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Whether you’ve been exploring ancient Roman ruins, or tanning on the Amalfi coastline, these Italian drinks are going to be the order of the day come breakfast, lunch, dinner, or sunset.
Guided by Roxana, a food expert and writer from Rome, we have curated a list of drinks that are at the beating heart of Italian cuisine and culture.
There are turbo-chargers, thirst-quenchers, and tipples in our rundown for morning, afternoon, and evening, covering both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. All bring a little taste of Italy to pursed lips and should definitely be added to your must-try list.
Italian Drinks You Should Try
Prosecco is Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, produced in the Northern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Many people may not know that Prosecco is both the name of a small village where this wine is produced and of the grape variety.
However, the grape name recently changed to Glera to distinguish it from the geographically protected wine.
Prosecco is a versatile wine in Italy, served on its own or in cocktails like the Spritz and Bellini. Whether you want to celebrate an occasion or have a chill aperitivo, Prosecco is always a great choice.
Think about Franciacorta as Italy’s answer to the French Champagne. Like its French counterpart, Franciacorta is produced in the region of the same name, located near the Northern Italian city of Brescia.
Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco are the only grapes used to make the Franciacorta. These grapes must be grown in specific, delimited vineyards in the Franciacorta region. You can find various types of dry or sweet Franciacorta. The wine comes as white or rosé.
Lambrusco is the number one Italian red wine to be sold in Italy and exported to the rest of the world. The grapes used for this wine come from specific areas of Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. The Lambrusco can be spumante (fully sparkling) or frizzante (gently sparkling).
Although white varieties exist, the Lambrusco is typically red or rosé. While the origins of the wine are uncertain, references to the Lambrusco (vitis labrusca) appeared already in Virgil’s written testimonials, dating to the first century BCE.
Chianti wines are among the most popular Italian wines outside their origin country. Made from grapes cultivated in Tuscany’s Chianti region, these red wines must contain at least 80% of Sangiovese grapes to retain the Chianti name.
If you visit Tuscany, plan a road trip or join a guided tour in the Chianti hills just south of Florence. Stop by Greve in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, or Castellina in Chianti and visit local vineyards to learn about winemaking and sample delicious Chianti wines.
5. Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the best and most expensive Italian wines. In 1980, the wine was among the first to earn the DOCG designation (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin), the highest classification in Italy.
Brunello di Montalcino is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes cultivated in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino, near Siena. If you like red wines, you must try a glass of Brunello in Tuscany.
6. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
If Brunello di Montalcino is more refined and expensive, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a high-quality yet more affordable wine produced in the Abruzzo region, specifically the province of Teramo.
Montepulciano is a great wine to serve with a charcuterie board or meat dishes. Although originally from Abruzzo, you’ll find this wine throughout Italy. However, don’t mistake it for the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, produced in Siena.
The Marsala DOC is a fortified wine produced in Sicily, near the homonymous city of Marsala. This Sicilian fortified wine comes in several varieties and has three levels of sweetness: dry (secco), semi-dry (semisecco), and sweet (dolce).
You can drink Marsala wine as an aperitif or digestif (before or after a meal). The wine pairs well with cheese and desserts. If you travel to Sicily, don’t skip a tasting of Marsala, a staple of Sicilian Enogastronomy.
Related: Sicilian Foods You Need to Try
If one had to choose one liqueur to represent Italy, it would have to be Limoncello. This lemon liqueur is as representative of the country as the beautiful Amalfi coast with its dramatic cliffs, colorful villages, deep-blue waters, and the ubiquitous scent of lemon trees.
Although the exact origin of the Limoncello is uncertain, it’s primarily produced on the Amalfi Coast, which is the best region to try it.
The amaro is an Italian herbal liqueur commonly served after dinner as a digestif. Amaro means bitter, and it, indeed, has a bittersweet flavor.
You can find many amaro brands in Italy, the most famous being Lucano, Montenegro, Averna, and Ramazzotti. A popular variety of amaro that is more bitter is the fernet, and the most popular brand is Fernet-Branca.
10. Amaretto (Disaronno)
Amaretto may sound similar to amaro, and the word is a diminutive of amaro, but the liqueur is very different. Amaretto is originally from the city of Saronno, and the most famous brand is called Amaretto Disaronno.
The liqueur contains a mix of herbs, almonds, and sugar. You can drink it pure or use it to prepare cocktails like the Amaretto Sour.
Nocino is a walnut-based liqueur originally from the Emilia-Romagna region but popular as a homemade liqueur. The main ingredients of the nocino are walnuts, alcohol, and sugar.
The liqueur is dense and dark brown with a bittersweet flavor. Nocino is usually served pure at room temperature.
Frangelico is a liqueur somewhat similar to nocino but made with hazelnuts. The name of the liqueur, which is a trademark, comes from Fra Angelico, a hermit monk who lived in Piedmont, where the drink originated.
The shape of the bottle reminds the habit of a monk, with a white cord tied at the waist. You can try this drink cold or with a few ice cubes.
The anise-flavored sweet liqueur gets its name from the plant used to obtain one of its main ingredients, elderflower, in Italian ‘sambuco.’
Sambuca is a very versatile liqueur. You can drink it pure, on the rocks, added to coffee, or in cocktails. When served pure or on ice, Italians add one or two coffee beans that absorb the taste so you can chew on them. Another way of serving sambuca is flambé by lighting it up.
Grappa is a popular, highly alcoholic drink made from pomace, the leftovers from the grapes used for winemaking. If you’re looking for a strong digestif, you should try grappa.
Italians also add grappa to coffee or drink it right after as an “ammazzacaffè,” which means coffee killer.
To be labeled grappa, a drink must meet specific criteria, namely, to be produced in Italy, the Italian region of Switzerland, or San Marino. Furthermore, it must be made from pomace, and the distillation and fermentation must be on pomace too.
Mirto is a popular liqueur in Sardinia and Corsica, made through the maceration of myrtle berries and leaves. Mirto comes in two varieties, mirto rosso (red) and mirto bianco (white).
Mirto is a digestif commonly served at the end of a meal. However, you may also savor it as an aperitif. The best way to drink it is chilled and pure.
One last liqueur worth mentioning is Strega, a specific brand of herbal liqueur invented in 1860 by the Strega Alberti company. It contains around 70 different herbs, including saffron, which gives it a yellow color.
Strega liqueur is a digestif, so you can serve it at the end of the meal. It’s also often used in the preparation of homemade desserts.
17. Aperol Spritz
Aperol Spritz is Italians’ favorite cocktail for aperitivo and a must-try when visiting the Mediterranean country. The cocktail is made with Aperol, Prosecco, soda, and a slice of orange.
The Spritz is originally from Venice, where it was initially made with Select as a bitter. Later, Aperol became predominant and is now the most popular version of the spritz followed by the Campari Spritz. Although it originates in Northern Italy, Aperol Spritz is popular all over the country.
The Negroni is among the most popular cocktails in Italy and in the world. Negroni gets its name from its inventor, Camillo Negroni, who invented it in Florence in 1919.
The cocktail is made on the rocks with gin, vermouth, and Campari. A slice of orange or orange peel is commonly used for garnish.
A popular variation is the Negroni sbagliato, which translates to wrong Negroni and replaces the gin with sparkling white wine.
The founder of Harry’s Bar, one of Venice’s historic bars, invented the Bellini in 1948. The cocktail, dedicated to the Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini, was an immediate success.
Many artists and personalities who passed by Harry’s Bar enjoyed the drink, including Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and Orson Wells.
The Bellini contains sparkling white wine, usually Prosecco, and white peach purée. The cocktail is served in a chilled Champagne flute with a slice of peach.
The Rossini was born as an alternative to the Bellini, made with sparkling white wine, preferably Prosecco, and puréed strawberries. The name of the drink comes from Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini.
Like Bellini, the Rossini is served in a Champagne flute with a strawberry slice on the glass rim.
21. Milano Torino
Milano Torino, often abbreviated as MiTo, is a simple cocktail made with only two ingredients: bitter and red vermouth. The drink is served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass, garnished with half an orange slice.
The name comes from the two origin cities of the drinks that compose it. Vermouth, traditionally the Punt e Mes brand, is originally from Turin, while bitter, specifically Campari, is from Milan.
The origins of this cocktail are uncertain. Some say it was first served in the 1860s at Bar Gaspare Campari in Milan, but others say it’s a variation of the Milano Torino invented in 1933 in honor of Primo Carnera, an Italian American boxer nicknamed “the American.”
The cocktail is made with vermouth, Campari bitter, and a splash of soda water. Like the Milano Torino, the Americano is served on the rocks with half an orange slice and a lemon twist.
One last cocktail worth mentioning is Hugo. Unlike other Italian cocktails with a long history, Hugo was invented in 2005 by a barman in Alto Adige. The cocktail, poured over ice in a wine glass, was created as an alternative to the Venetian Spritz.
The original recipe contains Prosecco, lemon balm syrup, a splash of soda water, and mint leaves. A popular alternative replaces lemon balm with elderflower syrup and soda water with seltzer.
Peroni is probably the most popular beer in Italy and among the oldest ones, founded in 1846 in Vigevano, a small town in Lombardy. The beer became popular throughout Italy in the 1960 thanks to an effective marketing campaign and the use of celebrities as testimonials.
The beer has received several international recognitions, including the gold medal from the American Tasting Institute. In recent years, the company produced a range of new products, from gluten-free beer to lemon-flavored radler. The great thing about Peroni is that it’s very affordable, and you can find it anywhere in Italy.
25. Nastro Azzurro
Nastro Azzurro is another popular Italian beer created by the Peroni factory in 1963. The beer’s name comes from the Blue Riband (Nastro Azzurro), a recognition given to the passenger liner that crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the highest average speed.
The Italian ocean liner Rex won the Blue Riband in 1933. After an initial flop, the beer was modified and gained popularity, especially outside Italy.
In the early 2000s, Nastro Azzurro was the number one Italian beer sold outside its origin country. While in many countries, Nastro Azzurro is a high-end beer, in Italy, it remains among the most affordable beers.
Dating to 1846, the same year the Peroni was created, Menabrea is an award-winning Italian beer produced in Biella, Piedmont. Originally, Menabrea created a pale lager and later introduced its Amber beer.
To celebrate 150 years, the brand created a special edition of its most popular beers and introduced two new varieties, La Rossa, with a reddish color and a toasted malt and cane sugar aroma, and La Strong, a double malt with an 8% alcohol content.
27. Angelo Poretti
Angelo Poretti is another historic brand of Italian beer, founded in 1877 in the small town of Induno Olona in Lombardy.
The inventor of the beer, Angelo Poretti, had traveled through Austria, Bavaria, and Bohemia to learn the secret to high-quality beer and implemented his knowledge in his brewery.
Angelo Poretti offers a variety of beers, from the original pale lager to special seasonal beers produced with hops cultivated in each season.
One last beer worth mentioning is Birra Moretti, founded in Udine in 1859. For over a century, Moretti was a Friuli-based beer and only started being distributed nationwide in the 1990s. Nowadays, you can find Birra Moretti everywhere in Italy.
The label of Birra Moretti has a curious story. The nephew of Luigi Moretti, the founder of the brand, saw a man with a mustache sitting in a trattoria and asked to take a picture of him. In return, the man asked for another Birra Moretti. His picture became an iconic image of the beer brand.
There is probably no other drink that Italians consume more than espresso. You can have it first thing in the morning, after lunch, any time in the afternoon, and even after dinner. However, it is a very hardwired habit to have it at the end of a meal, not before.
One thing you will likely notice, especially on your first time in Italy, is how short an espresso shot is. It’s quite literally just a sip of coffee. But that’s how Italians like it: short, strong, and hot. And remember, it’s espresso, not expresso.
Cappuccino is by far the most popular breakfast drink in Italy. Breakfast is the keyword here. Unlike the espresso, you won’t see Italians drinking a cappuccino any time after noon, as it is exclusively a drink to consume in the morning, preferably with a croissant.
While outside Italy it may be common to order a cappuccino instead of any other drink, like water or a soda, in Italy, it’s not the case.
In fact, you may get some confused glances if you order a cappuccino alongside your pizza. But one certain thing is that it’s hard to find bad cappuccino in Italy. Even the most basic neighborhood bar makes great cappuccinos.
If you feel like having a coffee, but it’s a hot summer day, and the mere thought of ingesting hot stuff makes you sweat, order a shakerato.
The shakerato, or caffè shakerato, is just a shot of espresso with sugar (or syrup) and ice shaken in a cocktail shaker. Vanilla liquor or Baileys is often added to the coffee to give it an extra taste and a bit of a kick.
Caffè d’orzo, simply called orzo, is a caffeine-free drink similar to coffee but made from ground barley. This is the drink of choice for people who want a coffee-like drink without caffeine.
The orzo is served just like an espresso. You can have it black or with a bit of milk, just like a macchiato. Orzo was more widespread in the past when not everyone could afford to buy coffee. However, it’s still a popular alternative to espresso, and you can order it in any bar in Italy.
Cedrata Tassoni, simply known as cedrata, is a soft drink invented in 1956 by Cedral Tassoni, a company based in Salò, Northern Italy. The company had already created a syrup in 1921.
To this, they added water and carbon dioxide and created a drink that would soon become famous worldwide.
The refreshing drink has a citrus flavor and is ideal on hot summer days. Have it ice cold, or add a few ice cubes and a slice of lemon.
Another refreshing summer drink, chinotto is a soft drink made from myrtle-leaved orange trees. The drink is dark and resembles Coke but has a bittersweet taste.
Many companies produce chinotto in Italy, the most famous ones being Lurisia and San Pellegrino. You can have it simple or on ice with a slice of orange. Chinotto is also used in cocktails.
Lastly, Crodino is a bitter non-alcoholic aperitif made with various herbs and spices, although the exact recipe is a secret. The drink was invented in 1964 in Crodo, a small town in Piedmont.
Like other bitter aperitifs, you can savor a Crodino cold from the fridge or with a few ice cubes. A popular drink is the Crodino Spritz, a non-alcoholic alternative to the Aperol Spritz.
Our voyage through some of Italy’s most iconic drinks has been full of color, flavor, and intrigue. Whether it’s coffee to start your day or cocktails to celebrate long into the night, there’s a drink for everyone in Italy to enjoy!
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Contributor: Roxana Fanaru is a journalist and writer who has lived in Rome for nearly two decades. She is deeply passionate about Italian cuisine, culture, and travel and writes for a number of publications.