Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Best Bellinis in Venice

To sip a Bellini in Venice in the Spring and early Summer is to taste Heaven.

Henry James or Joseph Brodsky or Ezra Pound—or Harry Cipriani himself—probably said this. I agree!

I was recently in Venice—and I invited my friends Suzanna and Grant, Kathleen, and Sally and Richard to join me at the Gritti Palace Hotel for a Bellini. I am convinced that the Gritti serves the best Bellinis in Venice—and I wanted my California friends to taste them.

Photograph of golden sunrays on a Bellini at
the Gritti terrace by Grant K. Gibson.

We convened at twilight on the Gritti terrace overlooking the Grand Canal and requested Bellinis. Grant and I asked the bartender (a handsome and beautifully groomed man dressed in an elegantly tailored white double-breasted jacket) if we could watch him make the Bellinis.

“Ripe white peaches squeezed by hand, and Prosecco. Nothing extra. The correct proportions are one part fresh peach juice to one part Prosecco,” he said. He said he presses some of the pink skin into the juice to give the pink tinge. White peaches must be fresh, ripe, juicy, and in season. (White peaches are in season in Venice now.)

He set out the chilled glasses on the bar—wine glasses.

He took a freshly prepared small glass pitcher of chilled white peach juice, and poured it into the glasses. Very pretty, pink. Then he poured very chilled Prosecco into a silver pitcher and stirred it for a few seconds with a long-handled silver spoon. This action was to dispel the bubbles, he said, otherwise the drink would fizz and pour over the rim of the glass. (There’s an art to this.)

He then slowly poured the Prosecco into the peach juice and stirred slightly. The finished/finessed concoction is slightly frisky and effervescent, has a little sparkle.

He served the drinks, we sipped. Grant took a photo of the Bellini with his Iphone (that’s his snapshot of the moment, above, with the last rays of the run turning the glass golden).

“Indeed the best” everyone agreed (and more than worth 16 euros, taking into consideration the ultra-private terrace, the discreet service, and the glorious setting on the Grand Canal facing the Punta della Dogana and the Salute.

We returned to the Gritti the following evening to ‘test’ the Bellinis, this time sitting and sipping in the mirrored Longhi Bar, surrounded by Venetian glass sconces, and paintings of eighteenth-century Venetian scenes by Piero Longhi

Photos of two presentations of Bellinis in
handblown Venetian glasses, photographed
at the Gritti Palace Hotel Bar.

Bellinis became our ‘study tour’. We all agreed that the Bellinis at the Hotel Bauer/Il Palazzo terrace (fantastic view, polished service) were virtually our favorites, with a luscious fresh peach flavor.

We tasted the Bellinis at Cip’s Bar on the sunny terrace at the Cipriani (disappointing Bellinis served in a tumbler, not chilled, ivory colored, with no effervescence, no seductive peach flavor).

I hardly drink—but when I went to the Locanda Cipriani on Torcello for Sunday lunch, I requested a Bellini as an aperitif. It was lovely and peachy—and I enjoyed it very much, in a happy daze because it was a bright early summer day, we were seated on the terrace, the roses were in bloom in the garden, and we were surrounded by beautifully dressed Italian families celebrating new babies and birthdays.

Harry’s Bar where Bellinis were said to be invented: I wish I had enjoyed it more. The Bellini did not have the handcrafted style of the Gritti. I think the place cruises on its decades-old reputation and tales of Hemingway. That’s OK, but the Bellini was not thrilling.

Back to the Gritti for a Bellini! Indeed, an evocative sip.


Brillante Interiors said...

White peaches when perfectly ripe are my favourites, more crisp and delicate than yellow ones. In summer as a very simple dessert I use them sliced, lightly sprinkled with sugar, covered with white wine and chilled.
Bellini is a great drink but as you said it must be done perfectly.
I wish I was in Torcello right now smelling the roses and sipping a Bellini.
Thanks for a great post on one of my favourite places in the world.

katiedid said...

We were just discussing Harry's Bar over Prosecco cocktails the other night at a wonderful new Italian restaurant here in Sacramento: Hot Italian. Prosecco has become my beverage of choice lately! I had it with a splash of Blood Orange juice. Wonderful!

Pigtown*Design said...

I love bellinis and, failing having fresh peach juice because they're not in season yet, I added some raspberries. But there's nothing more refreshing and perfect than a Bellini!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I adore your spirited blog! Count me as a fan.
I was especially interested in your travels to Istanbul (I was there in March).
Love your idea of 'pinking up' the Bellini with raspberry. sure to suggest it to the bartender at the Gritti when next there! He is a handsome, talented fellow.

La Maison Fou said...

Thanks for the info on the Bellinis! I was on Katie did and popped over for a read! Interesting post on this drink!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Of course, the formal name of the Gritti (everyone always says, 'Gritti' or 'Danieli') is Hotel Gritti Palace (it was once the home of a doge.

Find it at Campo Santa Maria del Giglio in Venice.