Thursday, November 21, 2013

:: martini gran lusso tasting ::

Last night, I was invited to a vermouth tasting event at the Hawthorne hosted by Jackson Cannon and Colin Asare-Appiah, alumni of London's LAB bar and now with Bacardi. The night began with a discussion of the classical and modern roles of vermouth as a stand alone and as a cocktail ingredient and moved on to a tasting of 10 vermouths similar to the Demystifying Vermouth seminar at Portland Cocktail Week. The tasting ended with vermouth #10, Martini Gran Lusso, Martini & Rossi's 150th anniversary vermouth. Instead of using solely white Trebbiano wine as they do for all their other vermouths, they added in red Barbera wine to give rich flavors and a red instead of brown hue to the vermouth (the brown hue is often associated with caramel coloring). Part of the botanical mix comes from a blend developed in 1904 that undergoes a long rest in wood before an 8 year mellowing in glass demijohns. Gentian, African aloe, and dittany (related to oregano) were three of the botanicals that were revealed. Clearly, the process is time intensive and most likely not very sustainable, so this release is rather limited at 150,000 bottles. DrinkUpNY has the product priced around $30.

The concept of vermouth as a cocktail modifier alone was questioned. When a customer asks for a Manhattan, instead of asking "rye or Bourbon?" and "Up, down, or on the rocks?", perhaps asking what vermouth they would like to have used. As was demonstrated from the tasting, vermouths of each type vary widely and the balance of the drink needs to be altered accordingly. For example, Carpano Antica is a beast of a vermouth and needs to be used more sparingly that Cinzano or Martini & Rossi, whereas the more delicate Dolin Rouge needs to be used in more abundance. Since vermouths need to be kept fresh, having too many open bottles of vermouth at a bar can be an issue. Placing open dates, not marrying bottles of different vintages, and tasting old bottles will keep the product within healthy guidelines. However, figuring out ways to increase vermouth use will help keep the rate of opening fresh bottles frequent. One way is to have plenty of drinks on the menu that utilize vermouths. Another is to drink it straight, and Jackson brought up the point that the barbacks at Eastern Standard were often required to drink the remainders of vermouth bottles as part of their shift drink. Personally, the art of the aperitif is my favorite way, and the Half Sinner-Half Saint favored by Rendezvous' Scott Holliday is my preferred go-to at home or for guests at the bar. Moreover, vermouths are not just for aperitifs. While the bitter notes from the botanicals are great for getting the gastric juices flowing to prepare the digestive track for food, many of them also help to settle the stomach.

Without further ado, here are my tasting notes:
1: Martini & Rossi Dry. Trebbiano wine, artemisia (wormwood), oregano thyme, dittany. Despite being called dry, it is not all that dry. Jackson referred to this one as a fully-balanced bottled cocktail.
2: Noilly Extra Dry. Straw color all from aging for over 1 year in barrels. Smell is floral with honeysuckle notes, apple, unripened strawberries, and carrot. Taste is very vegetal and reminiscent of oysters due to the salinity. The aging also donates some oxidative notes. Produced near the fishing port of Marseillan, this vermouth is often paired with oysters.
3: Dolin Dry. Based on an 1827 recipe. The clear-colored vermouth has granny smith apple, lemon, nut oils, and white peach aromas, while the taste has great acidity and low wormwood. It is evident that a lot of love went into the wine. Jackson pointed out that the aromatics here can be lost in cocktails and a 2:1 ratio might be necessary. It is a restrained style that was meant to be drunk alone and has less of history with cocktails.
4: Martini & Rossi Bianco. Developed in the early 1900s and created for women once they were allowed to drink in public. The smell is vanilla cream, cinnamon, angel food cake, oregano, thyme, and dittany. The style has a rather high sugar content.
5: Eastern Standard Rose. Made on a stove in a kitchen instead of more traditional ways. Ripe fruit forward due to the Spanish grenache wine base and the strawberry maceration. The vermouth contains wormwood in a very traditional style and the bitterness can really help to balance the rather fruit forwardness of the ingredients.
History of Eastern Standard's vermouth program: It began when Mayur Subbarao, now of Amor & Amargo, drove up to Boston and cooked up vermouths in an informal vermouth class held in an apartment's kitchen in Somerville, MA. He made and taught recipes for replicas of Carpano Antica and Noilly Prat Amber, two vermouths that were not available at the time in the United States. Some of these techniques were discussed at the Vermouth Tasting and Making Class held by Tom Schlessinger-Guidelli at Craigie on Main in early 2009. Jackson was interesting in duplicating Martini & Rossi's Rose which was also not imported at the time. With Mayur's help, they were able to replicate the product; while not an exact match, it is rather delightful on its own or in cocktails like the Frobisher.
6: Martini & Rossi Sweet. White wine is still the base here with caramel color added. The caramel is not added for sweetness; instead the sweetness comes from cane sugar. The tasting notes are reminiscent of pizza with oregano and thyme. Kola nut, unsweetened chocolate, cherry, bitter honey, and overly ripe plum were also mentioned.
7: Noilly Prat Rouge. Noilly's answer to Martini & Rossi's sweet vermouth; created in the early 1900s. Drier finish than the Martini & Rossi.
8: Dolin Rouge. Smell has sarsaparilla, root beer, thyme, fig, and wintergreen; similar to Martini & Rossi but more raw. The taste has grapefruit, orange, and apple notes with not a lot of bitter notes and a somewhat port-like feel.
9: Carpano Antica. Nose shares Coca Cola, vanilla, Necco wafer, Bubble Yum gum aromas. Taste has tea flavors such as rooibos and mint tea, orange, lemon peel, clove, cinnamon, gentian. Very bitter sweet.
10: Martini Gran Lusso. Color is ruby red from the Barbera grapes. The nose displays pineapple, rosemary, star anise, and menthol. The tasting notes were rosemary, thyme, juniper, woodsy pine, hibiscus, lavender, and grassy-wet leaf.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hello Frederic ! I am about to renew my vermouth bottle and wonder if I should exchange my Carpano Antica for Martini Gran Lusso this time. Could the Martini Gran Lusso be used in cocktails calling for Carpano, or are they just too far apart ?