The Champagne Lady. That’s what they call Don Day’s Wife. For seldom a day goes by when she doesn’t tootle a flute of sparkling wine. It’s rarely real Champagne. Usually it’s a French Cremant. Occasionally, a Spanish Cava. And once-in-a-while, an Italian Prosecco.
But this week we are in the home of Prosecco. Don Day’s Wife and I are in Venice. And with bottles still going for about 20 Euros in upscale restaurants, a lot of flutes of Prosecco are getting tootled.
I’m a take-it-or-leave-it guy when it comes to sparkling wine but add a little something extra to the glass and you’ll perk up my interest. In some places that something extra is orange juice as in a Mimosa. Other times it’s cassis in a Kir Royale. In Venice that something extra is most often peaches. And the drink is called the Bellini.
The cocktail is almost as old as I am. The year was 1948. The creator was Giuseppe Cipriani. Giuseppe was the son of Arrigo Cipriani, the owner of a bar called Harry’s. And yes, the original Harry’s…before there were all those other Harry’s.
I felt it was my dutiful responsibility as a tourist to have a Bellini at the original Harry’s. Two of my superheroes supposedly did. Both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Besides, it is peach season just about everywhere in the Northern hemisphere and, though not anymore, Bellinis were one a seasonal drink that were here in August, gone in October.
The recipe is farely simple. Just Prosecco and puréed peaches. In about a four-to-one ratio. Harry’s adds something else, maybe raspberry or cherry juice to turn it a little pink supposedly so it would remind its inventor of the toga of a certain saint in a certain 15th-century painting by a certain Venetian artist called Giovanni Bellini whom the drink pays homage to. If I’m making Bellinis at home, I just leave them boring beige.
Now knowing the impossibility of almost any event that included sparkling wine ever being rejected, I said to Don Day’s Wife, “How about we go to Harry’s tomorrow night for a special evening? For Bellinis, Honey,” and, before she had a chance to reply, off I went to to find my iPad and check out Harry’s address.
There was no sign of the “official” website on the first page of a Harry’s Venice search but Trip Advisor came up at the top of the list so I hit that link.
There on the page were Harry’s hours. There was their address along with a map. And there, over on the left, was…what? Perhaps the worst rating ever given to any well-known bar or restaurant in the history of Trip Advisor.
Average was the rating by 16% of the 2531 voters. Poor said 17% of them. Terrible said another 32%. And this was the legendary bar I was taking Don Day’s Wife to for a “special” evening?
I delved deeper. Checked out a few of the actual reviews. It didn’t take long to come up with the big reason for so many thumbs being down. “Overpriced” was the most used word; other words weren’t quite as polite.
A Bellini at Harry’s is 23 Euros. Over 500 Mexican Pesos. 25 US bucks. Over 30 Canadian Bucks. Don Day’s Wife is a thrifty lady. I had to break the news to her. I could have guessed her response.
“I’m not paying that for a drink anywhere. That’s absurdity! Total absurdity!”
The next evening, our “special” evening, we were having Bellinis at another bar, at Trattoria Alta Ferrata. The bar didn’t warrant a chapter in cocktail history. It wasn’t quite on the Grand Canal. The server wasn’t wearing a double-breasted crisp white dinner jacket. And we didn’t spot Richard Gere (he was apparently sighted this week at Harry’s).
The Bellinis came in stemmed wine glasses. They were served on the rocks. But they were good, very good. And they were 8 Euros. Yes, just 8 Euros. And I should mention that was for two, not one. Yes, a Bellini at our local bar was just 4 Euros versus 23 Euros at Harry’s.
Now that’s a “special” evening.
The Perfect Bellini
I’m calling this the perfect Bellini because I’ve found that when friends have a cocktail recipe that they’re especially proud of, it’s always the perfect Martini or the perfect Margarita. So, until I taste one that’s better, this is the perfect Bellini.
How to make it is very simple.
In a flute (they usually use tumblers in Venice, including at Harry’s): One ounce purée of yellow peaches (we blanch, peel, pit and use a mini immersion blender)
Four ounces of well-chilled Prosecco poured over the top.
The tricky bit is having ripe peaches on hand when you get a sudden Bellini hankering. Peaches are rarely ripe for the picking from market stalls (or supermarket shelves). They usually take at least two days of brown bagging. It’s one of the reasons that I use yellow rather than white peaches. They ripen much better (and quicker) off the tree. All I can say is if you buy peaches and then don’t make Bellinis, they do make a juicy mid-morning (or late afternoon) snack.
There are alternatives to fresh peaches but, so far, I’ve found peach nectar too sweet and peach schnapps and peach brandy a little too boozy.
There are prepackaged Bellinis as well, from people like Smirnoff and Canella, but please, don’t even think of drinking them.
And don’t waste money on anything better than an average-priced Prosecco; the full flavor of something like Champagne will be lost in the taste of the fruit. Plus one last tip: If you’re making Bellinis for a group, pouring a whole bottle of Prosecco over five ounces of purée in a glass cocktail pitcher adds a nice bit of showbiz, especially if you own one of those glass stirrers and can tinkle the sides.
Saaaaaaaah loot ay as they say here in Venice.