Bellini Myths And Legends

Other than a chilled, straight-up glass of Prosecco, the Bellini has to be our other favourite way to serve the sparkling Italian white. There's just a hint of blush from the peach puree added to the drink, and the shot of fruit brings out the crisp, juicy flavours of the wine.

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But where did this brunch staple actually come from? And who do we actually need to thank for bringing it into our lives? Let's take a deep dive into the origins of this popular cocktail...

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Venice is for (peach) lovers

Our trip back in time doesn't take us back to an '80s cocktail bar in New York, where some people presume the drink was invented. No, we have to wind the clock back to between 1934 and 1948 – it must have been quite a boozy 14 years, as history can't nail it down any further than this – and head to Harry's Bar, just off the Grand Canal of Venice.

The founder, Giuseppe Cipriani, was obsessed with peaches and his son, Arrigo Cipriani, revealed in his book, Harry's Bar: The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark: “Peaches are in abundance throughout Italy from June through September, and my father had a predilection for the white ones. So much so, in fact, that he kept wondering whether there was a way to transform this magic fragrance into a drink he could offer at Harry's Bar.

“He experimented by pureeing small white peaches and adding some Prosecco. Those who tested it gave it rave reviews. He named it the Bellini, and from that day on the pink drink became part of the Harry's Bar culture.”

The drink took pride of place when the Cipriani family opened up Harry Cipriani restaurant in New York in 1985, and America – and the rest of the world's - long love affair with the Bellini properly started from here.

The Italian Harry's Bar – frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and Truman Capote – was even declared a national landmark by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs in 2001. Who knew a pink cocktail could be so influential?

Pink makes Bellini wink

The name wasn't just plucked out of the air, but was inspired by the paintings of the 15th Century Venetian Renaissance artist, Giovanni Bellini. The blushing sunset colour of the cocktail is found in several of his paintings, most notably:

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Sacra Conversazione (1505)
Check out the angel playing the violin at the feet of Madonna and baby. Colour of the shawl over her green robe look familiar? Almost a Bellini-like hue, right? The soft pink and white colours also perfectly matches the colour of a ripe, white peach, in season in the summer months in Venice, where this painting was set. For extra art-history facts, it's based in the city's San Zaccaria church, in one of the side alters.

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The Agony In The Garden (1465)
This religious painting is washed in a soft pink colour, as Bellini (the artist) used it to signify dawn breaking for Jesus kneeling on the Mount of Olives, surrounded by three of his disciples; Peter, James and John, who were clearly centuries ahead of fashion in their millenial pink robes.

The colour of dawn is also similar to sunset, which is also what inspired Cipriani to name the drink after him, and it's this picture in particular that caught his eye. Arrigo says: “Giovanni Bellini was often mentioned at home. I had no idea at the time that the pink glow my father had so admired in one of Bellini's paintings would be the inspiration for his famous cocktail."

Should you wish to check out this inspiration in person, you can pop by the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square before or after Prosecco Springs – it's housed there permanently. They picked it up for a bargainous £630 in 1863.

Winter blues

The Bellini originally wasn't a year-round drink and was actually seasonal, as the peaches were only available for four months in the summer. There were actually staff at Harry's Bar who's sole job was to pit and puree the fruit by hand – bet they were glad when October finally rolled around. But later on, a French entrepreneur worked out how to fresh-freeze the white peach puree – and made his fortune from this discovery. And that's why we can have Bellinis all year around now.

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Call me by your name

The classic Bellini is, as we know, is one white peach puree topped up with two parts of Prosecco and served in a Champagne glass. But there are other variations on the fruity fizz theme. A Puccini replaces the peach puree with mandarin juice. A Rossini uses strawberry puree and a Tintoretto uses pomegranate juice. Some bars in Italy also serve a Baby Bellini, which is peach puree topped with sparkling water. One for young fans of a babyccino, no doubt.

Cin Cin!