If you fancy yourself a bon vivant, consider starting the New Year by changing the way you end your meals. Digestifs have settled restless post-feast bellies for centuries in Europe, and now, thanks to Wine Cask co-owner and winemaker Doug Margerum, there’s a locally sourced, but Italian-inspired, version to make your regular nightcap.
Called Amaro, Margerum believes that his fortified blend of sangiovese raisin juice with various herbs, barks, woods, and roots is the first amari — the genre of sweetly bitter Italian liqueurs whose best known brand in the States is Fernet Branca — ever made in North America.
“I’m proud to be the first domestic producer of amaro, and it’s really good,” said Margerum, whose second batch ever — tantalizingly tonic with medicinal spices, yet smooth on the tongue like strong chocolate syrup — clocks in at 23 percent alcohol and is on sale for $50 at the Margerum Wine Company tasting room on Anacapa Street. “Like all the wines I do, these are things I drink.”
Though he’d heard of Fernet — which was all the rage with sommeliers and bartenders a few years back, in part because no bar owners ever checked the obscure bottles for missing liquor — Margerum fell in love with amari during time spent with his sons in Italy. When he found himself with a bunch of sangiovese raisins during the 2008 harvest — plus a garden full of herbs at his former Happy Canyon home — he made 11 cases’ worth. He ramped up the second batch to about 100 cases, but that doesn’t include the remaining juice in barrels that will serve as a steady base for the next harvest. “I think I got a pretty good recipe down,” said Margerum. “Batch two is better than batch one. It’s a little more bitter and a little less sweet, and I really like the balance in it. It should be a consistent product from here on out.”
Though he’s not divulging exact proportions, Margerum’s Amaro is powered by sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, lemon verbena, rosemary, dried orange peels, caramelized simple syrup, undisclosed roots, and bark from red oak and other trees. It’s then aged outdoors in barrels, where the sun cooks it all together in a process known as “maderization.” In addition to drinking it after big meals and right before bed, when it’s designed to ease digestion, Margerum claimed, “It’s a great component to the perfect Manhattan.”
See margerumwinecompany.com, call (805) 845-8435, or visit the tasting room at 813 Anacapa Street.