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Luxardo Sambuca (Passione Nera)

Review: Luxardo Sambuca (Passione Nera)  87/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published June 2014

Luxardo S.P.A. was founded in 1821 in Zara, a port city on the Dalmatian coast of what is now the Republic of Croatia. At the conclusion of World War II and as a consequence of the borders within Europe having been redrawn, the company transferred its holdings to Torreglia in 1947, and has remained an Italian Company, 100% controlled by the founding family. Luxardo is one of the oldest European firms which produce liqueurs, and now almost 200 years after it was established, it remains in the control of the sixth generation of the original Luxardo family.

Passione Nera, (Italian Black Sambuca) is a variation on the traditional Sambuca dei Cesari Luxardo (See review here). Passione Nera is aromatised with liquorice using a recipe which entails multiple levels of successive infusions to blend the different ingredients. The spirit is bottled at 38 % alcohol by volume.

Passione NeraIn the Bottle 4/5

My thoughts on the bottle presentation for Sambuca Passione Nera very closely resemble my comments in my previous review for Luxardo’s Sambuca dei Cesari. Although the presentation looks slightly better coupled with a dark coloured spirit, I still think this presentation is in need of an update.

In the Glass 8.5/10

When I poured the Passione Nera into my glass I noticed that the dark coloured spirit is actually a dark violet colour rather than black. This is most noticeable when you tilt and twirl the spirit as the liquid sheen left on the side of the glass has an unmistakably purplish hue. The aroma from the glass has that same candied black jelly bean aroma  as the Sambuca dei Cesari, however there seems to be additional hints of fruitiness and a hint of undefined spice in the air as well. The Passione Nera does not seem nearly as sweet as the dei Cesari although that may be a subliminal effect of the added complexity.

In the Mouth 53/60

Tasting the Sambuca Passione Nera side by side with the Sambuca dei Cesari confirms to me that the dark Sambuca has a lighter sweetness than the Samubuca dei Cesari. The Passione Nera also has a soft earthiness, and a bit of a spicy bite which was absent in the clear Sambuca. Whereas the Sambuca dei Cesari seemed to be a pure reflection of black jelly bean candy flavour (which was quite delicious), the dark Passion Nera is more complex. Although the dominant flavour is black licorice there are additional layers of spice (cardamom and coriander) and earthy undertones of dry fruit.

In the Throat 13/15

The Sambuca Passione Nera coats the palate and throat with a candied sweet dark licorice, and within that black jelly bean-like flavour is a glowing spiciness of coriander and cardamom that lingers well after the swallow.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

I tasted the Sambuca Passione Nera side by side with the Sambuca dei Cesari as I wrote this review. Although I found both Sambuca liqueurs appealing, my preference when sipping each of them was for the  Sambuca Passione Nera. I believe the spirit’s lingering spices and its underlying earthiness offered me a more rounded and complex after dinner experience. Each of the spirits is welcome on my bar shelf, but I suspect the darker Passione Nera will disappear a little more quickly than its clear counterpart.

You may read some of my other Liqueur Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


 Suggested Recipe

Gravedigger SAM_1181The Grave Digger

2 oz Dark Rum
1/4 oz Sambuca Passione Nera
squeeze of Lemon juice
4 oz Cola
Lemon slice for garnish

Add a lemon Slice to the bottom of a Collins glass
Fill with ice
Add Rum and Sambuca
Fill with cola

Stir & Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


I am sometimes asked what my numbers actually mean. In order to provide clarification, you may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:

70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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