Spirits & Liqueurs Liqueur

These Aperitifs Up the Ante

These five Italian aromatized wines and liqueurs show The Boot isn’t cooling its aperitivo heels.

aperitivi bottles
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Liquor.com / Laura Sant 

Drinks in Italy aren’t merely drinks. They are, inevitably, some part of the multi-act play that is The Meal there, be it the appetite-whetting snack-grazing complement of a refreshing Aperol Spritz, the just-right glass of vino with your primi, or a contemplative splash of amaro to ease the delicious ache of having consumed just a little too much tagliatelle. 

But just because the country has a few hundred years of proven product development doesn’t mean that innovation is in riposo. A new generation of distillers taking the reins in recent years has resulted in a bevy of exciting aperitivi and liqueurs for modern drinkers to sip, stir and mix.

  • Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto ($45)

    Italicus bottles

    Liquor.com / Laura Sant

    Launched in the U.S. in 2017 at the near-height of the spritz craze, Italicus takes aperitivi in a delicate, delicious direction. The aromatics are so fresh and bright they almost seem tisane-like, until you take a sip. Even though it’s a lo-fi liqueur at 20% ABV, it’s slippery and silky on the palate, with high notes of the main botanical element, the zest of Calabrian bergamot, and lime-like citrus fruit that grows in the southern Italian province. It was created by Giuseppe Gallo, a vermouth and aperitivo evangelist who had the clever idea to resurrect the fading category of Italian rosolio, a rose-petal based liqueur, which gets all those delicate aromatics from gentle cold pressing of the citrus and slow maceration of the other botanicals. And while it hasn’t spawned a ton of imitators as of yet, that’s OK. This beautiful, floral-citrusy sipper stands alone.

  • L’Aperitivo Nonino ($40)

    L'Aperitivo Nonino bottles

    Liquor.com / Laura Sant

    Along with making outstanding grappa and liqueur, the Nonino family has also long been ahead of its time in gender equality. Not only do they boast the first female distiller of grappa in Italy in 1928 when Silvia Nonino took the helm, but today all aspects of the company are run by her granddaughters: Nonino sisters Antonella, Elisabetta and Francesca (and in all likelihood in the future, their daughters, as well). In a nod to their ground-breaking grandma and the estate-foraged aperitivo Silvia used to make, the sisters recreated the recipe. Launched in autumn 2019, L’Aperitivo Nonino is intensely floral and citrusy, the result of 18 estate-sourced botanicals, like rhubarb and gentian. Try it in a White Negroni or a Vesper.

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco ($25)

    Luxardo Bitter Bianco bottles

    Liquor.com / Laura Sant

    The Luxardo company was founded on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia in 1821, when Italian husband and wife expats Girolamo and Maria Luxardo opened their distillery with their still-famed maraschino liqueur. A move back to Italy and a multitude of products later, Luxardo is still a highly regarded name in Italian aperitivi and digestivi. With the rise in America’s newfound love affair with all things bitter, the company relaunched its once-popular Bitter Bianco in 2017, reviving a 1930s recipe created as a white-wine-based riff on its precursor, Luxardo Bitter, rife with aromatics and flavors of thyme, mint and bitter orange. Those same botanicals are in the Bianco, although there they’re distilled, not macerated as with the rosso, and they present themselves in all their herbaceous floral glory, but with the pleasantly biting bitter addition of wormwood, as well.

  • Martini & Rossi Bitter 1872 ($27)

    Martini & Rossi Bitter bottles

    Liquor.com / Laura Sant

    The bright, rosy hue of M&R’s Bitter should clue you in straight away to its intended use: a Spritz! The balance of sweet and bitter in this aperitivo amaro, released in 2017, falls somewhere in between that of Aperol and Campari, making it fun to experiment with in cocktails that call for those iconic liqueurs. In a traditional Spritz employing brut prosecco, expect the Bitter 1872 to produce a drier version of the classic, with its saffron notes playing well with the fruity sparkling wine. In a Negroni or Boulevardier, Bitter 1872 is more in lockstep with the gin or whiskey and sweet vermouth on your palate than competing to stand out.

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  • Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Ambrato ($25)

    Martini & Rossi Ambrato bottles

    Liquor.com / Laura Sant

    One of the bottlings in Martini & Rossi’s limited-release series (along with the elegant and spicy nebbiolo-based Speciale Rubino), ambrato means “amber,” and if not as concentrated in hue as fossilized tree resin, it is indeed in the family of the rich, deep golden nod of its name. The wine base here is moscato d’asti, a fresh, fruity white grape variety known more for making sweet, gently sparkling wines. Here, it’s a great foil for the cinchona bark and other bittering, herbaceous botanicals, but with pretty notes of chamomile, too. Sure, you can mix with it—in any cocktail where a bianco vermouth is the order of the day—but simply pouring this elegant aromatized, fortified wine over ice on a warm spring day is as bella vita as it gets.