Although a staple in southern Italy, most Americans hardly consider the idea of sipping limoncello after dinner. However, this citrus-flavored liqueur is one of the greatest digestifs on the planet.
“When I traveled to Campania, every restaurant you go to has their homemade limoncello,” says Lucas Swallows, bar consultant and former bar director at Momofuku. “It complements the end of the meal and has a traditional role on the Italian table.” Swallows describes the liqueur as a “softer option to finish off with something sweet and sugary without having dessert.” Though for Swallows, acidity is key. “Not enough acidity to balance out sweetness makes a bad limoncello,” he advises.
So what exactly is limoncello? The recipe for this fruit liqueur is pretty straightforward: neutral distillate, macerated lemon rinds, and sugar. Simple yet satisfying, it’s no wonder that this (frequently homemade) digestif finds itself on nearly every southern Italian table.
Looking to add a touch of the Amalfi to your meal but not sure where to begin? We’ve rounded up the top limoncello choices for every liqueur-sipping scenario you may find yourself in. Leave it to the pros and give these picks a whirl. Here are their top choices for the best limoncellos to drink right now.
This delicious limoncello strikes the perfect balance between tart, sweet, and insanely fresh. Meletti exclusively uses lemon peels sourced from the coastal groves of Sorrento (harvested in mid-October) to create this satisfying liqueur. Flavors of fresh-squeezed lemons and a touch of sweetness dominate the palate. No coloring or additives are used.
Villa Massa Limoncello
This affordable and easy-to-find limoncello is produced from organically-farmed lemons in Sorrento, Italy. Fruit comes from terraced, hillside orchards rooted in volcanic soils that overlook the glistening Gulf of Naples. Sweet citrus and tangy acidity find a beautiful balance in this thirst-quenching spirit. Sip slightly chilled.
“Villa Massa is very particular in the type of lemon that it uses for its product, so they’ve been very consistent in their lovely flavor over the years,” says NYC-based bartender and mixologist Anthony Baker. For a constant, budget-friendly option, this bottle is just right.
Best for Sipping
Costa del Sole Limoncello
Costa del Sole’s generations-old recipe uses large handpicked Verdello lemons from the Amalfi Coast. Sipping this spirit will undoubtedly bring to mind your best Italian memories. Fresh lemon flavors and a touch of sweetness dominate this citrus elixir. No artificial colors or flavors are used—just lemons, distillate and sugar.
“I like to have limoncello after I’ve had an amazing Italian dinner,” says Baker. “Many times, if I’m not in the mood to eat dessert, I’ll have a nice glass of limoncello in place of it—[and] I like it very very cold!”
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Skeptical about incorporating limoncello into your drinking regimen? Give this affordable option a whirl. Morandini’s vibrant liqueur promises to wow your palate without breaking the bank. Notes of sweet citrus and tart acidity create a beautifully balanced sipper. As the Italians say, "Limoncello is the elixir of life." Give it a shot (literally).
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Best for Cocktails
For a cocktail mixer that isn't too expensive and always maintains top quality, choose Pallini Limoncello. This natural liqueur was first crafted in 1875 by the Pallini family, who only uses Sfusato lemons sourced from the Amalfi Coast. The fruit is hand-picked and immediately infused, so as to maintain freshness and flavor.
“To me, limoncello has all the components of a cocktail already prepared in the bottle—the citrus, the sweetness, and the spirit-forwardness,” says Baker. Swallows frequently uses Limoncello as a “more dynamic” sugar substitute. “Most cocktails already have a sweetness component to them, so I use it to add a more complex sweetness without adding normal sugar,” he says, noting that this ‘heavily lemon-flavored sweetener’ can often be one-dimensional on its own, so adding it to cocktails is a great way to enjoy the liqueur.
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Lucano Limoncello Anniversario
This world-class limoncello produced by Lucano only uses lemons sourced from the "Limone di Sorrento PGI," which ensures a certain standard of quality. The liqueur’s alcohol remains balanced by sweet flavors of lemon zest and juicy citrus. The Italians have said that limoncello can cure-all, from bad breath to a subpar love life—for now, we’ll stick with letting it aid in our post-dinner digestion.
Swallows likens limoncello to other post-meal digestifs, as well as espresso. “They’re sweet, they give you a boost. After a large dinner when you're feeling full and sluggish, it’s fun to drink it as a finishing touch and get that burst of energy and flavor to finish the meal.”
Best for Gifting
Don Ciccio & Figli Limoncello
For the lover of all things Italian, there’s no better gift than this artisanal bottle of limoncello. This rich and full-bodied limoncello is loaded with flavors of fresh citrus and lemon zest, which lead to a sweet yet balanced finish. No color or stabilizers are used in the production of Don Ciccio & Figli Limoncello—as the distillery says, "this is a pure and all-natural limoncello." We don’t blame you for grabbing two (one for yourself, of course).
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).