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What does vermouth mean to you? What images does this fortified wine conjure? It’s hardly what we’d call a fashionable drink now is it!
Before you start screaming, I am aware that a Martini is a gin and vermouth cocktail, just trying to give some context. The total opposite to cool would be the comedic adverts of the late 70’s, early 80’s featuring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. The five year TV drive examined the numerous ways on how we could spill a Cinzano down Collins’ front. George Clooney did his bit to add some glamour during the mid-noughties with his campaign for Martini. Even so, the notion of a Cinzano, or Martini for that fact, engaging the younger drinker is still well off the mark; after all, the perception being, it’s what your dad drinks!
Restaurateur, Peter Hughes, aims to change this view with his Soho based Italian Trattoria, Mele e Pere, Brewer Street, London. Along with head sommelier, Ed Scothern, they have undertaken the task of re-introducing vermouth to a mass audience by rolling out monthly masterclasses. Commencing this April, the sessions will give paying enthusiasts a two hour journey into vermouth, including some of the history and the different styles, recipes that go to producing this 260 year old libation.
Vermouth is a fortified wine using an Italian white wine base of either Garganega or Trebianno; infused and flavoured with Wormwood and other aromatic herbs and botanicals.
At £15 per person, Scothern will introduce tasters to three styles of Vermouth and a vermouth based cocktail. To accompany these wines a selection of sharing plates; spicy fried Ascolana olives, deep fried squid with smoked aioli and San Daniele ham, are laid out for each wine course.
As each glass is poured, Scothern passes around individual plates of aromatics that are used to flavour the vermouths including; Hysser, Speedwell Flower, Angelica, Rhubarb Root and Gentian, allowing the taster to discern each characteristic from each glass of wine.
First up for tasting is a white wine infused with lemons. The combination of wine and lemons has produced an easy drinking wine; light, distinctive lemon aromas and flavours, surprisingly low in acidity but with an incredible smooth and clean mouthfeel. Very enjoyable and very moreish!
Following on I had the red, well more amber in colour than red but still. The aromatic, botanicals notes were more apparent on the nose and palate; gin, orange and lemon zest flavours, a wine of great character and yet still very fresh and rather nice.
Before the cocktail comes we have the sweetie, the dessert wine. In terms of taste, think of a Tawny Port without those nutty flavours! Instead we have added notes of citrus orange spice. I would categorise this as more a medium sweet wine as opposed to an out and out sweetie. It doesn’t stick but again there is a cool freshness to it. Beautiful!
Finally, the cocktail, The Martinez! Two thirds red vermouth to a third gin. The gin characters are very prevalent on the nose whilst the palate has a slight sweetness to it, yet maintaining a dryness that will have you begging for the summer sun. For the G&T drinkers amongst us, give this a go, it’s a great alternative.
If you are looking for something new and different to do this year, which is also great value for money, then this is ideal. I was taken aback by the quality and level of vermouths tasted. Ed delivers a well thought out session, sharing his passion and expertise for a beverage pretty much ignored. The setting is well laid out and has a vibrant energy to it.
Another thing that stood out for me was the youthfulness of both proprietor and teacher. It’s a young business with young passionate people incorporating an old notion from a traditional, classical continental food source. Don’t be fooled if you walk past Mele e Pere and see it empty from the outside. Wander on in as the party is going on downstairs around the copper bar, everyone’s invited!
Story by me!
Featured in Harpers Wine & Spirit Trades Review Online Industry Blog