6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
HvlSxHY-show-poster2x3-4ik43uV.png

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

California Wine: Margerum Amaro -- When Bitter Is Better

Support Provided By
amaro600x400

There's the old saw "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine," but Doug Margerum, owner of and winemaker at Margerum Wines, suggests, perhaps, a new saying: "It takes a lot of Amaro to recover from prodigious good wine consumption." Margerum first got interested in Amaro -- the bitter yet beloved Italian digestif -- at wine events. "A lot of sommeliers drink a lot of Amaro, especially Fernet-Branca," he says. "But my interest in Amaro really peaked visiting Italy and tasting homemade Amari. After a huge meal and staying up all night and indulging, the evening always ended with Amari." He knows he is on shaky medical grounds, but wants to insist the Amaro helps settle one's system. If nothing else it shows the insight of the Italian culture with their words for love (amore) and bitter (amaro) so close in sound they're practically a slip of the tongue.

Back in the States Margerum decided he wanted to make his own. For his first batch he started with Sangiovese grapes from his Cent'anni project, but that's just the beginning, as you have to be part apothecary to make Amaro. Recipes are prized and passed down generation to generation in Italy, and can contain over 20 botanicals, from angelica to zedoary, with gentian, lemon verbena, and wormwood in between. Then you need to add some bark and roots, and perhaps citrus peel. "We made small, medium, and large test batches, and I'm talking about the quantity of herbs," Margerum explains. "It was like the Three Bears -- one had too much, one had too little, and then what was just right? I've been doing it for five years now, so the process is pretty consistent, slightly modified over time."

He also uses a solera system to age and even out the product. "I drain it off and put new stuff in, so it's always full," he says. The barrel-aging mostly takes place outdoors as that helps "maderize it. It can be one-hundred during the days and in the thirties in the nights, and that really ages the wine." Since Amaro is nothing if not complex, those deeper, richer flavors work to the drink's advantage. Plus at 23% alcohol for Margerum's latest batch (earlier batches have been a bit higher), the drink can take a bit of a "beating" milder unfortified wines can't. No matter, Margerum's Amaro isn't as bitter as some of in the wide-ranging category (Fernet-Branca often leaves tasters sputtering expletives, for instance).

And while Margerum still likes his Amaro neat after an evening of eating and drinking, he's also partial to the Margerum Manhattan, which is on the cocktail list at the Intermezzo and Wine Cask, which he co-owns in Santa Barbara. Adding Amaro to cocktails was certainly one of the trends at Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans last year, and while Averna and Nonino and Montenegro are all delicious, it's fun to have a U.S. brand to enjoy. "Even my dad, a Manhattan drinker in his late eighties, who has been drinking them for sixty years the same way with Angostura bitters, now drinks them with Margerum Amaro," he states. "It really fleshes out a Manhattan ... also, he gets it for free."

Support Provided By
Read More
Aaron Choi, owner of Girl and Dug Farm, tends to a crop in a large field.

Pink Blueberries and Black Nebulas: Girl & Dug Farm's Specialty Greens Inspire Adventurous Cooking at Home

Through its commitment to biodiverse farming practices and consumer education, Girl & Dug Farm offers a hopeful example for a healthy, flavorful and culturally diverse food system.
Paul Grimm stands on the side of his painting of Harry Bennett and his horse Sonny.

In the Desert, Henry Ford's Strongman Finds His Artist's Heart

From stopping union uprisings for Henry Ford to a desert landscape painter, Harry Bennett wasn’t just a militaristic figure in corporate America but also, strangely, a skilled artist.
The view at the Slot Canyon Overlook.

Six Easy, Lesser-Known Excursions at Anza-Borrego

There's more to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park than the wildflower blooms. Avoid the crowds and explore six of Anza-Borrego's lesser-known gems.