The world of amaro is vast and ever expanding. Diving into this world leads to many potential detours, whether it’s exploring a specific style like alpino or fernet, or hunting down vintage bottles from the 1960s to experience a taste of the past. Pursuing the “riserva” style of amaro has been a more specialized challenge, as many of these bottles are available only in Italy. But with more imports on the horizon and a growing number of American producers experimenting with their own interpretations of the style, there’s never been a better moment to take the plunge into this particular subset.
In the wine world, the category of riserva is used as an official signifer to describe wine typically made with higher-quality grapes that has undergone a longer aging period, resulting in a wine of greater standing. Italy’s amaro category doesn’t have as many (or any, really) standardized rules. But when you encounter a riserva amaro, you can generally expect an expression that has experienced additional aging, a slightly higher percentage of alcohol by volume, and, in almost every case, a unique bottle and special packaging produced in limited quantities. These riserva offerings also come with a higher price tag, but for fans of amaro, they offer a deeper dive into the category. It’s akin to having a signed first edition of a book from your favorite author on your shelf, but not so rarified that you’ll never pop the cork or twist the cap to actually enjoy with friends.
“A riserva, in my experience, has always been the standard product (or very close to it), from a botanical and process perspective, up until the time it’s, well, not,” says Skip Tognetti, the founder of Seattle’s Letterpress Distilling. “This generally has meant some sort of barrel aging or additional aging, or a different type of barrel if the flagship version of the product is already barreled.” Tognetti also notes that a riserva is, in a literal sense, “reserved”—that is, limited to a smaller production. For Forthave Spirits owners Daniel de la Nuez and Aaron Sing Fox, who recently released their own Reserve 1 Amaro, the key is an additional age denomination. “It has to have more age, and possibly a different production treatment, that can transform an existing product into something very special,” says de la Nuez.
Within the realm of highly coveted “suitcase amaro,” worthy of a treasure hunt, riserva bottles should be at the top of your list. Although the category is still fairly niche, new releases rolling out from Italian legacy brands as well as innovative takes by amaro producers on the domestic front promise that it’s a subcategory worth your attention—and patience. Here are seven amaro riservas worth seeking out. But remember, they’re limited: If you see a bottle, pick it up.