Review: Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth, Dry Gin, and Quince

Newly available in the U.S. is this collection of products from Germany’s Avadis Dsitllery. Bottled under the Ferdinand’s label, these products all involve a unique ingredient: Riesling wine from the Mosel region, where the distillery is based.

Some additional details from the company:

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin is crafted from grain to bottle at Avadis Distillery located in Germany’s Mosel Region. Only the highest-grade late and select harvest grape wines from the neighboring steep shale slopes of the Saarburger Rausch vineyards are used for the gin’s wine infusion. These semi-sweet Rieslings from the Saar are not just known for their elegance and fruity complexity, but also exhibit the maximum degree of extract density, providing a refinement characteristic to Saar Dry Gin. The raw distillate produced from the grain is distilled several times to form the basis for a selection of 30 hand-picked herbs, spices and fruits, which are carefully macerated to produce an eau-de-vie. The additional use of a steam infusion of freshly harvested herbs adds unique fresh floral notes to this gin, and it is rounded off with a precise measure of Schiefer Riesling to guarantees a high-quality product.

We tasted three products in the Ferdinand’s line. Thoughts follow.

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth – Dry vermouth made from the riesling grape. Quite dry, and surprisingly bitter given the riesling base. Notes of oxidation, rosemary, and quinine all mix together a bit unevenly, finishing on a Meyer lemon note. Scattered and off-balance, with too much wormwood in the mix, it has a certain charm but doesn’t add a whole lot in a mixed drink. 18% abv. B- / $23

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin – This is the riesling-infused gin, with 30 (undisclosed) botanicals. The nose is intense with juniper, lemon peel, and thyme — largely traditional, with the riesling not making a major showing. On the palate, the wine character is far more evident, a bittersweet character that offers a lemon syrup note, followed by layers and layers of savory herbs, leading to a surprising, very bitter finish. Daunting on its own, it’s an intensely herbal experience that needs a lot more citrus in the bill to find balance. 88 proof. C+ / $45

Ferdinand’s Saar Quince – This oddity, an homage to traditional sloe gin, is an infusion of Saar Dry Gin (though the label says “vodka”) with estate-grown quinces and 2011 Kabinett class riesling. The exotic nose combines sweet white wine, honey, lemon and grapefruit (or quince-ness), and a smack of herbs to create a truly unusual but not unappealing aroma. The palate is quite sweet, again laced with a rather intense amount of herbs but cut with lots of that lemony citrus character. The finish is bittersweet, a bit sour, and quite herbal, but it all fades out on a sweet lemon sherbet note. Not really a substitute for sloe gin, but you might see what you can do with it in lieu of triple sec — or half-and-half with a regular gin. 60 proof. B / $50 (500ml)

saar-gin.com

Shaken or Stirred: Which Makes the Best Martini?

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

Like a manhattan or an old fashioned, a martini is on its surface a simple drink to make: dry vermouth, gin (traditionally) or vodka (modern), and an olive as garnish. But a martini is something special; it’s lodged in the popular imagination, through no small fault of the man quoted above, Ian Fleming’s super spy James Bond. Whether through Fleming’s novels or film adaptations featuring Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, or countless others, if there’s one thing the average person knows about James Bond, it’s his preference of martini: shaken, not stirred.

The question is: Why? Does shaking vs. stirring change the taste of the martini? And if so, which is better? Naturally for this question we decided to hold a tasting to see how a martini fares when shaken or when stirred. For this tasting, we went with two gin martinis, made with Bombay, one shaken and one stirred.

Stirred Martini

Nose: The nose of a martini is a lovely thing, subtle and herbal and bitter. The stirred martini had notes of pine, bitter orange peel, and juniper — not too overpowering. The aroma of the vermouth was almost indistinct, and served mostly to highlight the aromas of the gin.

Palate: The initial taste of the stirred martini was briny, lightly acidic sea salt from the vermouth. Then came the gin, with the promise of the nose being borne out by juniper, bitter citrus peel, and a light Christmas-tree pine. Gin can be a tough thing for an alcohol novice to wrap their heads around, but a martini is a good, aromatic, interesting way to try something new.

Shaken Martini

Nose: The nose of the shaken martini was similar to the stirred martini, if perhaps a bit more piney. The decision of shaking or stirring didn’t seem to factor much into the nose.

Palate: Here’s where things get radically different. To start, the shaken martini was much colder, as a result of the gin being shaken up with the ice. (Many shaken martinis will even have ice chips in the drink, which some drinkers consider offensive.) The chill of the drink translated over to the taste, which was light and very, very subtle, almost to the point of not tasting like much of anything at all. There were slight notes of juniper and peel and pine, but they were buried beneath a watery simplicity. As the martini warmed up, the flavor became a bit stronger, but it was still more jumbled and indistinct than the stirred martini was.

Conclusions

So why did the drinks turn out this way? A lot of it has to do with the cold: Like a glass of white wine, it’s easy to over-chill a martini by shaking it, and the primary result of a too-cold martini is that it becomes much more thin and tasteless. This is compounded by the fact that shaking introduces more water into the drink via melted ice; a stirred martini will be a bit stronger, and thus more flavorful. As well, gin is a sensitive spirit and vigorous shaking has the result of muddling its taste. (There’s much talk of “bruising the vermouth” if you shake a martini, but it’s the gin that has the bigger problem.) All in all: A stirred martini is indeed more interesting and flavorful than a shaken one.

If there’s not much to recommend a shaken martini over a stirred one, then why does James Bond order them? The answer is twofold: first of all, Bond is the ultimate bad boy, and that extends to his choice in drinks. He doesn’t follow our rules, and from his first appearance in Casino Royale back in 1953, he was a man that blazed his own path. If society tells us to stir our martinis, of course Bond is going to be the type of guy who drinks them shaken. The other reason is more mundane. Look at his recipe again. In addition to the gin and vermouth, Bond requests a measure of vodka, making it a drink that he named The Vesper, after that book’s femme fatale. Vodka is a much heartier spirit than gin is, and if you’re drinking a vodka martini, shaking might actually be good for it, since vodka is best when it’s ice cold. Of course, given that Bond is drinking a martini with both gin and vodka in it, perhaps he just prefers a weaker drink with some water in the mix.

So that’s another taste test done, and another curious corner of the history of spirits explored. If you feel like trying this experiment yourself, let us know in the comments which style you prefer, and why!

Review: Interrobang Vermouth

An interrobang is a punctuation mark that is both an exclamation point and a question mark. It’s also the name of a new, artisanal vermouth from a small craft producer in Newberg, Oregon (in the heart of Oregon wine country). The company offers two varieties covering both of the classics — one white, one red. We tasted them both. Thoughts follow.

Both are bottled at 17.5% abv.

Interrobang White Vermouth No. 73 – “Based on a traditional Southern French recipe, this white semi-dry vermouth includes cinchona, cinnamon, and five other organic or sustainable botanicals. It took us 73 times through the recipe to perfect the production.” Lots of quinine on the nose, with a restrained underbelly of savory and grassy herbs and a brightness driven by aromatic white wine. The palate is appropriately bittersweet, though it leans a bit more toward the cinchona than any other element in particular. The finish keeps things clean and fresh; if you like a drier style of white vermouth, this may be right in your wheelhouse. B+ / $18 (375ml)

Interrobang Sweet Vermouth No. 47 – “Based on a centuries-old German recipe, this sweet vermouth includes wormwood, gentian, and ten other organic or sustainable botanicals. It took us 47 times through the recipe to perfect the production.” An unusual sweet vermouth, it’s really quite bitter and far from what we expect from most classically sweet vermouths. The nose is bright with red berries and flowers, but the palate is stuffed with those classic bitter root notes, hints of balsamic, and a minty finish. Fun stuff, but give it a sip before you use it in a Manhattan. B / $18 (375ml)

whatisinterrobang.com

Review: Drapo Vermouth Complete Lineup

Drapo is a line of vermouths produced in Turin, Italy – which as the company tells us was the birthplace of vermouth in 1786. These releases are all bottled at 16% abv, except the Gran Riserva, which hits 18%.

Thoughts on the lineup, which are soon/newly available in the U.S., follow.

Drapo Vermouth Dry – Aromatic and perfumed, with notes of white flowers, golden waves of grain, and orange peel, this lightly oxidized wine is bittersweet and sour all at once, with a complex palate of honey, green melon, and a hint of ginger. Well made and quite versatile. B+ / $14

Drapo Vermouth Bianco – One of the more unusual biancos (sweet white vermouth) I’ve encountered, with intense baking spice notes, particularly cinnamon, on the nose. The moderately sweet palate offers honey and citrus syrup, and a rising vanilla-lemon note on the back end. May clash in some applications. B / $14

Drapo Vermouth Rosso – Fresh and lively, there’s intense red berry fruit here, along with a spritz of orange oil on the nose. On the palate, the raspberry and strawberry notes dominate, melding nicely with lingering notes of tea leaf, some cloves, and a light bitterness that gives the wine some backbone. Delightful stuff with a surprising depth. A- / $14

Drapo Vermouth Gran Riserva – This is a sweet red vermouth that’s aged in French oak for at least 8 months and is bottled as a single barrel expression. Much more bitter than the rosso, it borders on an amaro, with intense root and tree bark notes, dried plum/prune and raisin, and loads of chewy clove and licorice notes. The finish is long and lasting and hard to shake, a dense and intense character that lingers until you force it off your tongue. Use carefully, or alone in lieu of an amaro. B+ / $20

turin-vermouth.com

Tasting Report: Tre Bicchieri Italian Wines 2017

It’s hard to believe but it’s been a long four years since I’ve attended Tre Bicchieri, a celebration of the best Italian wines as judged by Gambero Rosso, a massive trade group that is pretty much the final word in fine Italian wine.

Tre Bicchieri, or “three glasses,” is the highest rating the group offers in its annual judging, after which the winners hit the road and us lucky Americans get to try the wines — some of which are not even imported here. Thoughts from the San Francisco tasting follow, along with some mini reviews of wines tasted at Henry Wine Group’s pre-Tre Bicchieri event, which included both winners and non-winners, as well as some Italian spirits, which are not part of the Tre Bicchieri program.

Quick thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Tre Bicchieri 2017

2012 Vite Colte Barolo del Comune di Barolo Essenze / A- / approachable, with clear vanilla notes
2013 Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Sup. Bricco Paradiso / A- / well-rounded, strawberry and spice notes
2015 Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Pian Scorrone / B / very fruity, heavily extracted berry notes
2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli / B+ / more fruit than a typical Amarone; fades to notes of vanilla and ginger
2012 Brandini Barolo Resa 56 / A- / classic structure, dense fruit and spice
2011 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Liste / A / a powerhouse of dense tannin, licorice and spice; dark chocolate; very long finish
2012 Casa E. di Mirafiore Barolo Paiagallo Casa E. di Mirafiore / B+ / earthier, with tannic grip; approachable but at the expense of longevity
2012 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Sup. Roggio del Filare / A- / heavy barnyard nose; dense fruit beneath
2012 Velenosi Offida Rosso Ludi / B+ / very fresh fruit; some light vegetal notes on the finish
2013 Colle Massari Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Grattamacco   / B / somewhat astringent
2011 Colle Massari Brunello di Montalcino  / B+ / similar to the above; meaty and extracted
2013 Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri Sup. Sondraia / A- / hugely tannic, dense and powerful; a slow emergence of fruit
2012 Poggio al Tesoro Dedicato a Walter / B+ / cabernet franc; traditional and chewy, with lingering tannin
2012 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. / A- / bold and heavy with cherry; chewy with lightly dried fruit
2013 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre / B+ / bold fruit, raisin, and cherry notes
2013 Allegrini La Grola / B+ / heavy corvina here; workaday bottling that works well
2011 Donnafugata Contessa Entellina Milleunanotte / A- / punchy, with lots of earthy tannins
2013 Ornellaia Bolgheri Sup. Ornellaia / A- / lush and unctuous, loaded with layers of depth
2014 Ornellaia Bolgheri Rosso Le Serre Nuove / A / this second label is drinking better than its big brother today, balancing fruit and tannin with a focus on fresh berries
2013 Giulio Accornero e Figli Barbera del M.to Sup. Bricco Battista / A- / very bright, nice acidity and fruit
2013 Donna Olimpia 1898 Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Millepassi / A / outstanding – chocolate and spice in a lush body that’s ready to go but will drink well for years
2011 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Vaio Armaron Serego Alighieri / A- / aged in cherry wood casks, and you can taste it along with vanilla, spices, and baked fruits
2011 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Costasera Riserva / A / a beauty – layers of fruit and dark spices abound
2012 Masi Fojaneghe Rosso Bossi Fedrigotti / A- / a new wine from Masi; bold and spicy, with cinnamon notes
2013 Podere Sapaio Bolgheri Rosso Sup. / A- / menthol and mint up front, then tannins; chocolate and vanilla on the finish; lots of longevity here
2014 Settesoli Sicilia Mandrarossa Cartagho / B+ / very concentrated; black and blueberry notes meet chocolate and vanilla
2012 G. D. Varja Barolo Bricco delle Viole / A- / huge fruit, some bacon notes, finish of drying spices
2012 G. D. Varja Barolo Baudana / A- / similar notes, light on its feet; dustier finish
2015 G. D. Varja Langhe Riesling / B+ / quite refreshing, honey and lemon notes are heavy
2013 Marchesi Antinori Tignanello / A- / earthy nose, bold fruit underneath
2013 Marchesi Antinori Chianti Cl. Marchese Antinori Ris. / B+ / drinking tight today; some astringency
2014 Rocca di Frassinello Maremma Toscana Baffo Nero / A- / pretty florals, lush fruit
2011 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano / B+ / bold and chewy with heavy licorice notes
2011 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni / B / overwhelming tannin, core of cocoa and prune
2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni / B- / similar, with a funkier edge to it
2015 Pala I Flori Verminton di Sardegna DOC / B / very dry, quite herbal; some dialed-back blackberry notes in time (95% cab franc)
2015 Cantina Terlano Classico DOC / A- / fresh, with lots of fruit and herbs
2015 San Salvatore Falanghina Campania IGP / A- / nice acidity, fresh citrus notes
2006 Movia Puro Rose / B+ / 100% sparkling rose of pinot noir; made completely naturally and bottled on the lees; disgorged underwater, upside down, to remove the cap; a wild ride of sour fruit with a touch of mushroom [see photo at right]
2008 Movia Lunar 8 Ribolla / A- / slightly sour, some funkiness
2014 Movia Ribolla / A- / fresh and tropical
2013 Movia Pinot Grigio / B / light on its feet, lots of honey notes
2015 Cos Pithos Bianco / B+ / new world in style, green apple is strong
2014 Movia Sauvignon Blanc / A- / a real eye-opener, with notes of gunpowder, mint, and grapefruit peel
2014 Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico / A / super fresh tropical notes; mango, slightly sweet
2010 Castellare I Sodi San Niccolo / A / fresh and floral, lots of berries with immense depth
2011 Castellare I Sodi San Niccolo / A+ / gorgeous with its supple fruit, layers of earthiness lending beautiful balance
2011 Il Marroneto Brunello di Mont Selezione Madonna / A / soft and pretty, velvety tannins
2013 Orma / B+ / more fruit focused, a bit jammy
2012 Monchiero Carbone Roero Riserva Printi / B / a bruiser, quite tart and overpowering
2009 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche / B+ / softer than I expected, with fading tannin
2015 Fattoria Del Cerro Chianti Colli Sensei / B / very simple
2015 Fattoria Del Cerro Rosso di Montepulciano / B / notes of tea leaf and coffee
2013 Fattoria Del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano / B / classically structured
2012 Fattoria Del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva / A- / a solid upgrade to the standard bottling; powerful
2011 Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco / C /
2010 Colpetrone Sagrantino Montefalco / B /
2014 La Poderina Rosso di Montefalco / A- / clear earthy notes, bold and powerful
2011 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino  / A- / licorice, cloves, dark fruits galore
2010 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio Abate” / A / mint, intense cocoa, gunpowder, and leather; long finish
2013 Tenuta San Leonardo Terre di San Leonardo / B+ / soft, easygoing, nice grip with some leather notes
2009 Tenuta San Leonardo “Vila Gresti” Merlot / A- / fresh violets, raspberry notes
2010 Tenuta San Leonardo Carmenere / A- / expressive, loaded with tart fruit
2010 Tenuta San Leonardo “San Leonardo” / A / bold and subtly earthy, with tobacco notes; epic length
2008 Tenuta San Leonardo “San Leonardo” / A / barely softening up; on point

Spirits/Vermouth

Sibona Barolo Grappa / B+ / 2 years in barrel; lots of grip, quite spicy, with black pepper notes
Sibona Port Aged Grappa / B / a letdown, quite flowery
Santa Maria Amaro / B+ / unctuous and bittersweet with cocoa and caramel notes
Poli Cleopatra / B+ / grappa of moscato, aged one year; perfumed with peaches and lingering florals
Del Professore Vermouth / A- / great citrus tones, spicy with cola and wonderful depth
Varnelli Amaro Dell Erborista / A- / unfiltered; all estate-made, sweetened with honey; unique and worthwhile
Varnelli Amaro Sibilla / A- / very fruity; bit bitter finish with lingering chocolate

Review: Lillet Rose

lilletThere’s a third (and while it’s not new, it’s the newest) member of the Lillet aromatic wine family: Lillet Rose, which rides the line between the crisp Lillet Blanc and the dark red Lillet Rouge.

Lillet Rose is a moderate pink in hue, and it fits right in between these two classic apertif wines.

Made primarily from semillon grapes (the same base as Lillet Blanc) with the addition of liqueurs made from berries and sweet and bitter oranges, the wine could pass as a hearty rose if you didn’t know better. The deep-down herbal notes give it away as Lillet, but here the addition of the liqueurs add both sweetness and nuance. Lots of orange notes give this a bittersweet bite, with a finish that recalls pink lemonade, fresh rosemary, and even a little bitter cocoa powder.

Is it heresy to say this might be my favorite expression of the three for straight sipping? Bring on the summer.

34 proof.

A- / $16 / lillet.com

Review: Carpano Dry and Carpano Bianco Vermouth

Carpano Bianco HRes FrontThe company that makes Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica also makes some more pedestrian vermouths, including these two white styles — both made from ancient, secret recipes.

Let’s try both!

Carpano Dry Vermouth – Classically dry, sourly winey nose, with notes of dried, savory herbs (absinthe notes are described in the tasting notes, but your mileage may vary). Light on the palate, with some bitterness lingering on the finish. Simple and versatile, but much better as a companion with gin than with vodka. 18% abv. B / $22 (1 liter)

Carpano Bianco Vermouth – Carpano’s sweet white vermouth (made from wine using trebbiano, cortese, and chardonnay grapes) is restrained on the nose, with similar herbal and “old wine” notes as the dry vermouth. The body pairs up these bitter and winey elements with a layer of sweetness, which works to elevate this vermouth considerably, particularly when drinking it solo. Again, it’s a relatively simple vermouth, but it works well with both vodka or gin — though somewhat better with gin, particularly more floral styles. 14.9% abv. B+ / $22 (1 liter)

carpano.com

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