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Brand Profile: Italian Trio Puts the ‘I’ in Vodka

Posted on  | July 7, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Domaine Select’s I Spirit draws on history for a thoroughly modern Vodka.

Given the myriad global iterations of vodka on the market, it’s hard to imagine many gaps that cried out to be filled. Yet that is exactly what inspired the creation of I Spirit, which has been imported by Domaine Select since 2009.

“We met in New York: Lapo Elkann, Giuseppe Cipriani and myself,” explains Marco Fantinel, a winemaker in Italy’s Friuli–Venezia Giulia region. “We were all friends with the passion for high-end quality and artisanal Italian products. We all liked to drink great vodka and one day we simply began talking about the obvious—there is no great Italian vodka! We immediately decided we had to do this.”

Serendipitously, the trio had more than passion and opportunity inspiring them—they also had history on their side. During the first and second World Wars, it was simply not possible to import vodka into Italy from Poland or Russia. In turn, Giuseppe Cipriani’s grandfather (also named Giuseppe) made his own in 1934 at the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, and the spirit he created had one particular fan, namely Ernest Hemingway.

Roots in Venice

Aiming to recapture the character of his grandfather’s vodka, Giuseppe, then manager of Harry’s Bar, and well-known entrepreneur Lapo Elkann and Marco Fantinel set about making their own modern vodka. The recipe they arrived at is not only an homage to history, but also a reflection of the Italian countryside—based on the finest wheat and a dollop of quality wine from Friuli–Venezia Giulia. The distillation, repeated five times, is followed by the addition of crystal-clear water from the Dolomites and then filtration on active carbons to maximize pureness. The resulting character presents light citrus aromatics, and on the palate a creamy texture, subtle notes of vine fruit, white pepper, nuts and minerals, and a smooth, silky finish. As a crowning touch, the spirit is bottled in a replica of the one used at Harry’s Bar in the 1930s.

First released in 2009, I Spirit became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic (even Poland and Russia) as well as in Asia. Here in the U.S., I Spirit has earned spots on the back bars in top venues in New York City (Cipriani, Scarpetta, Eataly) and Miami (W Hotel, Casa Tua, Quattro, Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne and Cipriani).

I Spirit has also made a top-shelf impression on the judges of prestigious spirits competitions including: Fifty Best Vodkas (Double Gold), San Francisco World Spirits Competition (Gold) and the Ultimate Spirits Challenge (90 pts.).

Building on a Foundation

While I Spirit is no longer new, the brand is still quite young. The prime placements and medals are a foundation that U.S. importer Domaine Select and the founding trio aim to capitalize on. They know it won’t be easy, but their confidence is rooted squarely in the quality and distinction of their spirit. “We don’t and cannot compete to mainstream vodka producers,” says Fantinel. We are an artisanal producer that has the challenge to produce an amazing vodka made in Italy. Any sip should recall a pleasant and magical moment in Piazza San Marco.”

Interestingly, part of their plan involves suggesting the enjoyment of I Spirit both in cocktails (ispiritvodka.com has a dozen designed by Cipriani) and neat, matched with simple foods, such as cherry tomatoes, basil, walnuts or berries. “Giuseppe believes in matching Mediterranean foods to vodka,” says Fantinel. “He believes that the purity of his creation can even match well with produce fresh from the farms.”

With their emphasis on quality and keen awareness of vodka’s power to swing from elementary pairings to signature cocktails, it seems this trio of Italian partners has the momentum to write their own chapter in vodka history.

Bottled History

As locals tell it, there were three things that Ernest Hemingway loved above all else when staying at Harry’s Bar in Venice: Giuseppe Cipriani’s late night wit, tastings of Italian spirits and the tales that inevitably were poured along with the spirits. After one particular tale, Hemingway is said to have jumped to his feet and declared to Giuseppe: “A toast to the genius who made it up. An absurd vision. As absurd as the idea of an Italian vodka!”


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