Amarofest in Verona

One of the great things about VinItaly is that producers often have a little something special at their stands beyond the latest vintage. Sometimes there are older wines, other times it’s a full-service lunch (which is most welcome). And for some producers, the secret stash includes an exotic amaro.

I love amaro: From the power of Fernet Branca to the herbal complexities of Braulio, it’s obvious that I’m a fan. And Italy’s full of the stuff, most of which isn’t available in the US (nor the rest of Europe or the various Italian provinces), so on recent trips I’ve taken to bringing a bottle or two home in my suitcase.

(I rationalize this from a practical standpoint based on the simple fact that a bottle of amaro last much longer than a bottle of wine, hence it’s worth the effort to schlep it home.)

Here’s one of Italy’s great amari, available only from where it’s made at Abbazia di Novacella in the far north of Italy, just near the Austrian border.


Kloster Bitter is made from the cones of tiny Alpine pines that have been macerated in a neutral spirit and then distilled. Unlike most amari it’s neither colored nor sweetened, and so it feels lighter in texture. As you can see, too, it’s awfully pretty in the glass. I bought a bottle last November at the winery; that’s nearly finished and happily I picked up a new one on this last trip.

Another find was the Dolce Amaro, made from an infusion of 12 herbs and then sweetened with honey, all from the island of Favignana (part of the Isole Egadi), north of Sicily. It’s a side project at Statti, based on a recipe developed by Dr. Umberto Rizza. Wild suff, with pungent aromas of thyme and camomile, and a lasting peppermint flavor that totally cleared the jetlag out from my sinuses. Perhaps a little harsh to drink, it could have benefited from an ice cube.


*Note: For a primer on various Italian amari, check out this article I wrote last year for the SF Chronicle.

*Double Note: Jon BonnĂ©, with whom I nearly killed off my last bottle of Kloster Bitter, suggested that we start a Twitter campaign to get the stuff imported to the US. Abbazia di Novacella is brought in by Vias Imports, so hopefully they’re reading this.