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Tre vermut eccezionali

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It has been great to see artisanal vermouths becoming available in Quebec in recent years, first through the private import channel and now, with the arrival of this Piedmontese paragon (among others), at the SAQ.

The mash-up known as vermouth (vermut in the Turin dialect) has been a thing since at least the 18th century. Originally considered medicinal, the concoction quickly became popular as a digestion-promoting aperitif. During the reign (1831 to 1849) of Carlo Alberto, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy, the royal chef developed a vermouth specially for the famously dyspeptic ruler. After the latter’s demise, the recipe made its way into the hands of a Turin shopkeeper, Tumalin Baracco Bartolomé de Baracho, who named the product after the deceased monarch. Production has continued to this day.

The company explains the production process as follows:

Starting from the base wine, which must be an excellent one. As per the 1837 recipe, we use the DOGC Asti Muscat and the DOGC Caluso Erbaluce, the latter produced in a very limited quantity, almost impossible to find. To this superb base, we add 43 botanical elements: herbs, berries, spices, flowers and fruits selected and infused in 45° alcohol for 40 days. Afterward, we lightly filter the steeping and decant it in Piedmont barrels for approximately 3 to 6 months, regularly testing for the perfect ripening of the matrix before bottling. This Vermut can be tasted similarly to Carlo Alberto’s way who sipped it straight as an aperitif, 10 minutes before meals. Otherwise, it expresses its best characters in cocktails.

At the tasting, the wines were first sampled on their own. Then ice cubes, club soda, tonic water and sliced lemon, lime and orange were set out so the tasters could experiment with various combinations.

Vermut di Torino, Extra-dry, Riserva Carlo Alberto ($32.00, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Flavoured with 21 herbs and spices, including yarrow, ginger, tarragon, coriander seed, gentian and nutmeg. Filtered only once. Plastic stopper cap. Reducing sugar: 60 g/l. 18% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Disconcertingly ashy/smoky along with fresh birch leaf and clove aromas. A couple of days later, the ash was fainter and earthier, leaving more room for a complex bouquet with nuances of green herbs (think tarragon) and bergamot. Unctuous and, residual sugar notwithstanding, coming across as dry. Ash dominates the palate though not to the point of obliterating other flavours. In fact, this seems the deepest of the trio. Lemon pith joins the herb-spice complex on the long, bitter-edged finish. Less appealing on its own than its siblings though lovely in a Cirka gin martini. The Quebec agent says this is normally devoid of ashy aromas and flavours, so ours may have been a slightly off bottle. Still, as one of tasters later wrote “the extra-dry was intriguing to say the least and I was bouncing between ‘wow that’s great’ and ‘wow, that really tastes like ashtray.'” (Buy again? Yes, for investigative purposes and martini-making, if nothing else.)

Vermut di Torino, Bianco, Riserva Carlo Alberto ($32.00, 12928594)
Erbaluce (90%) and Moscato (10%) flavoured with 25 herbs and spices, including wild rose, mandarin, bitter orange, clove, cherry, absinthe and coriander seed. Plastic stopper cap. Reducing sugar: 140 g/l. 18% ABV. Reducing sugar: 140 g/l. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Effusive nose dominated by scents of fennel seed, sap, sweet white spice and honey. Intensely flavoured but delicious and not at all saccharine. Stealth acidity enlivens without disturbing the smooth surface, letting you focus on the kaleidoscopic flavours. A bitter current runs throughout and comes to the fore on the long, spice-laden finish. A little overpowering straight up but a knockout with lemon and tonic. (Buy again? Done!)

Vermut di Torino, Rosso, Riserva Carlo Alberto ($32.00, 12928720)
Erbaluce (90%) and Moscato (10%) flavoured with 27 herbs and spices, including marjoram, saffron, dandelion, rhubarb, nutmeg, vanilla, star anise, tonka bean and carnation. Plastic stopper cap. 18% ABV. Reducing sugar: 60 g/l. Quebec agent: oenopole.
The colour is more brown than red. Impossibly complex nose: gingerbread and molasses, canned mincemeat, cherry, chocolate, a whiff of fennel and more. Soft and semi-sweet in the mouth, the flavours echoing the nose with some old wood in the background. Vivid acidity and a faint tannic bite add interest while a hint of black pepper and that telltale bitterness appear on the long, long finish. In contrast to something like Cinzano, a bit too intense to sip on its own. Better with a splash of club soda (or more than a splash of ginger beer) and a slice of orange. Also makes a killer negroni if used in smaller amounts than most recipes call for. (Buy again? Done!)

MWG September 8, 2016, tasting: flight 6 of 6

Written by carswell

November 4, 2016 at 12:52

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