|Amaro is produced by macerating a combination of herbs, roots, flowers and fruit peels in alcohol. This Italian herbal liqueur is usually served after lunch or dinner to aid digestion. There are many different Amaros, however the best known in the UK are probably Fernet, Averna, and Cynar (with its interesting choice of artichoke as the main ingredient). However, without a doubt my favourite is Amaro Quintessa made by Nonino.
Nonino are based in Friuli and the distillery was founded in 1897 by Orazio Nonino. The company concentrated on making Grappas until 1933 when Antonio Nonino created Amaro Carnia, which was an infusion of herbs from the region of Carnia (in Friuli) in his grappa. Nonino’s focus, however, remained firmly on grappa and in 1973 they created the first ever single vineyard, single grape variety, grappa. This was so successful that other producers started following the Nonino’s example of single variety grappas.
In 1984, the current owners, Benito and Giannola, created a brand new product a distillate made from the entire grape (juice, skin and the pulp). It is distilled immediately after harvest and is closer to an eau de vie than a traditional grappa. They called this product ÙE (pronounced OOO-AAY), which is the word for grape in the local Friulian dialect.
It wasn’t until 1992 when they revisited Antonio’s idea to produce an Amaro. In fact they combine aged ÙE with herbs and roots based on Antonio’s original recipe – creating Amaro Nonino Quintessentia. The exact botanicals used are a family secret but Antonella Nonino admitted to me that they used: Common Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris); Quinine Bark (Chinchona Succirubra) – the bitter ingredient in Tonic Water; Yellow Gentian (Gentiana Lutea) – a local root which can also made into an eau de vie; and Wormood (Artemisia Absinthium) – more known for being the principle ingredient of Absinthe. According to their US importer (Terlato Wines) they also use rhubarb, saffron and bitter orange. Whatever the exact combination of botanicals, Amaro Nonino has a depth and complexity that I haven’t encountered in other Amaros.
There are many ways of serving Amaro Nonino, including as a replacement for Vermouth in cocktails, however my favourite way is simply over ice with a slice of orange (as recommended on the back of the bottle). Have a look here for some other Amaro based cocktails.