Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On the Amaro Hunt in Italy, my notes for the Amari file

At Mascareta we gathered around the bar for an impromptu amari tasting. La Dispensa di Amerigo is a line of products offered by the owners of a longstanding restaurant in the Emilia. The guiding philosophy is traditional recipes, some help from enthusiast friends, and no use of chemical additives. There are a wide range of options across what they sell, including vinegar, jarred cheeses and pasta sauces. In terms of spirits, there are several, including a Rosolio (!), a Zabajone, and a lemon liqueur. And also those that I tried, which started with a Fernet. 

The Amerigo Fernet was similar in style to that of Luxardo: cigarette ash and celery spiked cedar, while not so much on the cooling spearmint or the dark, rich and viscous tones. It is lighter in weight on the palate, like Luxardo is, and its punch derives from the flavors inside the liquid, instead of the body of that liquid. The listed ingredients included extracts of rhubarb, sweet flag, zedoary root, cinchona root, gentian root, liquorice root, aloe, and anise seeds.

The China China, I have to admit, wasn't for me. Maybe I am not enough used to the style. I found it overly stark and lean. But it probably has its fans. Maybe it is better used as part of a cocktail collaboration. The bottle said it was 30% alcohol, and listed extracts of cinchona root, bitter orange, sweet orange, sweet flag, cinnamon, and gentian root as ingredients.

The Nocino, on the other hand, I thought was very good. Certainly better than most of those currently imported into the States, which actually isn't that many. The recipe calls for green (underipe) walnut husks picked in late June, steeped in alcohol with sugar, and then aged for 3 years. That's it. Nothing additional, and no junk in there. It was 40% alcohol.

The Marasca was also charming, and definitely something I might reach for if I was behind a good cocktail bar somewhere. Deeply cherry and deeply satisfying, if pretty sweet (for me). They take the black cherry juice, add bitter almond extract and essential oils, and that is the recipe. 30% alcohol.

The next evening at La Subida they gave us free reign to try whatever we might like after dinner, so of course I powered through pretty much everything you see on this cart.

Hidden on the bottom of the cart was probably the find of the trip, this Pelinkovac, associated with Abuja (definitely click on that Abuja link). Apparently Abuja and the Northern Italian town of Gorizia have a long history together, which unfortunately seems to have ended when the family sold the distillery a few years back. Today a larger corporate concern located in Trieste makes this Pelinkovac, but they have kept the old label, and apparently the old recipe as well.

It's a shame to hear that the family sold the store, but at least this is still being made.

The taste is dry, dry, dry. Super twisted up biting brambly dry. Twigs dry. It was a little simple and a little disjointed, but I liked it anyway. If you like bitter, like I do, then by all means pour yourself a glass should you have the opportunity. Or mix with a big whiskey or lightish, dryish beer. That would be nice.

Surprisingly, the finished alcohol was only 20%, which is very low for the category. It doesn't taste hot or heavy at all, but I was still a bit shocked when Kevin pointed out the low percentage.

This Nocino, also at La Subida, was perfectly ok, if not more than that. Probably there was some artificial something in there. Caramel coloring would be a likely candidate.

Not the drink itself, but a poster in a quiet bar that we happened to walk into, in another part of Italy.

And not an amaro, but there was this grappa that is well worth mentioning. After a lunch at Fonterenza the sisters were nice enough to share a bottle with me. It turns out to have been made by my buddy Gianni Capovilla, and I must admit, this is one of the best grappa I have had from him. It's probably not cheap, of course. But here was the extra gravitas melded with the clarity of the style. Excellent.

There was a extra level of depth here, and what I thought for a moment were blue fruit notes. Funny how taste can play tricks on you like that.

This Petrus? Super bitter, and if you are a fan of Santa Maria al Monte, as I am, you will like this too. Maybe it is not quite in the same league as Santa Maria al Monte, but what is? Anyway, quite good. And not afraid to finish dry.

The back label claims that there are ingredients from all the continents of the world inside. Not sure what Antartica is bringing to the mix, but who I am to know? On another note, you must absolutely watch this video. Definitely required viewing.

This amaro would be an interesting find for somebody who likes the Nardini amaro. Medium weight, brown, probably colored, and with a soft/sweet finish, this similar in many respects to Nardini, except I thought I picked up more gentian here. Certainly some sort of exoticism.

I found this particular bottle in Sardegna, but apparently it is from Milano. For that reason it is a little surprising that I'd never seen it before, since I have traveled to Milano now and again. But there you go.

I'll say this about Stock products, with the exception of the Rosolio, which couldn't be, they could all be worse. This was a perfectly ok sort of Cynar or celery heavy amaro substitute, although with less real character than I might have hoped for.

Sure, nothing special, but I poured some into my cool glass of Sardinian beer, and that was just the right mix.

In a roadside trattoria in Sardegna there was a dark corner shelf, and this is what I found there. Simple, straightforward, but by no means bad. This was probably caramel colored. I ended up pouring most of it into my espresso, so no I didn't love it. But it was nice to try.

Lemon peel, eh? I don't recall seeing that on a Nocino ingredients list before. That must account for the color of the label.

Nobody else liked it, and there were several complaints about the texture, but I thought it was ok. It had some obvious mirto character. But yes, it would probably be better in a cocktail than on its own.

Here were the stats, in case you are curious. Should you be flying out of Sardegna, I found the duty free shop near my gate to have an impressive selection of Mirto options. There were probably 25 different bottlings there for purchase.

Which brings me to the admission that no, I didn't get to try everything along the way, but I did give it a go on this run, and I'll try to pick up the spares on a return visit.



Ryan Glaab said...

Thanks for the amaro notes. If you have not had it you should seek out the Pisoni distillery in Trentino. The make very good grappa but the grappa amara is excellent. The flavor of a great savory amaro but it is strictly grappa.

Ernest Ifkovitz said...

Ciao Levi, Such lovely descriptions on such a bitter topic!

Seriously, thanks for descriptions like this: "The taste is dry, dry, dry. Super twisted up biting brambly dry. Twigs dry. It was a little simple and a little disjointed, but I liked it anyway." It makes me want to search it out.

Good to see bitter getting some love, now if we could just get Italian producers and sommeliers to see the merits of Mosel Riesling.