Sunday, March 10, 2013

Punt e Mes - A Classic Red Vermouth

A benchmark Italian red vermouth that is both (thrice?) pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet, and completely delicious.  The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano's bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.  Punt e Mes was made by the Carpano family in Turin until 2001, when Distillerie Fratelli Branca of Milan bought it. Punt e Mes is vermouth in its finest form.  I enjoy it by itself with an orange peel and a single, 2 inch craft-cocktail ice cube.  It also adds polish to a wide variety of classic cocktails.  The label looks like a funky 1960's Italian movie poster.  Could easily form the foundation of a vermouth bar concept that I am currently seeking investors for.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Di Giovanna Grillo (Sicilia) 2009

A delicious everyday white from Di Giovanna, a 100 hectare (56 under vine) organic estate located almost at Sicily’s geographic center, above the city of Sambuca.  The winery is run by fifth generation brothers Gunther and Klaus Di Giovanna (Sicilian father/German mother).  The wine is 100% Grillo-a variety in the past used to be blended with Chardonnay or Inzolia but here proves that it can stand all on its own. Aromas of pineapple, peaches and grapefruit (watch your drug interactions) Stainless steel fermentation and aging.  Brilliant acidity.  Goes well with anything you would squeeze a lemon on. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hail Bianco Vermouth - The Astoria Vecchio Cocktail

In February of last year, Jason Wilson of the Washington Post wrote about white vermouth and its place in the craft cocktail movement.  In this "blogarized" post, I add to Mr. Wilson's thoughts.

Real cocktail drinkers know that no ingredient is more important to a well made cocktail than vermouth. Vermouth is what the icing is to the cake, the top hat to the tails, the bow tie to the schnug; it’s what makes a craft cocktail worth your time. It’s also an ingredient that bartenders, both professional and at home, are taking better care of; treating it as a wine that must be refrigerated and is best used within a few weeks. Consequently, more people are sipping martinis with a good portion of dry vermouth rather than “very very dry” (otherwise known as a glass of gin), and with more higher-end sweet vermouths on the market, Manhattans and Negronis have never been better.

With vermouth awareness at its highest level since before Prohibition, a third member of the vermouth family still, however, doesn’t get much attention. Everyone knows dry and sweet vermouths and their many uses, but a mystery to most drinkers is the vermouth known as bianco (if it’s Italian) or blanc (if it’s French); i.e. “white” vermouth.

Not that white vermouth is anything new. Martini has been making its bianco vermouth since about 1910. In Italy, bianco is the most popular vermouth by far, and accounts for more than half of Martini’s production. Go to any bar at happy hour, and you’ll see Italian young people ordering bianco vermouth on the rocks, with a twist of lemon. In the United States, however, many liquor stores don’t even carry a white vermouth.

The difference between dry and white vermouth is significant. White vermouth has distinct aromas of thyme and oregano and notes of cloves and vanilla, striking a unique balance between sweet and savory. Many foolishly use dry vermouth when a recipe calls for bianco/blanc/white vermouth -- perish the thought.

A terrific use of white vermouth is the Astoria Vecchio, a twist on the classic early 20th century Astoria cocktail which uses white vermouth (I prefer Dolin) instead of dry and changes the gin to genever, a Dutch precursor to gin with a malt wine base, or Old Tom gin, a malty style prevalent in the 19th century -- especially a barrel-aged Old Tom such as Ransom, from Oregon (my preference).

Astoria Vecchio
1 serving


2 1/2 ounces genever or Old Tom gin
1 ounce white vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Twist of orange peel, for garnish


Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the gin, vermouth and bitters. Stir for the appropriate craft cocktail time and in the appropriate craft cocktail manner, then strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the twist of orange peel. Repeat as necessary.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rivera Preludio N. 1 (2011) Puglia

A stunner from Azienda Vinicola Rivera, one of Puglia's top estates.  Family owned since the early 1900's, the 95 hectare estate pumps out over one million bottles of southern Italian wines a year.  The estate is located in the Castel del Monte D.O.C which covers all the areas of the Alta Murgia that slope down towards the Adriatic, including two that share the same Mediterranean climate but are quite different in soil types and landscape.  The D.O.C. is dominated by the Castel del Monte, an octagonal shaped castle built in 1240 by emperor Frederik II of Swabia (and where canned peas were thought to have originated).  In addition to growing traditional Puglian varietals, in the 1980's the founders grandson, Carlo de Corato,  introduced Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay into the estates vineyards.  De Corato believed that Chardonnay planted in a Mediterranean climate demonstrates warm, nuanced characteristics that enrich those traditional to the French variety.  The Chardonnay grapes for Preludio N. 1 are picked between the first and second week of August.  The wine matures on the fine lees for 3-4 months to develop complexity and aromatic richness.  The wine is released in the spring following harvest.  Deep straw yellow; rich, complex nose, with crisp, fruity aromas of pear and peach blossom; clean and refreshing on the palate, with a rich finish.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pojere e Sandri Vigna Palai (2010) Trentino

A delicious Italian white from Pojere e Sandri, a small winery/distillery located in the alpine village of Faedo that was founded in 1975 by Fiorentino Sandri and his winemaker friend Mario Pojer. The wine is 100% Müller Thurga, a variety found throughout Italy that is thought to be a sub-variety of the Riesling grape. In order to preserve the delicate aromatic characteristic of the grape, they are worked in iperriduction (no oxygen); a proprietary technique using methodologies developed by Pojer & Sandri. Pale straw/yellow with greenish tint. Intensely aromatic nose with hints of peach and citrus. All of the labels on their wines feature the work of German-born, Renaissance-era painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Proprieta Sperino Rosa del Rosa (2011) Piemonte

A summer fling from Proprieta Sperino, a winery located northeast of Turin in Lessona.  The estate was inherited by the De Marchi family in the middle of the 19th century that produced wine until 1952.  In the late 1990's Paolo De Marchi and his son Luca, began reclaiming the 25 acres of hillside vineyards by reclaiming the old Nebbiolo, and the ingigenous Vespolina and Croatina.  The 2011 Rosa del Rosa is made entirely in stainless from 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina.  A terrific rose wine with bright red berry fruit on the nose and palate.  Delicious.  Old-school looking label.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cecilia Beretta Brognoligo (2010) Veneto

A delicious summer white from Cecilia Beretta, a family owned post-war winery that began to step up its wine making in the early 1980's.  The name originates from the splendid Beretta Villa, built in the seventh century by the count Giuseppe Beretta, former mayor of the city of Verona, agronomist and rural poet(?).  The Pasqua family produce about 200,000 bottle of wine a year on 220 acres of vineyards (134 acres are owned by the Pasqua family, and 86 acres that belong to growers under cooperative contracts) that are located in the Valpolicella area surrounding Soave.  The 2010 Soave Classico is 85% Garganega and 15% Chardonnay.  Fermented and aged in stainless.  Sparkling, straw yellow in color with just a tinge of green. Floral nose of apple and apricot.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cascina degli Ulivi Semplicemente Bianco (2010) Tuscany

A semplicemente Italian white wine from Cascina degli Ulivi, a twenty hectare family owned biodynamic winery.  The estate has been in the Bellotti family since the 1930's and is now run by Stefano Bellotti and his wife Zita.  The Semplicemente wines are the newest of Cascina degli Ulivi's wines.  In a 2011 interview, Stefano stated that his Semplicemente red and whites, "Are just wine, you don't need to worry about the region, the varietal, the nose, or whatever."  Stefano said that when you do this, "You are intellectualizing wine, and wine doesn't give a shit about being intellectual; you bring wine to the table and you don't think about it, you just drink it - that's it."  100% Cortese.  Half fermented in eleven ton oak vats and half fermented in stainless.  Aged 3-6 months in oak vats.  Clear bottle.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In the Pink - The Jasmine Cocktail

A terrific summer cocktail created in the 1990's by master bartender Paul Harrington for Matt Jasmine, a regular customer of Emeryville, California's Townhouse Bar and Grill.  The drink was inspired by the classic Prohibition cocktail, the Pegu, the signature drink of Burma's Pegu Club.  Like the Pegu, Harrington used gin as the base spirit, but substituted lemon for the lime and Campari for the bitters.  Manly pink in color.  The lemon and Cointreau counter the bitterness of the Campari and balance the drink nicely.  The recipe for a Jasmine is as follows:  combine 1.5 oz. gin (I prefer Plymouth), .25 oz. Cointreau, .25 oz. Campari, and .75 oz. lemon juice.  Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy with abandon.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Giacomo Mori Chianti (2009) Tuscany

A absolutely delicious Chianti from Giacomo Mori, a small (10 hectares producing 40,000 bottles annually) family-owned owned estate that was established in 1790. The "Azienda Agricola Mori" was one of the first estates that started marketing wine in Europe and in the United States. After the second World War, Mori's wines were sold in bulk until 1998 when Giacomo Mori restructured the cellars and replanted the vineyards to produce the fine wines that are offered today.  Integrated/sustainable viticulture.  Fermented in stainless, the wine is matured for 10-12 months in large Slavonian and Allier casks, tonneaux and third use barriques.  The wine is then blended and finished en botti for another 3-6 months.  95% Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo.  Beautiful purple color.  Black cherry nose.  Medium body; smooth, long, elegant finish.  Typographically stunning label.  Even the foil on the bottle looks great.