Liqueur distillers are an inventive bunch. They'll steep almost anything in alcohol to come up with a bracing beverage: fennel, bark, wormwood, even radicchio and artichokes. But how about cookies? That's the key ingredient in a sweet, almond-flavoured liqueur popping up on Ontario shelves. It's called Lazzaroni Amaretto and, if you're a fan of the Italian macaroons called amaretti, you may recognize the name Lazzaroni.
The company got the idea in 1851 to create what was then described as the world's first "liquid cookie." Lazzaroni's amaretti, made with apricot kernels, egg whites and sugar, were crushed and steeped in alcohol, then infused with herbs and extracts. Biscuit booze.
In one of those classic "we were first" tales that seem to prevail in the spirits world, Lazzaroni also claims it launched the amaretto-liqueur category with its cookie syrup. Today's leading brand, Disaronno, with 72 per cent of the Canadian market, begs to differ. Its recipe, based on apricot kernels rather than cookies, purportedly dates back to 1525. That's why the label on the iconic bottle reads "Disaronno Originale."
Both companies are based in the Saronno commune in northern Italy, but there are versions of the liqueur by non-Saronno companies such as Luxardo and Bols. Amaretto can be made with apricot kernels or almonds or both. If you've got a strong sweet tooth, you may prefer Lazzaroni. I happen to like its telltale amaretto cookie essence. But on balance I prefer the less-sweet, slightly more bitter-almond finish of Disaronno, which is a couple of dollars cheaper.
Typically consumed in Europe as a post-meal sip, amaretto works well on the rocks and is versatile in mixed drinks, such as amaretto and orange juice. If you Google "amaretto cocktails," you'll notice many names too risqué to print here. Among the more mainstream inspired concoctions is the Italian margarita, which uses amaretto in place of Triple Sec in the tequila-lime classic. Also decent, if stereotypically named, are the Godfather (two parts scotch to one part amaretto) and Mob Witnesses (amaretto and Dr. Pepper). In fact, if you mix half an ounce or so of amaretto into a lager beer or light ale, you may find it tastes like Dr. Pepper. I call it the Dottore Pepe.
Lazzaroni Amaretto 1851 (Italy)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $31.95
This very sweet, amber-coloured liqueur is rich and syrup-like, though it finds balance in substantial bitterness and a nip of acidity. The flavour of the amaretti used to infuse the 24-per-cent alcohol comes through nicely. Cookies without the crumbs.
Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch 2009 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.99
Full-bodied and full-throttle, this 15-per cent- alcohol red offers up rich blueberry, blackberry and loads of vanilla on a smooth yet juicy frame. It's the Canadian standard-bearer for the robust marechal foch grape and would be a splendid partner for venison or rich stews.
Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc 2010 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $33.95
I love white Côtes du Rhône. That's what this is. The fruit flavours tend to be more neutral and subtle than, say, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Made from marsanne, viognier, bourboulenc and clairette, this topranked example is medium-bodied, with a round, silky feel resolving with a lightly chalky finish and kick of invigorating bitterness. Consider pairing it with roast chicken.
Sol de Andes Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2009 (Chile)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
This full-bodied white delivers a core of ripe, tropical fruit with a good lift of acidity and complex smoky-mineral notes. It would flatter lobster or veal scallopini.
Salcheto Rosso di Montepulciano 2008 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
Here's a full-bodied Tuscan red that puts many Chiantis to shame. Based mainly on the Chianti grape, sangiovese, with some canaiolo and merlot, it was aged entirely in steel rather than oak for exuberant freshness. Dark berry flavour is coated in a blanket of slightly astringent, fine-grained tannins. Roast pork would be a fine match.
Ornellaia Le Volte 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $29.95
A blend of merlot, sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon, it's medium-full-bodied and juicy, with flavours of dark plum, coffee and licorice along with chewy tannins. Suggested match: herb-crusted steak.
Tedeschi Valverde Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
The grapes in this smooth, medium-bodied red taste ever-so-slightly raisin-like, but it's lively, not syrupy, thanks to vigorous acidity. Try it with grilled pork chops or seared duck breast.
Edradour The Distillery Edition 10 Years Old Single Malt (Scotland)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $79.95
A highland malt from the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland, it delivers a big bowlful of cereal-like flavour on a silky, round texture. There's also an uncanny but very pleasant note of Ivory soap on the warm finish (and, no, I didn't taste it in the shower).