Dueling Vermouth Anniversary Releases

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.

Noilly vermouth bottle shot.

Unlike most red vermouths, which are made from white and then take their color from sweetening with caramel, this is a marriage of a single-estate Trebbiano white wine and a Barbera, which supplies the color. Hence the color is novel and the acidity is more forward.

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.

Cocktail suggestions: It would be a shame not to try this first over rocks with the ally of a medium-to-full-body cigar that has plenty of sweet flavor. Then again, a Manhattan and a Rob Roy are clearly made for this. But also try, as the company suggests, an El Presidente. It's a classic rum cocktail, only we substituted Bacardi 8 for the usual white rum to match the body of the Vermouth.

Noilly Prat Ambré (32 proof, or 16 percent alcohol by volume, $24.99 a 750 milliliter bottle): The color follows a truth-in-labeling ethos to a tee, however there is a sense of honey to the hue as well. You're expecting something between Noilly's white and red entrants, but the teeter-totter shifts far closer to the sweet red-especially at first blush. It's a big lush vermouth, but then come nuances of pears, apples, even bananas that gives it texture and substance beyond the honey.

Cocktail suggestions: Again, this just has to be tasted neat or on the rocks while conspiring with a cigar. Go with a lighter-bodied smoke, but not too sweet. The vermouth will provide that. Of course, you'll want to blast off with a Manhattan or Rob Roy. But also consider a Negroni (vermouth, gin and Campari) and the Gin & It cocktail, with the Ambré replacing red vermouth in this Sweet Martini.

We couldn't resist: If you have both products in the same place at the same time, it is a sin not to build a variation on the Perfect Manhattan. In our case: 1 part Ambré, 1 part Gran Lusso, 3 parts Colonel E.H. Taylor straight rye whiskey. I can see again!

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