When my daughter was ten, a very generous godfather took us both to Venice on the Orient Express. We had a couple of days to explore Venice and on our last evening we went to Harry’s Bar, a famous restaurant founded by Giuseppe Cipriani. Over the years Harry’s Bar has been patronised by everyone who is anyone, from the Windsors, Onassises and Burtons to Cole Porter, Ernest Hemmingway and Joan Crawford. Cipriani named the refreshing drink he invented after the fifteenth century Venetian artist who had painted the robe of a saint in the precise same pink colour as the drink. The Bellini cocktail is now an International Bartenders’ Association official ‘contemporary classics’ cocktail.
The generous godfather bought me the Harry’s Bar book. Not surprisingly the instructions given for making Bellinis aren’t wholly practical for those, like myself, of the Life Is Too Short philosophy. As Arrigo Cipriani (the founder’s son) explains in the book:
“We had a man who did nothing all day but cut up and pit small white peaches and squeeze them with his hands to extract the juice”
Which prosecco to use? They can be too sweet. Two of the best are Ca’ del Bosco, Annamaria Clementi 1985 Franciacorta and Ferari Perlé 2008 Trento…. both excellent quality, expensive, and wasted in a cocktail. Instead, try the more reasonably priced 2014 Villa Marcello – also drier, this is a bright straw yellow colour, crisp and bubbly.
This is my compromise method:
- 30 ml/1 oz/2 tbsp WHITE, VERY COLD peach puree (you can buy Funkin white peach puree from both Waitrose and Ocado. Arrigo Cipriani warns “never use yellow peaches to make a Bellini”).
- 90ml/3 oz/6 tbsp/generous ⅓ cup cold, dry prosecco. NB Don’t be tempted to use champagne, it simply doesn’t work. Prosecco is a mild Italian sparkling wine – it’s a much better base for delicate fruit. It’s the acidic fruit such as oranges which need the kick of champagne
- if you have it to hand you can experiment by adding a few drops of orange flower water
Having ensured the ingredients are truly chilled, simply pour into also-chilled glasses, the more beautiful the better.
Bellini variations and other prosecco cocktails:
- A Tiziano uses grape juice made from uva fragola grapes (used in the Veneto to make strawberry wine)
- A Mimosa uses orange juice and a little tangerine juice instead of the peach juice
- A Rossini uses strawberry purée instead of the peach purée
- A Bellini Martini mixes peach vodka to peach juice in the proportions 2:1. Add a slosh of peach liqueur (Mathilde Pêche is a good make) and garnish with a small slice of peach
- You can substitute the peach juice for Joanne’s rhubarb compôte
- You can substitute less acidic fruit such as lychees or apricots
- A particularly successful variation uses puréed ripe mango
- A very fresh, light version is made with rose water
- Mix with quince cordial … perhaps with a little added ginger
- Substitute the peach juice for pear purée and ginger
- Make a fizz by mixing one part damson gin (or sloe gin…. try Sloemotion‘s) with five parts prosecco
- Mix in some vodka and float a little lemon sorbet and mint on the top
- Sweet, tangy passionfruit flesh
- pomegranate juice
- St Germain elderflower liqueur
- There are two versions of The Bridge of Sighs – one uses equal parts of gin and elderflower liqueur – then top with prosecco; the other adds angostura bitters, lemon juice and Crème de Cacao to the prosecco
- experiment with a variety of bitters
- use it to make an aperol spritz
- La Dolce Vita uses white grapes, honey and vodka. For each person muddle five white grapes with a teaspoon of honey to get them to release their juice. Add two tbsps of vodka. Shake with crushed ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain and serve topped up with prosecco
What to listen to and read as you sip your Bellini
You can listen to the summery Brazilian sound of Bellini while you savour your drink…. and if you like detective books and you’re interested in Venice you could put your feet up and get stuck into the third tale of Jason Goodwin’s nineteenth century Ottoman eunuch Yashim, The Bellini Card.
This post is dedicated to Richard Humphrys.