There’s generally considered to be three main brands of vermouth in the world that most, if not all bars and restaurants will stock. I’ve already featured two within my site, Martini Rossi and Cinzano, but I’ve finally been able to discover the third major presence, Noilly Prat. But compared to the stories of the two Italians, Noilly Prat begins its life out at sea with the French.
Lets take a look.
It’s long known that wooden barrels will ultimately change the characteristics of any liquid within, with the climate surrounding varying the degrees of flavours produced. This process was stumbled upon when wine use to be transported by sea, being exposed to the elements whilst being stored on deck. The long journeys meant that the wine carried a deeper flavour profile and colour compared to its original state, something that Joseph Noilly, a herbalist, wanted to take full advantage of. In 1813, Joesph worked on the process and recipe for what we would now know as Noilly Prat, ageing the wines outdoors and over four seasons. In 1850 Louis Noilly, son of Joseph, began ageing wines in the fishing village of Marseillan in the south of France, eventually forming a partnership with his son-in-law, Claudius Prat in 1855 from which Noilly Prat & Cie was founded and registered. Unfortunately, Louis Noilly died in 1865 and his daughter Anne-Rosine, widow of Claudius Prat, took over the running of the company for nearly 40 years.
But how is France’s first ever vermouth created?
The village of Marseillan produces the local grape varieties of Picpoul and Clairette which are then pressed and the must aged in oak casks that are themselves between 20 and 60 years old. These casks are then exposed to the elements of the Mediterranean in the walled enclosure of L’Enclos for 12 months. While this is happening, the indoor cellars in La Maison Noilly Prat (built by Louis Noilly around 1850) is the Chai des Mistelles which houses vast Canadian oak vats that can hold up to 40,000 litres of wine. Here the mistelles wines are matured for 12 months which ensures slow oxidisation, producing a rich, golden wine by the end of the ageing process.
Once matured, the two wines are brought together before a secret selection of herbs and spices are macerated for three weeks, then carefully extracted. Afterwards, the wine is allowed to rest for six more weeks.
So how does the range fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Noilly Prat Original Dry – 18%
Herbs and spices within include Roman Chamomile and Gentian from France, Nutmeg from Indonesia and Bitter Orange from Tunisia.
Sweet aromas on the nose with a fresh herbal note, slight citrus and well-rounded feel. Slightly bitter on the palate, although smooths off to a light texture, yet a growing bold hit of chamomile, wood and fennel. A little dry on the finish, but the smoothness delivers.
Noilly Prat Ambré – 16%
First produced in 1986. Herbs and spices include cardamom, cinnamon and lavender.
Fresh, rich aromas of banana, vanilla and orange on the nose. Lots of sweetness coming through, especially once upon the palate. Cinnamon, aromatic orange and plenty of herbal flavours blend well together before producing a long, slightly dry, bitter spice finish.
Two of the more easier to drink vermouths on the market, and I can only imagine the Rouge expression will be just as good. In the meantime though, I’ll be enjoying one of these, heralded by Martini di Arma di Taggia, the famous head bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York in 1911/12, who declared that Noilly Prat Original Dry was an essential ingredient of his “martini cocktail”, one of the very earliest examples of the classic dry martini cocktail.
The Classic Dry Martini
Place all the ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir well for 20 seconds. Single strain into a classic cocktail glass and garnish with a Lucques olive or twist of lemon.
Noilly Prat is also famous for its food pairings, with this French classic probably one of the most well known –
L’Apéritif & Oysters
Served in the fashionable cafés of France; it is traditionally served before dining as it whets the appetite.
2 parts Noilly Prat Original Dry
Twist of lemon
Add ice into the wine glass and pour the Noilly Prat Original Dry. Stir once and take the peel of a lemon and squeeze over the glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon and pair with oysters for a French touch.
Noilly Prat, despite now being owned by Bacardi-Martini, retains its French heritage and inspiration to create not only some classic and unique serves, but a range that offers a difference to your usual Italian vermouths. More acceptable for most I would say, and great t introduce people to the category of vermouth. Vermouth has grown leaps and bounds this past year, with many small, artisan producers releasing liquids to capture the resurgence of a category that has been around for over 100 years now. Stock up for a spot of elegance within your food and drink offerings, or indeed look out for the range within your favourite bar. I’m hoping you won’t be disappointed.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.