Grapevine & Wine 07/11/2011

The herb macerates. So good!

Like wines, they are aged in barrels for long time periods. They are good after dining for cleaning and perfuming the mouth. These are the true meditation liqueurs

The herbs macerates are almost unknown by the public and neglected by cooks, but they’d deserve more attention at least because they are natural (they don’t contain added aromas, colorants or synthetic molecules), they are very good and versatile (you can do hundreds of different herb combinations) and they have a long history. As a matter of fact they come from the very European and Italian traditional culture: they were created during the middle Ages in the monasteries, depositories of the classical culture, as macerations of medicinal herbs in alcohol for the long term preservation of herb-derived drugs.

Always a matter for herbalists, they have names and a drink culture that provides the use of closed glasses like cognac. The production process starts with the maceration of different carefully selected aromatic herbs (Mentha Piperita, Melissa Officinalis, Glycyrrhiza Glabra, Calamintha Nepeta and many many others) in a water and alcohol solution for a time spanning from few days to many weeks. The maceration extracts the flavoring compounds from the herbs and this is the reason why the pressing stage is so important.
A further ingredient is sugar. On the basis of the sugar content three different bitters categories are made: the semi-refined bitter, with a 25% maximum of sugar on the total volume, the ordinary bitter, with an 8% maximum of sugar, and herbal bitters, with no added sugar.

The filtration process is the same as for wines; and, like wines, the herb macerates age in barrels for a certain amount of time. They are great after dining for cleaning and perfuming the mouth. These are the true meditation liqueurs.

In the past the herb macerated were normally produced with extremely high alcohol gradations. At this regard just take as examples the Centerbe from Abruzzo, the Absinthe from North Europe, the Alpeste or the Genepy. Nowadays the trend is a strong reduction of the alcohol content (typically limited to 30 volumes) and the taste is created by the aromas of the herbs alone.

The evaluation forms for the organoleptic analysis of these products is very similar to the one used for Grappas. The most important analyses concern the olfactory and retro-olfactory characteristics and have three parameter each.
These liqueurs are the product of the handcraft work of artisans which look for the best combinations of herbs, derived from the tradition or new. This allows the herb macerates to be always up-to-date with new trends.
The connections with the local area of production are normally preserved, hence local herbs are usually employed. This is for instance the case of an artisan producer of the Monte Amiata area in Tuscany which produces a limoncello with Lippia Citrodora and not with lemons, which don’t grow in Tuscany.

Employing the local herbs is very important since it distinguish the product from competitors; this is exactly the same as for wine, if it is true that some cultivars give their best in some areas but not in others.
The aromatization by herbs can also take place in wine instead of alcohol, and the products in this case are called enoliti. They were very well known by ancient Greeks and Romans.

di Aurelio Visconti