If someone is taking the time to open up their home and feed you, the polite, adult thing to do is bring a gift. Anyone can grab a mid-price bottle of wine with a pretty label, but interesting, thoughtful guests bring amaro.
If you’re not familiar with amaro, you should familiarise yourself pronto. The category is broad (and kind of complex), but refers to herbal Italian liqueurs that range from syrupy and bittersweet to dry and bracing. Their ABV also vary kind of wildly, and fall anywhere between 16 and 40 per cent.
So, while they can be hard to narrowly define, they are a lot of fun to drink and talk about, and bringing a bottle of amaro instead of wine has many advantages:
- It will last your host longer. Even if your host does decide to share, the pour size from a bottle of amaro is much smaller than that from wine, meaning your they get to enjoy their gift that much longer.
- It’s a conversation starter. If you think wine bottles are pretty, check out the labels on amari. They tend to be more ornate and, in the case of Cynar, will have your guests asking questions such as, “Wait. Is that an artichoke?”
- It settles the stomach. Sipping on bittersweet amari really calms a full and tumultuous tummy. It’s like medicine, but more fun.
- It isn’t that expensive. A bottle of amaro will usually cost about as much as a cheaper bottle of good wine.
- It make you seem very refined. Unless you really know your wine, bringing a bottle can seem a little last-minute. Busting out a bottle of amaro, however, makes you seem very cool and worldly.
If you’re unsure where to start, bottle-wise, try the bittersweet Campari, the woodsy and herbaceous Cynar, or the complex and spicy Bigallet China-China. If you’re worried about overdoing it with bitterness, the lighter, sweeter Nonino is a good place to start, or you could just really lean into the abrasive and gift a bottle of Fernet Branca.
Also, don’t be afraid to go local. A lot of small-batch distilleries are getting into the amaro game, with Campari copy-cats and their own versions of fernet. (Nothing will ever replace the one true Campari for me, but I’m always willing to sample.)