Vermouth: Behind the Enigma

26 March, 2014

‘Hot’ launches

To support Duff, Gallo and Regan’s claim that vermouth is ‘hot’ there are two launches in a sector not renowned for product innovation and development.

Firstly, EWG Spirits & Wine launched last month (January) in London. EWG says La Quintinye Vermouth Royal was “born in the heart of the vineyards of Charente, France, and made using the finest ingredients including Pineau des Charentes” and takes its name from Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinye, botanist to Louis XIV, the Sun King. Born in 1623 in the Charente region, he was commissioned in the early 1660s to create the Kitchen Gardens at the Palace of Versailles. 

While the wine base of La Quintinye Extra-Dry and Blanc uses white Pineau des Charentes, La Quintinye Rouge blends red Pineau des Charentes, providing the amber hue. The Pineau des Charentes provides fullness and intensity through its aromas, which are balanced with the bitterness of the plants. 

The ‘aromatic palette’ is said to comprise a base of 12 plants and spices shared by the three products. Each is then completed by a specific selection. In total, 28 plants and spices compose La Quintinye Rouge, 18 make the Blanc variety and 27 are used in La Quintinye Extra Dry. 

Mancino vermouth from bartender and founder Giancarlo Mancino is described as an ‘artisanal vermouth’. There are three core vermouths in the range – a Secco, Bianco Ambrato, Rosso Amaranto – and a Vecchio, a year-old aged version of the Rosso Ameranto, available in small quantities.

Mancino says the recipes are made from a selection of up to 40 botanicals which he sourced over four years of research and travel in India, Thailand, Vietnam, England and Italy. 

The botanicals are ground in a traditional mill that has been in use since the 1930s. The extracts are then steeped in 30% abv sugar beet spirit before being added to a 12% abv Trebbiano di Romagna wine base. After a week-long filtration process, the liquid is said to spend six months resting in stainless steel until the vermouth is ready for bottling in small batches.

From the shape of the bottle to the image of the town surrounded by King Vittorio Emanuele gold coins pictured on the label, Mancino Vermouth takes inspiration from Mancino’s home town of Pignola in southern Italy.

Where does he hope to sell his vermouth? Mancino says: “For sure Asia and America are growing fast but Europe remains in first in the list.”

“Spain, Italy and Argentina remain the main countries where vermouths have been drinking straight for the past 100 years and there are places where you can go to drink vermouths only.

“Dry/Secco is very popular in the Martinis and a few more classic cocktails. The Bianco is used as an aperitif in southern Europe and also in some cocktails, and the Rosso is massive because we use it in at least 65% of the top classic cocktails recipes,” says Mancino.

We mustn’t forget Martini’s Gran Lusso which was launched to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary.

Meaning ‘grand luxury’ in Italian, it is a single-batch vermouth which apparently has been eight years in the making and is limited to 150,000 bottles worldwide.

Master herbalist Ivano Tonutti and master blender Giuseppe Musso have used Barbera red wine from the Piedmont region of northern Italy and Trebbiano white wine from neighboring Emilia-Romagna.

Gran Lusso is said to combine two extracts. The first was inspired by an historical vermouth recipe. This new extract was made with Moscato must from Canelli Italy, which had been aged for a year in wood barrels. The second is the company’s ‘great secret’. The recreation of a 1904 recipe, known as ‘extract 94’, it is the first botanical extract to rest in small demijohns for eight years.

The ‘master artisans’ are said to have created a new method of extracting the character of the botanicals. Their ambition was to create an original, ‘sweet-bitter’ taste that would add to the character of the blend.

Gaz Regan concludes: “Vermouth was the late 19th-century game changer that altered the face of mixology over a century ago, and continues to be the most important ingredient in the cocktail bartender’s bag of tricks. 

“Without it we wouldn’t know the heavenly delights of the Martini, the Manhattan, or the Negroni. Vermouth is the one ingredient, common in so many fabulous drinks, that doesn’t scream for attention, but it’s integral to achieve balance in so many classic drinks, and so many new creations, too.”

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