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Dueling Vermouth Anniversary Releases
Posted: July 26, 2013
One hundred and fifty years or two hundred years, either is a monumental anniversary for any company. When these anniversaries occur at the same time, it's a celebratory convergence of epic proportions. Which is exactly what the maker of Martini & Rossi and Noilly Prat vermouth is now experiencing. So it rose to the occasion with a memorable limited-edition release from each.
Martini, at 150 years, has just introduced its Gran Lusso (or grand luxury) vermouth, a small batch version (only 150,000 one-liter bottles) eight years in the making. The 200-year-old Noilly Prat is releasing its Ambre, a version that straddles the color spectrum between white and red and was previously only available to those who made the journey to its home in Marseillan, France.
Tandem debuts from the aperitif giant heat up a vermouth market that is already on fire with a group of New World makers coming on the scene and some Old World examples arriving in the United States for the first time.
The cocktail cultural revolution has been at that the heart of the vermouth resurgence, and Guiseppe Gallo, brand ambassador of Martini, says the Gran Lusso came about because the company decided "Let's give a gift to the mixology world."
The Lusso resurrects a recipe from the era of the company's founding—1863—that harks to a more bitter, quinine-styled vermouth. But, Gallo says, had they replicated it exactly it would have been undrinkable by modern standards. Instead, he says, they brought modern techniques to bear. And the result is a stellar matchup of sweet and dry flavors.
Some of the botanicals include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, thyme, French lavender and day-rose buds. It also includes something secretively called Extract 94, which has been aging in demijohns for more than eight years. Gallo says that it was one of many experiments that the company is forever conducting, and it serendipitously came to maturity at the time of the big celebration.
The Noilly Prat Ambre, on the other hand, is made from a blend of white wines and takes its color from barrel aging and the botanical mixture that informs the flavor. The vermouth enjoys some 49 different botanicals, making it more than twice as complex as the dry, white version of Noilly Prat.
Botanicals include cloves, cocoa bean, saffron, quinine, cardamom, lavender and vanilla. The effect is a much sweeter incarnation of the white. It's also much more sippable outside the context of a cocktail.
Martini Gran Lusso (32 proof, or 16 percent alcohol by volume, $30 for a one-liter bottle): In marked contrast to the brownish tint of many red vermouths, this has a vibrant ruby color that is very wine like. Next, you'll be gripped by the exquisite mixture of tart and sweet that plays on the palate. A round of floral notes—rose and lavender—are always present, but being hoisted by bitter notes that keep it from becoming cloying. Honey counters quinine, grape juice balances cinnamon. And then—from somewhere far away—comes this hint of grapefruit with bitter almonds that makes you rethink it all over again.
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