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By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

When you mention Portuguese wines, most people think of refreshing summer rosé wines or wonderful port wines great for colder weather.

But Portugal has more to offer than just rosé and port. In fact, some of the greatest wine values in today’s market are the red and equally fine white table wines. Portugal ranks as the world’s 11th largest producer of wine and the fourth in the world in per capita consumption. The country is rapidly developing an arsenal of modern table wines, sourced from a diverse array of over 200 unique, native grape varieties.

Portugal is a grape-growing and wine-making country in Europe, which is about 360 miles long and 130 miles wide, and roughly the size of Maine.

As of 2017, there are 14 IGP (protected geographical indication) regions in Portugal: Alentejo, Algarve, Azores, Beira Atlântico, Duriense, Lisboa, Minho, Península de Setúbal, Tejo, Terras da Beira, Terras de Cister, Terras do Dão, Terras Madeirenses and Transmontano. These regions are subdivided into 31 DOC (controlled designation of origin) grape-growing regions. Portugal produces red, white, rosé and sparkling wines, along with its famous dessert wines, port and Madeira.

While there are hundreds of indigenous grapes grown in Portugal, the ones to try are Castelão, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Baga (all red grapes) and Alvarinho, Loureiro, Trajadura (white grapes)

Some recommended regions from which to try wines are:

Alentejo: A DOC (2003) grape-growing region south of the River Tagus and southeast of Lisbon in the Alentejano region producing red, white, rosé, sparkling and sweet fortified wines. Alentejo contains most of the country’s cork forests.

Dão: A DOC (1990) grape-growing region northeast of Lisbon in the Terras do Dão region producing red, white, rosé, nouveau and sparkling wines. Dão is named for the Dão River, a tributary of the Mondego River in north-central Portugal south of the Douro River.

Douro: A DOC (1998) grape-growing region in the Duriense region producing red, white, rosé, sparkling and licoroso (Moscatel do Douro) wines.

Vinho Verde: A DOC (1999) grape-growing region in the Minho region in the northwest producing red, white, rosé, sparkling and late-harvest wines. Approximately 85 percent of Vinho Verde wine is white. Vinho Verde translates to mean green wine, a reference to the wines’ youthful freshness, which is applied equally to the light-bodied white, red and rosé wines.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

Franciacorta is a “classic method” sparkling wine made in the province of Brescia in Italy’s northern region of Lombardy. According to its DOCG (1995) regulations, Franciacorta can be made into a white or rosé sparkling wine, which can range from demisec (semisweet) all the way to extra brut (extremely dry).

Franciacorta is Italy’s highest-quality sparkling wine and is made using the same production method as champagne using pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Aging requirements for Franciacorta are longer than champagne and most sell at a lower price.

While pinot noir is the only red grape permitted, white grape varieties include chardonnay, pinot bianco and erbamat (a local specialty). 

Franciacorta made with lower pressure in a brut style from chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes is called Satèn. A millesimato (vintage-dated) and riserva (aged over 5 years) styles are authorized.

Some recommended Franciacorta wines are:

2012 Monte Rossa “Cabochon” Brut (70% chardonnay/30% pinot noir). Full celery-apple bouquet; citrus notes along with bread dough; full-bodied, rich fruit flavored.

2014 Monogram, Castel Faglia “Dosage Zero” Millesimato (90% chardonnay/10% pinot noir). Bread toast bouquet with hints of green apple and celery. Medium-full bodied; melon, pear and citrus flavors.

2011 Corte Bianca, “Rosé” (100% pinot noir aged 3 years). Full berry nose; clean and crisp with flavors of cherry, cranberry, rhubarb, and raspberry. Full-bodied and full of flavor.

NV Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Prestige” (75% chardonnay/15% pinot noir/10% pinot bianco). Crisp, delicate bouquet; creamy in the mouth; hints of dried flowers, Bosc pears and Granny Smith apples.

2012 Bellavista Brut Millesimato (63% chardonnay/27% pinot noir). Straw-colored; pinpoint bubbles; bouquet of almonds, dried fruit and pears. Delicate with a strong, elegant aftertaste.

NV Cavalleri “Blanc de Blancs,” Brut (100% chardonnay). Apple and pear bouquet with hints of biscuits, celery and hazelnuts; well-balanced and quite dry with a long aftertaste.

NV Guido Berlucchi Rosé (60% pinot noir/40% chardonnay). Very fruity bouquet; plenty of pinot noir berries; good structure; balanced with an aftertaste of cranberries.

NV Majolini “Blanc de Noirs” Brut (100% pinot noir). Hint of color with a full fruity bouquet of strawberries and rhubarb. Hints of candy apple, black figs and wheat.

Cheese and sparkling wines are an extra special indulgence we need to enjoy more often. Some of my favorite cheeses to nibble on while sipping a “glass of bubbly” are Boursin, brie, blue cheese, Excelsior, Gruyere, manchego, Monterey Jack and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

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By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

I enjoy using cheese as an ingredient in cooking, and its texture, flavor and color add another dimension to the finished dish. Cheese can be added in chunks, diced or even shredded to food at the beginning, middle or even end of cooking. You can fry, bake or broil cheese; add it as an ingredient to many of your favorite recipes; or make an incredible grilled cheese sandwich. Some of my hints for cooking with cheese are…

• Bring cheese to room temperature before use in cooking.

• When melting or blending cheese into a recipe, use a low temperature for a short period. Cheese is high in protein and prolonged cooking or cooking over high heat will cause the cheese to separate and result in a stringy, tough, somewhat rubbery product. When used in the oven, never exceed 375 F or the cheese will break down.

• Hard cheeses can tolerate higher temperatures than soft cheese because more of the protein has been broken down into small, less easily coagulated fragments.

• A double boiler keeps the heat moderate, thus avoiding a hard, stringy mess.

• Do not add cheese too soon during cooking; it may curdle or melt away to a stringy mess.

• To prevent cheeses such as Swiss types and mozzarella from becoming stringy during cooking, add a little wine or lemon juice before melting them.

• When stirring cheese, use a wooden spoon and never use a slotted spoon, which will become clogged with cheese.

• Cheese works well with sauces that have been thickened with flour or other starches. To avoid a lumpy cheese sauce, add a little flour, cornstarch or arrowroot at the start of the recipe (before adding the cheese). You can heat the cheese for an extended period and the sauce will remain smooth and creamy.

• Dice, shred or crumble cheese into dishes to hasten its melting time and ensure an even distribution throughout the dish. Grated cheese blends into sauces better than chunks or julienned pieces.

• When melting cheese on top of food, add it near the end of the cooking time. For a brown crispy layer of cheese, add it early in the cooking process.

• The rind of a Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is edible and adds an incredible flavor to soups, stews, gravies and even pasta. Toss the rind into the simmering food and cook until it softens. Remove, chop into small pieces and return the bits to the pot.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

The reds are elegant and fresh with layers of delicate juicy red fruit and great balance. Stock photo

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

Overall, the 2017 vintage in Burgundy was excellent, providing both high quality and considerable quantity. Both reds and whites have a good fruit-acid-alcohol balance.

The whites are splendid; perhaps the best vintage since 2014, with Chablis showing particularly well with floral aromas and flavors of melon, citrus and honeysuckle.

The reds are elegant and fresh with layers of delicate juicy red fruit and great balance – classic Burgundian pinot noir flavor profile. The best wines of the vintage should age well for 20 years.

At a recent trade event, I tasted over 100 wines with tasting notes below.

NV J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne (sparkling 100 percent chardonnay): Brioche, celery, dried flowers and citrus. Excellent balance.

2017 J.J. Vincent Bourgogne Blanc: Wow! So much fruit; orange blossoms, citrus.

2017 J.J. Vincent Pouilly-Fuissé “Marie Antoinette”: Subtle hints of tangerine, citrus and oil of bergamot. Don’t miss this one!

2017 Château Fuissé Pouilly-Fuissé “Tête de Cuvée”: Bouquet brimming with orange, citrus and yellow plums. Well-balanced.

2017 Château Fuissé “Les Combettes”: Light bouquet with fruit flavors of honeydew melon; fruit-acid balance is superb.

2017 Château Fuissé “Les Brûlés”: An aroma and flavor of green apples, citrus, orange, pears and honeysuckle.

2017 Domaine Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin “1er Cru Les Champeaux”: Bouquet and flavors of raspberry, cherry, spices, licorice and oak. Smooth finish; great aftertaste.

2017 Domaine Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet Chambolle-Musigny “Les Echézeaux”: Bouquet and flavor of ripe pinot noir berries; well-balanced; soft in the mouth

2017 Domaine Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet Vosne-Romanée “1er Les Rouges du Dessus”: Full bouquet and flavor of raspberries, black cherries, yellow plums and hints of earth and brown sugar.

2017 Domaine du Comte Armand “Bourgogne Aligoté”: Perfumed aroma of white peaches, citrus and green apples. Hints of almonds and pine with an underlying tartness. One of the best wines made from the Aligoté grape I’ve tasted in years.

2017 Domaine Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “1er Cru, La Combe aux Moines”: A fruity bouquet of plums, almonds and black currants. Great aftertaste.

2017 Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos du Château”: Aromas of ripe berries, citrus and violets. Great balance.

2017 Armand Rousseau “Chambertin Grand Cru”: Sweet, concentrated, jammy, spicy fruit: layers of berries, plums, spices and vanilla.

2017 Armand Rousseau Ruchottes-Chambertin “Clos des Ruchottes Grand Cru”: Medium-full bouquet and flavor of blackberries, jam, chocolate and Damson plums.

2017 Armand Rousseau “Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru”: Bouquet of jammy spices, plums, cola and cherries. Almost a sweetness in the mouth. Although young, it’s beginning to get velvety. What a wine!

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

With so many buzzwords, terms, phrases and descriptions about wine being broadcast, spoken and written about, it’s understandable to be uncomfortable speaking or even ordering wine at your favorite restaurant or wine shop.

To alleviate confusion and misunderstanding about wine, I’ve defined the most commonly used terms.

Acidity: Tartness or sharpness in the taste of wine due to natural acids. Not to be confused with sour or astringent.

Aroma: The smell or odor of a grape or grapes used to make the wine.

Balance: A wine whose components — sugar, fruit, tannin, acid, alcohol, wood and so forth — are evident but don’t dominate one another.

Body: The viscosity, weight on the tongue or the mouth-filling capacity of a wine. Is it light bodied (skim milk), medium bodied (whole milk) or full bodied (heavy cream)?

Bouquet: The smell or odor of wine that has been aged in a barrel or bottle.

Complex: Wine with many elements, odors, flavors, tastes and subtle nuances, which seem to harmonize.

Corked: An unpleasant musty odor (mushroom, wet cardboard) or flavor imparted to wine by a defective (moldy) cork.

Herbaceous: Wines that have an aroma and flavor of herbs, such as sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

Oxidized: A wine that has lost its freshness due to exposure to air.

Dry: Wine with little or no noticeable (tip of tongue) sugar, usually containing less than 0.5 percent sugar. 

Oaky/Woody: The odor and/or flavor of wines aged in newer oak barrels or aged too long in barrels.

Sweet: Wines that have moderate-high levels of residual sugar, which can be detected on the tip of the tongue. This is determined by the winemaker and not due to the grape variety.

Fruity: Wines that have a defined, pleasant aroma and flavor from grapes.

Tannin: Slightly bitter and astringent compound derived from the skins of grapes but also present in stems, seeds and oak barrels.

Finish: Flavor impressions left in the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Some wines finish harsh, hot and astringent, while others are smooth, soft and elegant.

After tasting, it’s important to describe the wine and discuss it with fellow tasters so you can communicate effectively. It is best to describe the wine and make notes, so you can remember what the wine tastes like in contrast to other wines. Your notes will allow you to revisit a wine you tasted and create a mental picture of that wine.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

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By Bob Lipinski

‘I only drink Champagne when in love and when not.’

— Christian Pol Roger

Bob Lipinski

Pol Roger founded the Champagne Pol Roger house in 1849, in Epernay, France. In the ensuing years, Pol Roger has created a name and reputation as one of finest Champagnes in the world. Perhaps the biggest lover of Pol Roger was Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom.

In 1945, in celebration of the liberation of France, Churchill was served Pol Roger 1928 at his residence in Paris. According to his son Randolph, Winston was so enamored by the Champagne he bought up all the 1928 and 1934 Pol Roger that was remaining.

Every year for his birthday, in tribute to the great friendship between the Pol Roger family and Winston Churchill, he would receive a case of Pol Roger until his death in 1965. The labels of the Champagne sent to England after his death were bordered in black.

To pay permanent tribute to the great statesman, Pol Roger introduced Cuvée Sir Winston Champagne. The first vintage of Cuvée Sir Winston was 1975, released in 1984. The precise blend of Sir Winston is a family secret and is produced only in the finest vintages.

The following are my tasting notes from a press event:

Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV “White Foil”: Blend of pinot noir, meunier, and chardonnay grapes. Pale golden color with a fruity bouquet of green apples and pears. Medium bodied with delicate bubbles and hints of grass and citrus.

Pol Roger “Blanc de Blancs” 2009: 100 percent chardonnay. Pale straw colored with a delicate bouquet and flavor of apples, brioche, chamomile, citrus and ginger. Superbly balanced with a very long lingering aftertaste.

Pol Roger Brut 2008: Blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. Light yellow colored with a full bouquet of Granny Smith apples, citrus, pears and tangerine. Medium bodied and full of flavor. A smooth finish and pleasing, long aftertaste.

Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2009: Blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. Salmon colored with a bouquet bursting of raspberries, wild cherries, pomegranate and oranges. The wine is dry, yet a fruity flavor persists to the end.

Pol Roger “Cuvée Prestige Sir Winston Churchill” 2006: The wine is aged for an average of 10 years before release. An elegant and well-developed bouquet of toasted brioche, jasmine, citrus, toast, pears and anise. Superbly balanced with a velvety texture and lingering flavors of spices, almonds and anise. An excellent Champagne with which to celebrate the holidays.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

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By Bob Lipinski

There is little in the world more alluring than a glass of red Bordeaux wine. In Bordeaux, centuries of blending mastery combined with a unique terrain and climate give birth to refinement and equilibrium of a highly enticing nature. Within the region of Bordeaux there are many districts that make red, white, rosé, sweet white and even sparkling wines.

I recently attended a tasting of the wines of Pessac-Léognan, Saint-Julien, Margaux and Sauternes with representatives from each estate pouring and discussing the wines. Here is a list of the recommended wines I tasted including some tasting notes.

Château Latour-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan): The winery makes both red and white AOC wines.

2015 Château Latour-Martillac Blanc (spectacular bouquet of melon, pear and citrus. Mouth-filling with an excellent balance and great aftertaste)

2011 and 2013 Château Latour-Martillac Blanc

2015 Château Latour-Martillac Rouge (dark cherry color; bouquet of black currants, smoke, black raspberry; tannic with a smooth finish and lingering aftertaste)

2010 Château Latour-Martillac Rouge

Château Beychevelle (Fourth Growth Saint-Julien): The winery makes only red AOC wine. On the label of Château Beychevelle is a “Nordic Ship,” with grape clusters on its sails.

2015 Château Beychevelle (dark, almost purple color; bouquet of black currants, oak, black cherries; powerful wine with plenty of tannin and a fruity aftertaste)

2005, 2009 and 2014 Château Beychevelle

2015 Amiral de Beychevelle (second label of Château Beychevelle)

Château Kirwan (Third Growth Margaux): The winery makes only red AOC wine.

2009 Château Kirwan (ruby color with an aromatic bouquet of spicy cherry, menthol and blueberry; medium-bodied, beginning to soften with a smooth refined finish)

2008, 2010 and 2015 Château Kirwan

Château Guiraud (First Growth Sauternes): The winery makes both dry and sweet AOC white wines. The wines are a blend of Sémillon and sauvignon blanc grapes.

2009 Château Guiraud (gold-amber in color; bouquet and flavor of coconut, honey, orange, pineapple, peach, apricot and spice; luscious and sweet finish …Wow! What a delicious wine)

2010 and 2015 Château Guiraud

2015 Petit Guiraud (second label of Château Guiraud)

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

‘What is the definition of a good wine? It should start and end with a smile.’ 

William Sokolin

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

Zinfandel is a classic all-American grape variety, planted in virtually all of California’s grape-growing areas. It is a thin-skinned, medium-acid red grape with a mysterious past and has been grown throughout California for over 150 years. For decades it was believed that zinfandel came to the United States from Hungary in the mid-1860s. However, some 30 years earlier it was already growing in a nursery owned by William Robert Prince, now known as the Botanical Gardens in Flushing, Queens, New York.

In 1967, a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant pathologist first discovered the similarity of the Italian grape known as primitivo and zinfandel while in Bari, Italy. Italian researchers determined the primitivo grape had been grown in Apulia since the late 1700s. In 1976 a University of California scientist tested both grape varieties and determined them to be the same. That led researchers to Croatia where growers were convinced that zinfandel was the same grape variety as the local Plavac Mali. After further DNA testing it was revealed that Plavac Mali was not related to zinfandel. However, while the researchers were in Croatia, they heard stories about another indigenous grape that may in fact be the key to unlock zinfandel’s mystery.

In 2001, it was confirmed through DNA testing that zinfandel and an indigenous Croatian grape called Crljenak Kastelanski are the same. Additional research determined that Tribidrag is the oldest known Croatian name for the Crljenak Kastelanski grape variety, which appears in print as early as 1518.

George West from Massachusetts made California’s first white zinfandel at the El Pinal Winery near Stockton, California, in 1869; the first varietally labeled zinfandel was made in 1944 by the Parducci Winery; and the first rosé zinfandel was introduced in 1955 by Pedroncelli Winery. Sutter Home was the winery that defined and popularized the white zinfandel category and craze in the early 1970s.

The zinfandel grape’s history is not only fascinating but ponder this … winemakers can produce a white zinfandel, rosé zinfandel, red zinfandel, sparkling zinfandel, late-harvest zinfandel and port wine zinfandel.

A few recommended zinfandel wines I recently tasted are:

2015 Ravenswood “Dickerson,” Napa Valley

2015 Pedroncelli “Bushnell Vineyards,” Dry Creek

2014 Pedroncelli “Mother Clone,” Dry Creek

2017 Pedroncelli “Dry Rosé of Zinfandel,” Dry Creek

2016 Kreck “Teldeschi Vineyards,” Dry Creek

2016 Kreck “Del Barba Vineyard,” Contra Costa

2015 Kunde Estate Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley

2015 Kunde Reserve Century Vines, Sonoma Valley

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

A view of the Barone Cornacchia winery with sunflowers in the foreground.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

The Barone Cornacchia winery is situated in the region of Abruzzo (known as Abruzzi in Italy) located in a mountainous area east of Latium in the south-central part of Italy off the Adriatic Sea. In this region the two most prolific and popular grape varieties are trebbiano (a white grape) and Montepulciano (a red grape).

The winery, which dates to 1577, is run by Barone Cornacchia’s son Filippo and daughter Caterina. It specializes in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a single vineyard Le Coste wine in addition to the everyday Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a reserve from the prestigious Colline Teramane DOCG.

I tasted some of the wines with Caterina Cornacchia on several occasions and here are my notes:

2016 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (100 percent trebbiano grapes): If you don’t like trebbiano because it’s thin and neutral tasting, well you’ve been drinking mass-produced examples. What a wine! Medium bodied with citrus notes of orange along with almonds, apple, cantaloupe, hazelnuts, melon, pears and wild flowers.

2015 Pecorino “Colli Aprutini” (100 percent pecorino grapes). No, not the cheese! Pecorino is a white grape that deserves considerably more attention. Straw colored with flavors of apples, citrus, figs, peaches, pears and tropical fruit. Quite dry, with a bitter almond aftertaste.

2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (100 percent Montepulciano grapes). Dark almost purple color with plenty of dark fruit, blackberries, black cherries, jam, anise, chestnuts and a spicy warming aftertaste. Not a mass-produced wine! Forget a bottle, buy a case!

2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Vigna Le Coste” (100 percent Montepulciano grapes). This elegant “single-vineyard” wine was aged for 14 months in Slavonian oak barrels. Deep ruby color with flavors of plum, spices, black currants, cherries, and earthy overtones of mushrooms and chestnuts.

2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Colline Teramane” DOCG “Vizzarro” (100 percent Montepulciano grapes). The wine was aged for more than 2 years in oak barrels. Rich, dry, full bodied and powerful with concentrated fruit; flavors of jam, blackberries and black licorice; with dried leaves, vanilla and plenty of tannin to ensure longevity.

Two cheeses from Abruzzo worth searching out are scamorza and Scanno:

Scamorza, a cow’s milk cheese, similar to mozzarella is light yellow, with a rindless pear-shaped exterior and soft to semisoft texture. It is mild and slightly salty tasting and often smoked (affumicato). In southern Italian dialect, the name scamorza means “dunce.”

Scanno, a sheep’s milk cheese from the mountain village of Scanno is traditionally eaten with fresh fruit. The exterior is black with a buttery pale-yellow interior. The flavor has a mild burnt tinge to it.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

Amari (plural of amaro), the Italian term for “bitters,” refers to distilled spirits containing an infusion of bittering “botanicals” such as herbs, roots or barks. Some of the many botanicals used include gentian, rhubarb, quinine, aniseed, saffron, peppermint, cloves, bitter orange and cinnamon. Bitters were originally produced to soothe and relax the stomach after meals and therefore are often referred to as “digestives.” They are also used as ingredients in some cocktails.

Aperire, a Latin word, that means to open, is the origin of the word apéritif — a beverage that usually “opens” lunch or dinner as a stimulant to the appetite. Most apéritifs have an initial sweet taste with a somewhat bitter aftertaste because of the use of quinine, a bitter compound that comes from the bark of the Cinchona tree. This slight bitterness whets the appetite and cleanses the palate.

Unfortunately, many consumers cringe at the bitter flavor of some amari, preferring sweeter beverages to run across their palates, while others look upon bitters as a “cult” or “rite of passage” beverage. There appears to be growing interest in this category, which can easily be shown by the vast number of articles and cocktails about bitters in the news.

Although Italy has the lion’s share of amari, we also find delectable offerings from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, the United States and many other countries. 

Here are some of my favorites from Italy:

Aperol (22 proof, Veneto): Luminous orange color. Made from an infusion of aromatic herbs, spices and roots, including bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb.

Averna (68 proof, Sicily): Dark brown with colalike aroma and bittersweet taste; hints of black pepper, cloves, licorice and vanilla.

Branca Menta (60 proof, Lombardy): Dark, red-brown color; bouquet and flavor of spearmint, chocolate, citrus, menthol and herbs.

Campari (48 proof, Lombardy): Ruby-red, bitter beverage; bouquet and taste of bitter orange, cherry and strawberry, with a bittersweet aftertaste.

Cynar (34 proof, Veneto): Brown color; bouquet and taste of almonds, herbs, honey and walnuts.

Fernet-Branca (80 proof, Lombardy): Dark brown, extremely bitter; contains more than 40 herbs and spices.

Ramazzotti (60 proof, Lombardy): Dark brown, bittersweet; made from 33 different herbs, roots and spices.

There is no one correct way to serve amari; they are great served “neat” (room temperature), refrigerator chilled or on the rocks. Each can be served as a tall drink, filled with sparkling mineral water (or sparkling wine) and garnished with a wedge of lemon, lime or even orange. A maraschino cherry on top may provide a finishing touch.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

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