Martini & Rossi is a staple of the mass market vermouth world, and now the brand is moving upmarket with the launch of its Riserva Speciale line. The collection includes two vermouths — Ambrato Vermouth, a dry white vermouth, and Rubino Vermouth, a sweet red expression — and a red, bitter liqueur in the Campari vein.
What makes these products different from M&R’s standard line (aside from the fact that it includes its first bitter liqueur) — and roughly triple the price? Better ingredients all around, including high-end wines used for the base, or so they say:
The new variants have been designed to honour the traditional methods used by the first Martini master herbalists. “With over 150 years of history, Martini is proud to launch this new Vermouth di Torino to join its family of vermouths,” said Giuseppe Gallo, Martini global brand ambassador.
“Looking to the future, Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino and Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato encapsulate the forward thinking and passion of Martini, whilst restoring and respecting the deep understanding and traditional craftsmanship essential to creating a true Vermouth di Torino.”
Martini Reserva Speciale Rubino is made using Langhe DOC Nebbiolo wines blended with extracts of Italian Holy Thistle and red sandalwood to create a “full-bodied herbal and complex” vermouth with a long aftertaste. Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato is produced using Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines to create a “honeyed” vermouth with a “light-bitter” taste that comes from the cinchona bark and Chinese rhubarb.
The term Vermouth di Torino stems from the royal arms of the House of Savoy, a protective saying that prevented the producers outside the Piemonte region from using the name.
Riserva Speciale Bitter is made from three “rare” botanicals – saffron, angostura and columba – to deliver a “unique richness and complexity” to its taste profile through different dimensions of bitterness. The bitter is rested in the same Tinto cask that is used for the Riserva Speciale extracts and shares the vermouth’s common botanical, Italian artemisia.
Let’s give the trio a shot.
Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Ambrato Vermouth – Brightly gold in color, the nose of Ambrato is big with herbs and “old wine” notes, slightly oxidized with a modest Madeira character to it. The herbal intensity grows heavy over time, that cinchona bark playing the bitter foil to the sweeter moscato wine. The finish is on target though offering nothing unexpected. A little goes a long way in a mixed drink, so experiment before pouring it in willy-nilly. 18% abv. A- / $20
Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Rubino Vermouth – A solid ruby color, though not completely opaque. The nose keeps the bitter, herbal components on the top of the heap, with notes of dried cherries, rhubarb, and some raisin notes evident. The palate is sweeter than initially expected, though this settles into an appropriately bittersweet groove that alternates between fresh fruit and bitter bark notes. Hints of dark chocolate and some licorice candy on the back end. 18% abv. A- / $20
Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Bitter Liqueur – Campari lite. The nose is only moderately bitter with cinchona and other bark notes, with light berry aromas and a hint of vanilla. The palate is initially rather bitter, but with plenty of sweeter elements to brighten it up. Notes of dark chocolate and old wine give it ample body, with notes of orange peel and more vanilla emerging on the finish. All told it’s a perfectly capable substitute for Campari that’s a touch less better and slightly sweeter and fruitier. I wouldn’t have a problem using it interchangeably in just about any Campari-themed cocktail. 57 proof. A- / $30