Opera singers warm up their vocal chords before they sing, soccer players warm up their muscles before they play, and chess players warm up their minds before a big tournament.
Italians warm up their taste buds before they eat.
Once you experience it, the Italian aperitivo seems like the most obvious of customs. The familiar tourist refrain can be heard around 6-9pm, from Milan down to Naples, as they nibble on their bruschetta and sip their wine: “Why don’t they do this everywhere?!”
What is Aperitivo?
It’s basically just the Italian version of happy hour, right?
No, my dear foreign friends, it is not.
Like happy hour, aperitivo is very much a social activity and a time for leisure. However, whereas happy hour consists of cheap beer and food discounts meant to increase bar sales during slow hours, Italian aperitivo is much more about quality and function than quantity...and drunken disfunction.
Aperitivo in a nutshell: top-notch beverages and small plates concocted specifically to arouse your appetite before dinner. The drinks aren’t discounted during these hours, but they don’t need to be - wine in Italy is often triple the quality for half the price as compared to, let’s say, the United States. Plus, the finger food buffet is often a free bonus.
What Do You Drink for Aperitivo?
The aperitivo tradition is rooted in medicine (ah, the good old days, when doctors prescribed alcohol for all of your ailments).
The very first sweet vermouth was invented here in Italy as a medicinal wine, fortified with herbs, for people with stomach disorders. Seeing as how its function was to spur the appetite, it quickly became a popular pre-dinner drink, and thus began this genius practice.
There are plenty of apertif cocktails to choose from, but when in wine country...well, you drink wine. Most Italians drink white and sparkling wines for aperitivo rather than cocktails. The stereotype, of course, is prosecco, but Italy offers so much more than that. In Tuscany specifically, Vermentino wine, from the Italian coast, is often a favorite pre-dinner drink for its hints of refreshing minerality.
The Best Aperitivos in Montalcino, Italy
If you’re visiting Montalcino, the heart of one of the greatest Tuscan wines, it would be a shame not to experience the aperitivo. This tradition is the best way to socialize and experience the local culture.
Here are the best aperitivo places in Montalcino, conveniently located right next to each other so you can hop around to all three (you know, for research).
For the Wine Selection and Atmosphere: Alle Logge di Piazza
Le Logge, as it’s called by the locals, stretches out beneath the rooftop of the old Montalcino market and overlooks a medieval bell tower on the main piazza. Aside from the lovely outdoor patio, their wine selection truly sets them apart (especially if you can go for top prices). It focuses on high-quality, unique, small boutique wineries.
Simone, the owner of Le Logge, starts early selecting their wines for the following season, and you can always ensure that he’ll bring you some of the country’s finest, but also most interesting wines that you can’t get just anywhere.
While Montalcino is full of fantastic Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, this bar takes their wine list to the next level - it is an invitation to travel through all of Italy (and parts of France) by glass. Everything is fantastic here, and the staff are knowledgeable, so don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.
The mini-buffet consists of various nuts, olives and small pizza squares but you can ask them for a nice crafted plate to share with your friends. They’ve got an excellent selection of local salamis and cheeses as well as first-rate, hand-sliced raw meats.
For Panoramic Views and Community Gatherings: Bar Belvedere
As part of your Tour de Vino, be sure to stop at Bar Belvedere. Here you’ll experience the social side of Montalcino while overlooking the entire Val d’Orcia - the Tuscan hills south of Siena - from their magnificent panoramic window seats. The name itself, Belvedere, comes from the Italian words bello (beautiful) and vedere (to view).
Enjoy the view, but don’t expect to spend the whole evening seated. The energetic atmosphere at Bar Belvedere will have you up on your feet mingling and chatting with both tourists and locals in no time. This gathering spot for Montalcino locals hosts the community get-togethers before the area’s famed annual archery competitions.
Of course, they also have a fantastic selection of wines. The last time I went there for aperitivo, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Rocca di Montemassi Calasole Vermentino on their wine list, a delightful Tuscan Vermentino that’s the perfect start to a summer evening.
For the History and Decor: Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana 1888
A trip to the birthplace of Brunello is perfectly rounded out by visiting Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana 1888. The cafe was started by the father of Brunello himself, Ferruccio BioniSanti, so you can taste his wine while sitting at this historical place.
Serving Montalcino locals since 1888, everything about this cafe will take you back in time. From red leather sofas and marble tables to the brass fixtures, large mirrors, and antique light fixtures, its original 19th century Art Nouveau (also called Liberty Style) decor is still intact.
Many distinguished guests have passed through here, including Prince Charles himself.
As you can see, each place has its own unique character. If you can’t make it to three in one evening, save one for the next morning. All of them are great options for Italian breakfast (cappuccino and pastries).
Here's a photo of Prince Charles himself outside of Caffe Fiaschetteria in Montalcino. That's my mother-in-law smiling brightly on the far left!
If you can’t make it to Montalcino right now, let us bring the vineyards of Tuscany to you.
Check out Club Brunello for exclusive access to sommelier selected, highly sought after wines and beautiful stories from local producers.