In Praise of the Bellissima Bellini
The perfect pairing in a single glass
My favorite food and wine pairing is the bellini cocktail. In essence, it's fruit juice for grownups, but that description hardly does it justice. Prosecco and white peach puree team up for a sophisticated yet entirely approachable potent potable. Like the mimosa, which pairs sparkling wine with orange juice, the bellini is lovely to have along with a sumptuous brunch. But it's also the perfect thirst quencher at any time, especially on a hot summer day in Venice, where it was invented.
My first time was in Las Vegas
My introduction to the bellini was not in Italy but in Las Vegas. It was not at the Venetian Hotel, as you might expect, but at the Bellagio. The Bellagio is a luxury resort hotel and casino famed for its "dancing waters" fountain set in an 8-acre lake on the Las Vegas Strip. You may remember it from the last scene of the George Clooney film Ocean's Eleven.
The Bellagio is also famous for the spectacular Chihuly glass sculpture "Fiori de Como" that covers the hotel's lobby ceiling. The joint is about as classy as Las Vegas gets. It's Michelin-starred restaurant Picasso's walls are hung with several original paintings by the famed artist.
I was served my first bellini at the elegant Petrossian Bar, just off the Bellagio hotel lobby. I was served my second and third bellinis there, too. They were that good. (I almost didn't make it to dinner!)
The history of the bellini
The origin of the bellini is well-documented as cocktail origins go. Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry's Bar in Venice, invented it sometime between 1934 and 1948. (Cipriani is also credited with the invention of carpaccio.) In its heyday, Harry's was the favorite haunt of celebrities such as author Ernest Hemingway, actor and director Charlie Chaplin, and inventor Guglielmo Marconi. Contemporary customers include Mr. Ocean himself, George Clooney.
Cipriani named the drink after Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini because the drink's pale pink color reminded him of the artist's subdued color palette. In Italy, even the bartenders have artistic leanings.
When you order a bellini in America, it's usually served in a champagne flute, but at Harry's, it comes in what is best described as a juice glass. A small plate appetizer such as Parma ham with melon is the perfect accompaniment. As bellini enthusiasts, my husband Doug and I considered our visit to Harry's Bar to be one of the highlights of our trip to Venice.
How to make the perfect bellini
I'm a stickler for tradition. A perfect bellini is made with Italian prosecco and fresh white peaches. Can you substitute champagne and yellow peaches? You could, but you'd end up with something less than a bellini.
Since white peaches are typically only available in summer, you'll probably have to be in Australia or elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere to enjoy one as part of your holiday celebration this year. If you're planning a Christmas in July party next year to make up for COVID Christmas, bellinis are the perfect eye-opener for the morning of the 25th.
If you order a bellini at a bar or restaurant when they're out of season, it's probably going to be made with yellow peach puree, and it's unlikely to be fresh. If you see the bartender reach for a can or a container that looks like a milk carton, do yourself a favor and order something else.
For the peach puree, place the following ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth:
4 medium white peaches (pitted and quartered)
3 ice cubes
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon sugar (or 3/4 ounce simple syrup)
To make the cocktail, put two ounces of peach puree (about 1/6 of the above mixture) into a champagne flute (or a juice glass if you want to be authentic). Slowly, add four ounces of chilled Prosecco, stirring gently as you go. The wine will fizz up so you have to take your time.
If you want to be fancy, you can garnish the drink with a slice of peach.
Note: For the best result, use perfectly ripe white peaches. When you get them in the store, they'll probably be hard as a rock, so plan ahead. It's worth the wait!
If you ever get the chance to try a bellini made right, with succulent white peaches and a lively Prosecco, I think you'll agree that pairings don't get more perfect than this.