family was Venetian, so I suppose my love of fizz is partially genetic.)
This year, I’ve started to substitute pomegranate juice for the peach nectar to make a holiday twist on the classic. I aim for about 3 parts prosecco to 1 part pomegranate, though if you prefer your drink a bit sweeter you can increase the amount of juice. Seeking out pomegranate juice that isn’t from concentrate will make a big difference in the flavor. Here is my dear friend Gen, making the drink look pretty:
So, friends of the blogosphere, here’s a virtual brindisi to wish you a Happy New Year! You may already know Salute! (“Health!”), but this year why not try toasting with another way of saying “Cheers” in Italian: Cin cin! (pronounced “chin-chin”). An Italian friend once explained to me that saying Cin cin is meant to complete the sensory experience of your drink. You see the drink’s color, smell its aroma, touch it to your lips, and taste its flavor – but how can you hear it? That’s why you clink glasses, exaggerating the sound with the onomatopoeic Cin cin. Music to my ears.