Wine of the Week: Mauro Vergano NV Vermouth Bianco

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vermouth – most people associate this beverage (and yes, it is a beverage) with Manhattans and Martinis, but few know the pleasure of an expertly crafted vermouth served all by itself (maybe with a spritz of soda and a twist). What is vermouth, anyway? It’s an aromatized and fortified wine, infused with a blend of botanicals to make it herbal, aromatic, and bitter. Vermouth was first produced Turin, Italy during the 18th century, used primarily for medicinal purposes. Soon it became a popular aperitif, and by the 19th century bartenders started using it in cocktails.

There are many styles of vermouth, including red, white, rose, and amber, which can be either sweet or dry. The vermouth featured in this blog post is a white vermouth with a bit of sweetness, which I feel is necessary to balance it with the bitterness so it can be enjoyed on it’s own. This was the first “craft” vermouth I ever consumed as an aperitif, which pretty much ruined me for all other vermouths of inferior quality – this is the best one I’ve ever had. Made from Moscato & Cortese (two very aromatic Italian white wines, with floral and citrus notes) and a secret blend of botanicals, it’s the perfect beverage for lovers of bitter drinks such as coffee, negronis, and martinis.

Enjoy this delicious vermouth with a spritz of soda water, a twist of orange, and a sprig of bruised rosemary to make one of the most special and delicious libations you’ve ever had.

This product is SOLD OUT. Thanks for your interest!

P6190001Winemaker: Mauro Vergano
Bio: Mauro Vergano started his career after earing degrees in chemistry, viticulture, and oenology. He spent 15 years working for a company in the “flavors and fragrances” sector where he learned a variety of skills, including how to recognize the nuances of fragrances. During this time, he experimented with making his own aromatized wines for friends and family – a craft he learned from his uncle. In 2003, Vergano moved on to making vermouth and chinato full time, and makes some of the finest and most highly sought-after aromatized wines available.
Region: Italy>Piemonte>Asti
Vineyard: Various
Blend: Cortese & Moscato
Aging: N/A
Production Notes: The wines used in this classic vermouth bianco are sourced from neighboring natural wine producers in Asti. Vergano uses a secret blend of herbs and spices to aromatize and sweeten this classic Piemontese-style vermouth bianco.
Tasting Notes: Most people associate vermouth with cocktails, but across the world it’s one of the most popular aperitifs on its own. The style of this vermouth is highly aromatic, with notes of flowers, citrus, honey, and herbs. On the palate, it’s perfectly sweet with balanced acidity and bitterness – it achieves a perfect harmony not often found in vermouth. Enjoy it over ice with a spritz of seltzer water, a twist of orange, and a sprig of rosemary for a mind-blowing treat you won’t believe you’ve been missing your whole life.
Food Pairing: Enjoy as an aperitif to whet your appetite and stimulate your palate.

This product is SOLD OUT. Thanks for your interest!

Vermouth: Not just for cocktails

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can remember my first waitressing job at a British pub. It was 2003, and I was a mere 21 years old. I barely knew anything about food, wine, cocktails, or really any of the finer things in life. I can recall the bartender telling me that vermouth (a fortified wine infused with botanicals) was disgusting, so bad that when you use it in a cocktail, you simply swirl it around in the glass and dump the rest out. Why would anyone want to add something to a drink that tasted so bad? I wrote off vermouth as something I never wanted to put in my mouth.

Years later, I learned from a bartender at Bar Agricole that vermouth should always be stored in the refrigerator. It’s wine, after all, and it oxidizes like any other wine. Most people think vermouth is disgusting because they let it sit out at room temperature for months, using a splash here and there. Even bars are guilty of leaving their vermouth out, which might be one of the reasons that a Manhattan is rarely good at a bar. Even if it’s being refrigerated, it’s going to oxidize, and you should use it up within a couple of weeks.

So I started storing my vermouth in the refrigerator. I was still buying the cheap stuff, because I was only using it in cocktails. Really, you are only using a half ounce at a time, what difference could it really make? What I came to realize is that a $5 vermouth is about as good as a $5 wine. I knew that there was good vermouth out there, as it’s a popular aperitif in Europe. People drink it straight! I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. There is a scarcity of craft vermouth here in the states and it’s pretty difficult to find. A few people are making it, but not many, and you really have to know what you’re looking for or get really lucky to find a good one.

Well, call me lucky! I was recently at Ruby Wine in San Francisco – a great little wine shop with an unbelievable selection of wine. I noticed an odd-looking bottle at the register and asked about it. Turns out it was a white (bianco) vermouth from Piedmont, Italy. It was around $40 for the bottle and the shop owner told me a little bit about it. It was a blend of Cortese and Moscato, two Italian grape varietals commonly grown in Piedmont. I was intrigued and thought I’d give it a shot. He told me to serve it with a sprig of rosemary on the rocks.

I followed his advice and not only threw in a sprig of rosemary, but also a twist of tangelo (it’s what I had on hand, and orange/rosemary are a lovely pair) and a splash of soda water. The outcome completely changed my preconceived notions about vermouth. It was intensely complex; slightly sweet, bitter, herbaceous, fruity, refreshing – all of the elements I want in a cocktail. I can’t believe I’d been blind to this for so long. I have no regrets about spending $40 on a bottle of vermouth, it’s that delicious. I could drink this stuff every day, and I most certainly will until the bottle I bought is gone. It would be a shame to let it go to waste!

For those of you who are interested, the vermouth I bought a Mauro Vergano Vermouth Bianco NV, imported by Louis Dressner. There is still one bottle left at Ruby Wine. If you see this stuff at a store and want to give it a whirl, I highly recommend it. Make sure you also pick up some rosemary, a citrus fruit and some soda to spruce it up. You won’t be disappointed!

Make Your Own Tonic Water at Home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here at Winelandia, we are big fans of doing things “the hard way.” Sometimes doing things this way yields better results than doing them “the easy way,” and generally it’s never as “hard” as it initially sounds. Case in point: tonic. Buy the cheap stuff (Schweppes or Canada Dry) and what you end up with is high fructose corn syrup-infused, quinine-laced, artificially flavored Citrus Drank. It tastes about as good as it sounds. Go a step further and buy Fever Tree brand tonic and you are in much better shape… although it costs about $6 for four small 7 oz bottles. Our advice is to ditch the commercial options and make your own. No tonic tastes better than the kind you can make yourself.

There are a few fundamental principles of tonic. First: It always contains quinine, a chemical which occurs naturally in the South American cinchona tree’s bark. This chemical has been known to reduce fevers, act as an anti-inflammatory agent and anti-malarial, and has medicinal uses dating back to the 17th century. Second: Tonic usually has a citrus flavor which can be derived from the zest or juice of any citrus fruit, or by adding lemongrass. Really, you can use whatever you want but I think citrus as a foundation is a good plan when you are first getting started. Third: Tonic needs to have flavor components to balance out the bitterness of the quinine; botanicals have been added to tonic as flavoring agents to make the healthful tonic more approachable, but I think it’s more important to use sensory elements such as sourness and sweetness to balance out the bitterness. We do this by adding sugar and citric acid to the tonic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The most difficult part about making tonic is finding a supply of cinchona tree bark. If you live in a culturally-diverse major metropolitan area, you can find it pretty easily at Asian or Latin markets. It’s usually sold in baggies with the other spices. If you can’t find it at the store, you can find it online pretty easily. I can’t attest to any of the brands found online, but I can find this Eden brand cut cinchona bark at the Duc Loi market on Mission street in San Francisco. You can find it in two different forms; powdered or cut. I have only ever found the cut bark at the aforementioned market, but you can put it through a mill grinder to make powder if you want a more concentrated tonic (don’t hold me responsible if you break your mill grinder, that bark is tough). Cinchona bark is dirt cheap, I recommend stocking up if you find it in a store because you will undeniably want to make gallons of tonic after you experience your first sip.

Citric acid is another ingredient that can be a little tough to find, but you can always find it at your local home brew shop, as it’s a common chemical used in home brewing and winemaking. If you’re unable to find it at a store, you can find it easily online. I got mine on Amazon.

Once you have your cinchona tree bark and citric acid, the rest of the ingredients are really easy to find and you can channel your creative energy into new, unexpected and exciting flavors. I am going to post a basic recipe first, and then I’ll post a list of potential ingredients that you could mix and match to make a flavor profile to complement your favorite gin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Basic Tonic Recipe
(adapted from SeriousEats, Imbibe & my brain)

Tools:
Small saucepan
Sharp, sturdy chef’s knife
Citrus zester
Coffee filter, French press, cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve

Ingredients:
2 tsp ground cinchona bark or 4 tsp cut cinchona bark
1 lemon
1 lime
1 large lemongrass stalk
1.5 tsp citric acid
1.5 c sugar
2 c still water
Carbonated Water

Method:
1. Combine sugar, still water, citric acid and cinchona bark in a small saucepan and put on medium-high heat.
2. Cut lemongrass into 1/2″ pieces on the bias and add to saucepan.
3. Zest lemon and lime, then add zest to saucepan.
4. Juice lemon and lime into saucepan.
5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes (if using ground cinchona) or 45 minutes (if using cut cinchona).
6. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.
7a. IF USING CUT CINCHONA: Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a sterilized glass jar.
7b. IF USING GROUND CINCHONA: Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove the large solids; then run the mixture through a coffee filter, 4 layers of cheesecloth, or french press to remove the finer particulate matter. Ground cinchona is very fine and will take a very long time to strain if using a coffee filter. Be patient, the coffee filter method will produce the most visually appealing result. Once filtered, put into a sterilized glass jar.
8. Allow tonic syrup to cool.
9. Add 1 part tonic syrup to 4 parts carbonated water for consumption by itself, with a squeeze of lime; or as a cocktail (just add 1 oz. gin or vodka).
10. Store left-over tonic in the refrigerator for a week or freeze for later use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now that you have your basic recipe down, it’s easy to start adding/replacing botanicals to create a flavor profile all of your own. My suggestion is to look for things you already have in your kitchen that will add a delicious and unexpected flavor combination to your next batch of tonic. Below are some ideas I’ve gleaned from my own kitchen, friends and research. In reality, you can add anything. Just be sure to use an ingredient that can hold up to extended periods of heat without damaging the flavor.

Kaffir Lime Leaf
Kumquat
Allspice
Lemon Verbana
Tangerine
Tarragon
Coriander Seed
Grapefruit
Thyme
Rosemary
Stonefruit
Star Anise
Bay Laurel
Pink Peppercorn

Do you have suggestions for other botanicals to use in home-made tonic, or combinations of them to create new and delicious flavors? Let us know in the comments!

Cocktail Recipe: Sazerac

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you are a whiskey lover like me, you may have had the pleasure of enjoying a Sazerac at some point in your life. The Sazerac is an old-fashioned cocktail from pre-Civil War New Orleans; it’s a combination of Rye whiskey, Absinthe, water, bitters, sugar & lemon. This highly aromatic, spiritous cocktail is complex, balanced, slightly spicy and extremely delicious when prepared correctly. It’s very important to follow the recipe precisely – being sure to measure your ingredients – when making this drink. It can easily fall out of balance. I’ve had more bad Sazeracs than good ones when ordering them at a bar or restaurant.

There are several variations of this cocktail and you might see it made with Cognac instead of Rye, or with different kinds of bitters. Traditionally it’s made just with Peychaud’s bitters, but I like to add a little dash of Angostura bitters to provide another layer of complexity. One other important factor, I believe, is using the most minuscule amount of Absinthe as possible. The flavor and aroma of Absinthe is so strong that it can easily overpower the drink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe leading principle behind this cocktail is not necessarily the ingredients, but how it’s prepared. Instead of a cocktail shaker, you use two chilled glasses equal in size; one for mixing the cocktail, the other for ‘rinsing’ with Absinthe and serving. The method is described in detail below. One thing I would like to point out is that instead of ‘rinsing’ the serving glass, I use a little perfume-type bottle filled with Absinthe to spray the inside of the glass with. A really wonderful bartender I met in Austin was kind enough to give me one when I marveled at his as he was making me a Sazerac. It’s pure genius.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASazerac
(adapted from chow.com)

Tools:
Two small, chilled glasses (I use scotch glasses)
Vegetable Peeler
Cocktail Strainer
Muddler (I use the blunt end of a chopstick)
Jigger

Ingredients:
(makes one cocktail)
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (I like Bulliet, it’s inexpensive and perfect for this drink)
Absinthe (I use St. George, duh)
2 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1 Sugar Cube
Lemon Twist
Splash of Water

Method:
Chill both of your glasses, one filled with ice.
Drop the sugar cube into the chilled glass with no ice.
Add just enough water to moisten the sugar cube.
Add 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters & 1 dash Angostura bitters & muddle the sugar cube.
Measure and pour 1.5 oz. rye whiskey into the glass.
Add a few ice cubes to the glass and stir gently for 10 seconds.
Empty ice cubes from the second chilled glass.
Add the smallest amount of Absinthe, swirl around the glass, and dump the excess out (or use a spritzer like I did).
Strain the mixture from Glass #1 into the Absinthe-washed Glass #2.
Peel the zest of a lemon over the glass, twist the zest over the glass, and wipe around the rim.
Discard the lemon twist & enjoy your cocktail.

If you made it right, this cocktail should be lemony, anisey, oaky and spicy all at once. It’s truly a gentleman’s drink, or gentlelady’s drink in my case. Enjoy!

Cocktail Recipe: French 75

french75ingredients

I have been on a bit of a gin kick lately. It started with a simple Gin & Tonic made for me by our very own Colleen McGarry, made with home-made tonic from another friend of ours. I was in love and have been exploring Gin cocktails ever since.

What better & cheaper way to learn about cocktails than making them yourself? I was at a wine shop buying some St. George Mt. Tam Terroir gin ($31, KLWine.com). Who doesn’t love California’s terroir? I dare you to tell me you can’t replace the idea of garrigue with chapparal. This gin is lovely; Inspired by the coastal forests of Mt. Tam, it has aromas of Bay Laurel, Douglas Fir and coastal Sage. This was clearly exactly the gin I needed in my life. I happened to also be buying some sparkling wine, and the guy at the counter mentioned I was just a few ingredients short of a French 75.

stgeorgegin

I was intrigued by the idea of a fancy new cocktail that I’ve had only once before, and that was before I discovered that I love gin. It was at the Claremont Hotel’s restaurant Paragon (which is awful, by the way, but if you are at the Claremont you don’t have a lot of choices). The cocktail was great, and so I decided to poke around the internet to distill a recipe. I came across the NY Times version and I trust them, so here’s my spin on their rendition of the French 75.

French 75 Recipe
(from the NYTimes)

Tools:
Cocktail Shaker
Cocktail Strainer
Champagne Flutes
Lemon Juicer
Vegetable Peeler
Pint Glass
Jigger

Ingredients:
Gin
Lemons
Simple Syrup (make your own)
Dry Sparkling Wine

Method:
(makes 1 cocktail)
Chill your champagne flutes, glasses, what-have-you.
With your vegetable peeler, peel the zest of the lemon for your garnish & set the zest aside.
Cut your peeled lemon in half, and squeeze the juice into a small jar.
Fill your shaker with ice.
Measure & pour 1 oz. gin, 1/2 oz lemon juice & 1/2 oz simple syrup into your ice-filled shaker.
Put the pint glass over your shaker (if it doesn’t have a lid) or the lid and shake for 5-10 seconds.
Remove the pint glass or lid from your shaker, replace with a strainer, and strain the good stuff into your chilled glass.
Top off with sparkling wine (about 2 oz).
Twist your lemon zest over the glass, wipe the skin around the rim and drop it into the drink.

french75Enjoy this tasty adult beverage on a warm summer night, preferably made at home and consumed in your own back yard. Invite some friends over; you went through the trouble of buying and opening a whole bottle of sparkling, you might as well share!