In the world of cocktails, we tend to obsess over the origin stories of classics, but rarely do we actually discover them. You might know that a drink was invented in a certain bar, but those bars are almost never around yet, and when they are, they’ve almost always been turned into a Disney-style version of themselves. , and even if they don’t have , the version they serve is almost never good. But if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in Venice and have that special mix of historical reverence and financial irreverence, well, you can go to Harry’s Bar and drink a Bellini.
Harry’s Bar is on Calle Vallaresso, one block west of Piazza San Marco at the mouth of the Grand Canal, as it has since 1931. A bit has changed since then – they’ve expanded to l level and international fame has driven up their prices in the ionosphere, but such is, we are told, the price of history.
In the 1930s, Venice was a favorite destination for the cream of European society, and Harry’s Bar flourished thanks to the hospitality of owner and bartender Giuseppe Cipriani. It also didn’t hurt that its name appealed to Anglophiles, and was extremely – although they’ll tell you by coincidence – similar to another world-famous bar of the time, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. But no matter: he had the staying power and was a favorite among wealthy locals and well-to-do tourists, and later among movie stars and other celebrities. Once Hemingway chose it as his favorite haunt in 1949, Harry’s officially became legendary. Which I guess allows them to charge $13 for 8 oz. of Coca-Cola.
Bellini’s story goes like this: In the late 1930s, Cipriani was stuck with a glut of seasonal white peaches and no good way to store them. After what must have been a whisper of the muses, he whipped up a mash and added it to some Prosecco, and one of the best sparkling wine cocktails in the world was born. His drink, popular as it was, went unnamed for almost a decade. It wasn’t until 1948 that Cipriani christened it the Bellini, in a distinctly Italian style, after seeing the cocktail’s pink hue resonate in paintings by the namesake Renaissance artist (Cipriani also invented beef carpaccio vintage, also named after an artist). They served them then, as now, in little 6 oz. juice glasses, like a brilliant kiss of summer sweetness before dinner.
I’ve alluded to their high prices three times already, and if that sounds exaggerated to you, all it tells me is that you never paid a bill there. It is impossible to write about Harry’s Bar without mentioning it; so much so that out of the thousands of reviews online, I challenge you to find five over the past 10 years that don’t complain about the exorbitant expense. When I went there, in 2012, each little Bellini cost 15 euros, and it’s been 22 euros since 2019 (making it, in all honesty, the only thing on Earth that hasn’t become more expensive since the last year). The overall vibe is similar to meeting someone in an alley and paying a 1200% markup on this year’s must-have Christmas toy. It’s hard to know what to say about all of this, other than if you can turn off the part of your brain that is allergic to scamming, the Bellini’s at Harry’s Bar in Venice are really, really good.
Luckily, Bellinis aren’t difficult or expensive to make at home, and summer practically begs for them. White peaches are transcendent experiences in June and July, and a bright, light and slightly sweet sparkling wine cocktail is only ever served a few times. And while one school of thought suggests that you to have to go to Harry’s Bar in Venice and have a Bellini, another, perhaps more convincing, school says Cipriani did the important work of inventing the drink in the 1940s so we can now enjoy it anywhere. Try it and see.
- 1.5oz. white peach puree
- 4.5 oz. Prosecco
To start, make sure your peach puree and Prosecco are cold in the fridge and your glasses are frozen, if possible. For easiest results, mix ingredients together in a separate shaker or container and stir to incorporate. Once the froth disappears, pour gently into chilled juice glasses or flutes and enjoy.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Prosecco: Use the Prosecco you like. The sweet and sour fruit of the peach puree will be the star here, so the brand of sparkling wine is comparatively less important. I recommend Prosecco, however, as opposed to Cava or Champagne, and not just because it’s traditional – Champagne or Cava has been bottled, resulting in unnecessary and distracting bread complexity. Prosecco, with its light and bright fruity and floral notes, is perfect here.
White peach puree: This drink will only taste as good as your peaches. There are brands to mention here: I’ve worked a lot with Perfect Puree, whose white peach puree is excellent. I’ve been working with Funkin’s passion fruit, which is pretty good, and I’m hoping their peach will be the same.
Or, being in July, you can just go to the local market and make one. Obtain white peaches. White nectarines work in a pinch, but they’re not as good. Don’t use yellow peaches – if you only have yellow peaches, eat them and drink the Prosecco alone.
To make a puree, you will need to mash it, then strain it. Crushing is fairly easy, given that a ripe peach will bruise if you frown. You can use a potato masher or a pestle. The Harrys themselves tell you never to use a food processor, as it aerates the fruit – I think that advice is silly, and you should feel free to use one if that’s what you have. It’s possible I’m missing a subtlety here, but seeing as it’s going to be strained and mixed with Prosecco, it really doesn’t seem to matter.
Straining is a little more tedious – you can put it through cheesecloth or a sieve, but it will take some time. I like milk nut bags because they’re sturdy, and you can put the mixed liquid in there and squeeze it out to significantly shorten the straining process. And even though I realize I’m telling you to buy a $15 tool to make this drink, considering it’s about half the price of a single Bellini at Harry’s, I still call it a good affair.
Final note: Depending on the ripeness of your peaches and the sweetness of your Prosecco, you may need to tamper with a splash of simple syrup or lemon juice, but chances are the peaches are good as they are. are. Try it alone first, then adjust it if necessary.
Each week, our resident bartender Jason O’Bryan prepares a new cocktail for your enjoyment. Check out her previous cocktail recipes for more soaking goodness.