Italian Renaissance in a cup

Widening summertime cocktail options with the Bellini

It is now two weeks since I printed my sangria recipe, which means that I and those in my circle have had two consecutive Friday nights of sipping that red wine and brandy ambrosia poolside, regaling old friends and new with our discussion of whether white cane sugar actually belongs in the mix.

Needless to say, we were ready for another end-of-summer classic readily produced in bulk form.

I have long been fascinated by the Bellini, or any cocktail that calls for the use of champagne. The Bellini, however, has an engaging history that invites Godfather comparisons (at the very least, it reminds me of those idyllic scenes where Michael seeks refuge in Sicily and romps through golden fields with his Appollina).

As with most classic cocktails, the Bellini can trace its history back to a specific bar. Its point of conception was Harry’s in Venice in 1943, its creator co-owner Giuseppi Cipriani, and it was christened in honor of Italian Renaissance painter Geovani Bellini (so far we’ve managed to slip in a reference to both Coppola and the Venetian school, and we haven’t even started drinking yet; this bodes well).

The accepted recipe for a Bellini is white peach nectar and sparkling wine specifically of Italian origin (namely, Prosecco). Purists argue on this point, but the addition of a raspberry or a dash of cherry juice is often recommended.

But pureed white peaches are hard to come by, specifically if you’re just getting off work and don’t have the time or inclination to seek them out. As I was searching for a good end-of-summer drink (easily made in bulk) I decided to tweak the recipe so that it would in theory resemble the original, while being available and affordable for mass consumption.

I was successful, although a notable misstep occurred when, in desperation, I grabbed a bottle of Trader Joe’s Dixie Peach nectar (the addition of apple juice, seemingly to water down the peach puree, was death to the drink; the tart punch of the fruit was at odds with the sparkling wine). A quick trip to the market, and a personal compromise to buy Kern’s peach, yielded a much tastier drink. (We respectfully ignored the high fructose corn syrup glaring at us from the ingredients list; late on a Friday, one cannot be terribly choosey.)

I opted for Freixenet, a Spanish sparkling white that is made by the methode champenoise process (I wrote of this some months back, but if you’re buying sparkling, opt for methode champenoise — more natural, fewer headaches).

Most recipes recommend a five-to-one ratio of sparkling wine to peach puree; I favored a five-to-two ratio for optimal peach representation. Both the sparkling wine and the puree must be chilled, and (against better judgment, given the highly carbonated quality inherent in sparkling wine) poured over ice into a shaker.

I highly recommend garnishing with a raspberry or several.

A final note: “Poolside” and “makeshift” are synonymous here, so assuming you’ve managed to assemble the sparkly, the puree and the raspberries, but are without a shaker, I offer a piece of college-era wisdom. Take two plastic disposable cups, and cut an inch off the top of one so that it can be shoved within the other. This, my friends, is how you make a shaker in a pinch.