In Greek and Roman times, aromatized wines were created for health purposes. Leapfrog to the 19th century, when Luigi Rossi learned about herbs from village families and had his own liquor shop in Turin where he supplied botanicals to bigger distilleries. Alessandro Martini was his partner, who traveled the world to ensure global distribution. And so, one of the most famous vermouth companies was born.
The museum and gallery at Casa Martini in Pessione, Italy detail the history of the company and the art of making their vermouth. It wasn’t until I went there that that I understood why so much Catarratto is grown in the country. This is one of the grapes that make the base wine for vermouth, which needs light, low-acid, neutral grapes (like Cataratto, Trebbiano from Emilia Romana, and Airen from the center of Spain) to serve as a blank canvas. To this base, Martini adds a proprietary blend of 40 botanicals sourced from all over the world: cinnamon from Sri Lanka, cloves from Madagascar, rosebuds from Morocco and Bulgaria, among many others. Their master herbalist visits all the fields in areas with the best aromatic ingredients, and they then use alcohol to extract the botanical principles.
So, how do you drink it? You can have the vermouth on ice, or use it into a cocktail – vermouth is what coats the glass in every classic martini (get the name now??). You can also mix the Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino or Bianco with tonic, add a slice of fruit, and throw in ice for one of the most refreshing cocktails you’ll ever have.
The first night I was in Piedmont, the bartender made me a Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino & tonic over ice. It was a cranberry, cherry, herbal mix and really refreshing. (FYI, its color comes from Nebbiolo grapes and the botanicals holy thistle from Italy and red sandalwood from Central Africa). I loved it and declared it my new cocktail. Until the second night.
Back in Milan, we had aperitivo at Bar Martini, a bar created in partnership between Martini and Dolce&Gabbana. I was all ready to order my new go-to Rubino and tonic, when I flipped through the menu and saw a Bianco and tonic. Since there was plenty of time to order the Rubino on any other night, I figured I should try the white vermouth version. I was scared I’d regret it – anything but! It was so light and refreshing, almost like a white port and tonic!
The Rubino and tonic would make a great Christmas cocktail, and I’m adding the Bianco version to the list of reasons I wish it were summer again!