Bitter Turns Sweet: Amaro – the offbeat, ancient elixir – goes mainstream

Posted on | February 25, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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China’s Mao Zedong used to say that everyone should “eat bitterness.” Mao would probably look favorably upon a burgeoning trend in the spirits industry: the growth of amaros*.

Amaro means “bitter” in Italian. It’s also the name for a type of spirit usually taken at the  end of a meal in Italy. Amaros are meant to help the digestion, and perhaps that’s the reason that some taste downright medicinal.

Amaros are old: many have formulas that haven’t changed since the 1800s. They have always been available in the U.S., but aside from the affection that San Francisco bartenders have for Fernet Branca, until the last decade they reached only a very niche market.

Not anymore. While overall sales figures are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests a growing wave. Restaurants that used to have one amaro now offer a list; Locanda in San Francisco offers an amaro flight. Some restaurants, like The Partisan in Washington, DC, carry multiple amaros on tap.

Tony Terlato, who knows something about booms in the business (he created the behemoth that is Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio), says that Terlato Wines International’s Amaro, Nonino was up 33% in depletions in 2014.

Banfi Vintners, which has never imported an amaro, plans to bring in one from Florio starting in 2015. Reversing the usual model of imports from Europe, Banfi has asked the producer to make an amaro that is less sweet, specifically for the modern American market. “It may well be amaro’s moment,” says Joe Janish, Banfi’s director of public relations.

The trend started in restaurants, but it is spreading to retailers. Terlato says 38% of Amaro Nonino is now sold off-premise. “We started working with the Nonino family in 1996. For the first six or seven years, it was almost all on-premise,” Terlato notes. “But now off-premise is really taking off. People learn to drink it in restaurants, and then they want to have it at home.”

Bolting the bar

Amaros got into restaurants through the bar. With the explosion of craft cocktails, bartenders discovered that the complex formulas of amaros make them a powerful ingredient to play with. Bartenders brought amaros into fine restaurants, and now sommeliers and servers are bringing them to the dinner table.

“It’s becoming more a part of the mainstream,” says Matthew Wohlab, sommelier at Phoenix’s Nook restaurant, which carries amaros on tap. “I have two types who order a lot. If I get traditional, actual Italians, they order amaro and soda. And I get a lot of bar managers and restaurant people. It’s big with them.”

Wohlab says it’s surprisingly easy to sell a glass of amaro after dinner to people who have never tried it. “A lot of it has to do with price point,” he says. “If a brand doesn’t cost a lot of money, you can sell shots of it for $5 or $6. It becomes like a Fireball thing. If somebody sits at my bar and they ask, ‘What do you like?’ I can say, ‘I like amaro.’ It costs $5, it’s easy for them to try. It’s more daunting for somebody to order a $22 grappa.”

As a category, amaro can be challenging because they’re all so different from each other. For the previous generation of drinkers, this might have been a turnoff. However, millenials like variety, so what was once a negative is now a marketing plus.

Retailers can consider what Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco has done. The store picks an “amaro of the month” for an end cap display, with a card describing its tasting notes. “You have to give people some kind of entry point,” says Rachel Gepner, Bi Rite’s spirits buyer. “And people need to touch them, to read the bottles.” She says she loves working with amaro because “they’re very much products of where they’re from. It’s a different kind of terroir. It’s not just the climate; it’s the ecosystem. The plants. The history.”

Here are some fine amaros in the U.S. today, with tasting notes. 

Amaro Nonino
is unusual in that it doesn’t actually taste particularly bitter, and that’s by design. “Some mixed drinks work with Nonino that don’t work with the herbal amaros,” Tony Terlato says. Unlike many amaros that start with grain neutral spirits, it’s made from grape brandy. It has a pretty, fruit-and-mint-driven character, with notes of orange peel, clove and Friulian mountain herbs. Imported by Terlato Wines International. 


Santa Maria al Monte was created in 1892 and at 40% alcohol is one of the stronger amaros. It’s also potent in flavor: woody, spicy and complex, with a long finish. It really benefits from an ice cube. Imported by Vias Imports. 


Suze is from France, was invented in 1889 and was featured in a Pablo Picasso painting, “Verre et bouteille de Suze.” It’s one of the most basic amaros, but that doesn’t mean it’s not intense: it’s a blast of severely bitter yet floral yellow gentian leavened with a necessary, but still large, dose of sugar; 20% ABV. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates. 


Braulio is the spirit that got this writer into amaro in the first place when it was recommended by a waiter in northern Italy. With plenty of alpine herbs, it’s one of the most complex and elegant (21% ABV). Unfortunately Braulio lost its importer last year and as of this writing doesn’t have a replacement. 


Averna was created by Benedictine monks who gave the recipe to a monastery patron in 1859. It’s one of the most widely found amaros for good reason: with its rich, full-bodied character of cola, cinnamon and citrus, it’s a great introduction for beginners (32% ABV). Imported by Campari America.


Ramazotti celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. It’s a dense, slightly sweet amaro with coffee and citrus notes. At 30% ABV, it is popular in Milan as a “correction” for espresso. Imported by Evaton Inc. 


Varnelli Dell’Erborista is an amaro for your purest wine-geek clients. The roots and herbs that flavor it come from Sibillini mountains, as does the honey used to sweeten it (most amaros use sugar). It’s produced over a wood fire and bottled unfiltered, giving it a cloudiness and some sediment (21% ABV). Most unique of all, it lists all of the ingredients on the back label. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates.


Fernet Branca is an odd standard-bearer for amaros as it’s the most extreme. It’s too potent for most cocktails, and hard to love on first taste. But the spirits world is unpredictable: if Jagermeister could be a hit, why not Fernet Branca? In Argentina they mix it with Coke; wait ’til Americans discover that. Imported by Infinium Spirits (Wilson Daniels). 


Lucano was created in 1894 by a pastry chef. Just six years later, it became the official amaro of the last royal family of Italy. Smooth and initially a little sweet, its complex herbs unfold on the finish; 28% ABV. It’s easy to imagine sipping this and thinking “Damn that Mussolini!” Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates. 

Good News For a Change?

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Common-sense efforts by our industry have truly worked.


Yes, and that is welcome news for our entire industry! The study was taken from the most recent National Roadside Survey for the years 2013-’14. From 1973 to 2013-’14, there was an 80% reduction in the percentage of alcohol-impaired (.08+) drivers on the road during weekend nights (from 7.5% to 1.5%). 

In fact, there has been a substantial decrease in the percentage of drivers who were alcohol positive (i.e., had any amount of alcohol in their system) from 1973 (35.9%) to 2013-2014 (8.3%).

This is a direct result of the coordinated and sustained common-sense efforts by the entire alcohol industry to produce, distribute, market and sell all alcoholic beverages both on- and off-premise in a responsible manner. I say “kudos” to every member of our industry advocating and preaching the importance of supporting responsible business practices that support public safety while improving the general welfare of our communities. This was the fifth National Roadside Survey release since 1973 and the overall trend over the course of the last 40 years is continuous and consistent. 

As we move forward with the 114th Congress, let us hope that the above study will support our coordinated industry effort to quash last year’s recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to lower the national BAC level from .08 to .05 for driving under the influence. Such a change would make it criminal for many of us to drive after consuming a single alcoholic beverage! We know the real problem the NTSB needs to address is the hardcore repeat offender whose alcohol BAC level exceeds 1.5%.

These offenders have given our industry a black-eye and are directly responsible for the vast majority of all fatal alcohol related crashes. Clearly, the above study shows that the current .08 BAC level coupled with a proactive industry equals a working public policy, and we strongly feel that the time has come for our industry to call for harsher penalties, including mandatory ignition interlocks for recidivists and higher BAC-level offenders.

The study was released in February by the “Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility” (previously known as the Century Council) that you can check out at


Once again, we are returning to Royce Brook Golf Club, located at 201 Hamilton Road, Hillsborough (Somerset County), where we will be utilizing both the East and West 18 hole courses. Our cut-off will be 200 golfers, so please do not delay in signing up and remember if you do not golf that you can always participate with this event by attending our dinner reception, which is always the highlight of the day.

Please support our annual golf outing by participating with this event that has sold out for the last three years! Our NJLSA-PAC Golf Outing Committee includes NJLSA Directors Bruce Hamilton, George Wolfson, Mike Maro, Sunny Patel and NJLSA President Juan Negrin. Refer to our advertisement on the opposite page or go to our website at for more information and/or to register!

Tipping Points

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Tips can be complicated; here’s a brief refresher guide.

Recently the NJRA has received numerous questions about tips. Below is some information from the DOL’s Wage and Hour Fact Sheet.

* Tip Pool: The requirement that an employee must retain all tips does not preclude a valid tip pooling or sharing arrangement among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel (who serve customers), bussers and service bartenders. A tip pool may not include employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors.

* Dual Jobs: When an employee is employed by one employer in both a tipped and a non-tipped occupation, such as someone employed both as a maintenance person and a server, the tip credit is available only for the hours spent by the employee in the tipped occupation. The FLSA permits an employer to take the tip credit for some time that the tipped employee spends in duties related to the tipped occupation, even though such duties are not by themselves directed toward producing tips. For example, a server who spends some time cleaning and setting tables, making coffee, and occasionally washing dishes or glasses is considered to be engaged in a tipped occupation even though these duties are not tip-producing. However, where a tipped employee spends a substantial amount of time (in excess of 20% in the workweek) performing related duties, no tip credit may be taken for the time spent in such duties.

* Service Charge: A compulsory charge for service, for example 15% of the bill, is not a tip.  Such charges are part of the employer’s gross receipts.  Sums distributed to employees from service charges cannot be counted as tips received, but may be used to satisfy the employer’s minimum wage and overtime obligations under the FLSA. If any employee receives tips in addition to the compulsory service charge, those tips may be considered in determining whether the employee is a tipped employee and in the application of the tip credit.

* Credit Cards: Where tips are charged on a credit card and the employer must pay the credit card company a percentage on each sale; the employer may pay the employee the tip, minus that percentage. For example, where a credit card company charges an employer 3% on all sales charged to its credit service, the employer may pay the tipped employee 97% of the tips without violating the FLSA. However, this charge on the tip may not reduce the employee’s wage below the required.


I can’t encourage you enough to sign up for our Key Advocate program. This program puts you in direct contact with your legislator to express your concerns and issues about the pending “Mandatory Paid Leave” legislation. Please contact me directly at There is no fee or charge to participate. We will provide you with talking points and a sample letter to send to your representatives. 


In the next few months, there will be some major changes in the AHCA.  We will try to keep you as updated as possible. Previously, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury explained that HRAs and employer payment plans cannot reimburse individual policies. On November 6, 2014, the Departments issued a set of FAQs which made clear that: An employer cannot offer employees cash to reimburse the purchase of an individual policy, without regard to whether the employer treats the money as pre-tax or post-tax to the employee. Such an arrangement may be subject to a $100/day excise tax per applicable employee. Visit us at for more details regarding AHCA. 

Allied Beverage Group Donates to Community Food Bank

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Allied Beverage Group donated proceeds from their Employee Wine Sale to Community Food Bank of New Jersey. With six regional branches throughout the state, Community Food Bank fights hunger and poverty in New Jersey, assisting those in need and seeking long-term solutions.

Carmen Genaro, Allied Beverage Group; and Evelyn Benton, Southern Branch Community Food Bank of New Jersey

Allied Beverage Group and Empson USA Hold Italian Wine Camp

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Mike Conroy, COO, Martha Vicedomini, Sales Support Manager, and David Bentley, Regional Manager NJ/PA of Empson USA partnered with the Allied Beverage Fine Wine team to bring an intensive day of Italian wine training to the Allied Beverage Group sales representatives and managers.

Ranjan Srinivasan, Allied Beverage Group; Gloria Rivera, ABG; Art Schneier, ABG; Mark Cartwright, ABG; Stacy Auch, ABG; Tom Frain, ABG; Rose Sangiovanni, ABG; Michelle Smealie, ABG; Rodney Rose, ABG; Mike Conroy, Empson USA; Rick Weinstein, ABG; Karl Hillringhouse, ABG; Shawn Kelly, ABG; Pat Luongo, ABG; Herb Lokan, ABG; Bob Hanneman, ABG; Chris Asay, ABG; Mike Desarno, ABG; Patricia Sullivan, ABG; Rich Brown, ABG; Larry Laskey, ABG; Will Hefferle, ABG; Martha Vicedomini, Empson USA; David Bentley, Empson USA; Maggie Maxwell, ABG; Sean Woods, ABG; Albert Estrella, ABG; and Ken Woodin, ABG

Imperial Brands and Opici Launch Kerrygold Irish Cream in New Jersey

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Imperial Brands and Opici Family Distributing launched Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur at Macaluso’s in Hawthorne on February 6th. Kerrygold Irish Cream is made with natural Irish cream, aged Irish whiskey, and luxurious chocolate.

Ryan Radecki, Imperial Brands; David Bitran, Imperial Brands; Paul Bradley, Irish Dairy Board; Brad Coughlin, Imperial Brands; Danielle Copeland, Imperial Brands; Dave Barna, Opici Family Distributing; Nicolas Guillant, Imperial Brands; Fergal McGarry, Irish Dairy Board; Dina Opici, Opici Family Distributing; Jessica Starter, Imperial Brands; Howard Bernstein, Imperial Brands; and Ronan Gillespie, Irish Dairy Board

Terlato Launches Two New Wines from Lodi

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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The Gateway Perrone Division of Fedway Associates teams enjoyed a fun-filled night at the recent line extension launch of The Federalist Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, held at Pierre’s of South Brunswick.

Jonathan Hoffman, Fedway; Joseph Surdo, Gateway Perrone; Frank Panicali, Fedway; Christina Conti, Terlato Wines International; James Challice, Terlato Wines International; Patrick Taylor, Terlato Wines International; William Buckley, Gateway Perrone

Fedway Associates Welcomes Jacob’s Creek Chief Winemaker

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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On February 12th, 2015 Fedway welcomed Bernard Hickin, Chief Winemaker for Jacob’s Creek, for a presentation of “Two Lands By Jacob’s Creek.” Fedway was the first distributor in the country to launch this highly touted new project, a collaboration between Hickin and renowned California Winemaker Ehren Jordan (Joseph Phelps, Turley and Failla).

Vito Capurso, Pernod Ricard Wines & Champagne; Barry Cohen, Pernod Ricard Wines & Champagne; Bernard Hickin, Jacob’s Creek; Michael Lipman, Fedway; Barnaby Hawken, Pernod Ricard Wines & Champagne NJ/PA/DE; and Frank Panicali, Fedway

Lauber Selections Award Meeting

Posted on | February 24, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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On January 9th, Lauber Selections, a division of Fedway Associates, held its annual sales award meeting at the corporate office in Basking Ridge. Lauber’s John Bengivenni and Bill Swenarton along with Frank Panicali, Fedway’s Senior VP, Director of Wine Operations, presented all of the awards. Outstanding Sales Performance of the Year award went to Rob McNeil, and Sales Representative of the Year went to Ari Weintraub. The TASC awards went to Dave Verhoff, Denise Palermo, and John Dietrich.



Bill Swenarton, Lauber Selections

John Bengivenni, Lauber Selections; Denise Palermo, TASC, Lauber Selections; Frank Panicali, Fedway; Keith Bader,
Lauber Selections; Bill Swenarton, Lauber Selections; Bryan Lindh, Rookie of the Year; David MacDonald, Outstanding
Business Development, Lauber Selections

John Bengivenni; Lori Brescia, Outstanding Business Development, Lauber Selections; Frank Panicali; Ari Weintraub, Salesperson of the year, Lauber Selections; Bill Swenarton; Dave Verhoff, TASC, Lauber Selections; Roberto Rosenfeld, Lauber Selections.

John Bengivenni; Ari Weintraub; Rob McNeil, Outstanding Performance Award, Lauber Selections; Bill Swenarton,
Lauber Selections

Frank Panicali, Fedway

John Bengivenni; Rich Levin, Lauber Selections; Tim Dietrich, TASC, Lauber Selections; Frank Panicali; Anne Shea, Rookie of the Year, Lauber Selections; Bill Swenarton; Chin Vaghela, Outstanding Business Development, Lauber Selections; Rob McNeil

Still Going Strong

Posted on | February 23, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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On the 40th anniversary of White Zin, iconic Sutter Home remains more relevant than ever.

Many historic brands have ridden the wave of America’s booming wine consumption, as the U.S. has catapulted its way to first place among all wine-consuming nations in the world. Yet few brands have been as instrumental in creating that boom as Sutter Home.

“It started in 1972,” recalls Roger Trinchero, CEO, Trinchero Family Estates. “While trying to make a more intense red Zinfandel, my brother Bob removed some free run juice before fermentation. The almost clear juice was fermented separately and the result was the first White Zinfandel wine.” That “stuck fermentation” was poured only at the tasting room at first, where it became a surprise hit; 1975 was the year it went national and was credited with changing the way Americans consume wine.

Vital & Growing 

Fast-forward four decades and Sutter Home remains one of the best-selling wine brands in the world, with a portfolio of 21 different varieties. “One of the reasons this brand is so strong is that it succeeded in taking some of the mystery out of wine for the consumer,” explains Bob Torkelson, President, Trinchero Family Estates. “Sutter Home has enormous power with consumers, who remain very committed to it as a go-to brand.”

Some in the trade may seem to detect a softening in Sutter Home, Torkelson admits, yet the reality is quite the opposite: “As categories like White Zinfandel or Moscato become soft, there is a perception that Sutter Home sales are down, but with varieties like Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Chardonnay, we continue to gain share. Across the franchise, we are incredibly strong and growing.”

And don’t be too quick to dismiss White Zin, he adds; although it’s not increasing, it remains a massive category. “The White Zinfandel space is very consolidated as there are just a few players. For those of us still left, it’s a very big business,” Torkelson says.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

While the accidental invention of White Zinfandel might be seen as a lucky break (internally, it’s referred to as “the Divine Intervention”), Sutter Home’s track record is a testament to over-delivering on quality and quickly responding to the changing needs of the evolving wine consumer.

Sutter Home Moscato kick-started the Moscato craze, and not only was the brand the first-to-market with flavored Moscatos, Sutter Home remains a top-three brand in Moscato, Pink Moscato and Red Moscato. The company helped build the Sweet Red category, and has just released a dry Sutter Home Red Blend with a bold new package. “The red blend category is on fire, growing six times as fast as the wine category overall, up 17% since last year,” says Torkelson. “We are hoping to replicate what we have seen with Ménage à Trois Midnight for Sutter Home.”

The undisputed king of single-serve, Sutter Home pioneered and now dominates the 187ml business with over 50% market share. “Over time we have seen a shift in the way that people use wine, and a migration towards portability,” Torkelson shares. This spring, Sutter Home will unveil its first 500ml in Tetra Pak, which is seen partly as a way to protect the company’s 187ml business, as well as open up the category to  younger drinkers. 

“We help to encourage wine consumption in places or situations where wine isn’t typically there,” Torkelson says of the brand’s underlying strategy. In addition to innovation, this means running relevant programs that help the retailer sell more wine, like tailgating-themed merchandising programs, and the wildly successful Build a Better Burger contest, now in
its 25th year.

With sights set firmly on the future, Trinchero will take a moment to look back this summer to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of White Zinfandel. Look for a limited-edition label to commemorate the birthday. “It’s important for us to remind the consumer that we are an authentic brand—we are the original,” says Torkelson. Brands that can evolve with the times are the ones that will endure, he adds: “We must grow where the consumer is at. If we can do that, and deliver more quality for the dollar, the brand will thrive for many decades to come.” 

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