Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Drinking it up on the Amalfi Coast

I have just come back from two weeks on the Amalfi Coast. I had heard that this was a place of special beauty and had long wanted to visit this area for its superb walking routes and stunning vistas. However, I had also heard that this was a foody's paradise; beautiful Neapolitan cuisine (some of the best in Italy), coupled with some amazing local wines and alcoholic drinks. I have not returned disappointed. I have reviewed aspects of the cuisine on my personal blog, but here are some of the highlights from the drinks that I tried whilst I was there:


I suspect most of us have been in an Italian restaurant at some time or other and have been offered a shot of Limoncello at the end of the meal as a digestif. I also suspect that most of us have not exactly thought that after trying it they wanted to go out and buy a bottle of it. 

How'd you like them lemons?
However, Limoncello can be GREAT! The Lemons of Amalfi are the stuff of legends, known locally as Sfusato Amalfitano they are different to any lemon that you have known before. First of all, they can grow to be huge; secondly, they tend to grow in a somewhat irregular shape; but most importantly they taste amazing. They are sweeter than a normal lemon. I scrumped a lemon from a lemon orchard (ok, I know you can't scrump a lemon, but I didn't want to write "stole") and we squeezed some juice from it into a glass of water and then put a slice in - it was just so refreshing! 

At Ravello I tried some Limoncello from an local artisan who explained that most of the stuff that gets exported overseas has a lot of water added to it and is dosed with a lot of alcohol. Their produce, however, was made with pure lemon rind from the Sfusato Amalfitano mixed with alcohol and sugar; no water! When I tasted the two versions side-by-side (she stocked what she referred to as the "commercial" variety, as she said some people preferred it) it was at once apparent that the artisan Limoncello was sharp and sour as well as sweet and fruity, the alcohol was there but it was more of a background warmth. In contrast, the "commercial" produce seemed to be dominated by the alcohol a lot more, making it harsher. You can also notice in the colour contrast between the two, the artisan Limoncello (on the right in the picture) was a lot brighter and clearer, whereas the "commercial" stuff was a  bit darker and cloudier. So I surprised myself in the fact that I did bring a bottle of Limoncello home with me!

Local Wines

I'm a big believer that while you're away somewhere it is very important to make sure you try a drop or two of the local grape. Fortunately in Amalfi this is exceptionally easy to do as they have a number of highly renowned local grapes that although they don't tend to get international recognition certainly have their own charms. I must say that I tried a number of different local wines (better to be safe than sorry...) and found that in general the whites were far superior to the reds. 

It's a hard life...

It may seem odd that so far south in Italy this would be the case, however the dramatic landscape of the coastal area, the vast number of hills (I should know, we walked up most of them) and the cooling sea-breeze actually creates a pretty good environment for making some rather balanced, crisp and refined whites.

So, what did I particularly enjoy? Well, there were two local white grapes that I tried that I will certainly come back to. Firstly, Falanghina - I tried a 2012 from Santiquaranta, Ravello which was bright and clear, with good levels of acidity and a clean finish. I also tried a 2009 Vigna Segreta  from Mustilli, Sant'Agata that had been aged in oak; it had slightly more tropical fruit notes and a touch of vanilla from the oak. Very interesting to see that this grape could age well and develop complexity. Secondly, Greco di Tufo - I tried a 2012 from Feudi di San Gregorio which was zesty and fresh with notes of lemon and melon. It was a light wine, but had a decent body to it thanks to the acidity. An excellent wine to match with sea-food or pasta.

However, the most memorably wines that we tried were the Lacryma Christi wines (which translates as "tears of Christ"), grown from vines on and around the immediate area around Mount Vesuvius. I'm sure we all remember from our GCSE Geography that the soils around volcanoes are particularly fertile and as Vesuvius is the most active volcano in Europe it has some particularly fertile soils around it. I tried a 2012 Lacryma Christi from Vigna Lapillo which was a blend of Coda di Volpe and Falanghina - on the nose it was quite restrained, with little fruit showing, but on the mouth it was transformed and was much more forthcoming; fresh and fruity, strong citrus notes and a decent finish.

Aperol Spritz

So I was sitting in one of the lovely piazzas that one finds all across the Amalfi penninsula when I look over to the table next to me and saw a rather well dressed gentleman sitting in the sun drinking what looked like a bright orange cocktail, with a little umbrella and a piece of fruit in. I must say that I thought he looked a tad ridiculous. I enquired with the waitress as to what he was drinking and was told that it was an Aperol Spritz, a rather beloved drink on the Amalfi Coast of Aperol, Prosecco and Tonic Water. Well, after that I realised that I was going to have to try it myself to see what all the fuss was about.

So, towards the end of the holiday I found myself in the bar at the Vittoria Excelsior Hotel in Sorrento and decided that I better take the plunge. I asked for this drink. To my surprise it was indeed lovely. It was slightly sour with a taste similar to that of Campari, but it also had a slightly sweet note to it. It was also rather refreshing, which I think explains its appeal. It may not look like the most manly drink, but you know what they say, "when in Rome Sorrento"... 




  1. My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Amalfi. On a trek up the thousand or so steps to Pontone we met an elderly gentleman who, after a rather one-sided conversation in Italian, gave us two massive lemons. One had teeth marks in it, but we were astounded by the size of them.

    On reaching Pontone we found a bar and attempted to ask for lemonade in Italian. The grumpy barman, who I suspect didn't like tourists, proceeded to pile massive lemons into a juicer and gave us lemon juice. We gratefully accepted what we were given, drank what we could, and had a good laugh about it whilst continuing our trek. When life gives you lemons...

  2. Haha! Oh James, that is the very best use of that phrase I've ever seen. :-D It seems like Amalfi lemons are much nicer juice-wise than the regular variety? :)

  3. That's a great story James! We climbed up those exact same steps to Pontone - they seemed to go on forever! I found the best use for the Amalfi lemons was to add them to your G&T - divine!!