April 2013
the drier style in 1813. But in 1979,
Noilly Prat introduced a simpler ver-
sion for the U.S.—completely clear,
with fewer botanicals and less
(fortified Muscat used as a sweetener.)
If Americans wanted a vermouth that
tasted less like vermouth, Noilly Prat
would give it to them.
In 2009, though, the company de-
cided to switch formulas to the version
drunk in the rest of the world. Ameri-
can martini drinkers freaked out and
switched to lightly flavored Dolin Dry
Vermouth. Noilly Prat sales plummeted,
and the company is planning to reintro-
duce the American formula this year us-
ing the name Extra Dry.
I visited Noilly Prat’s 200-year-old
winery in the south of France; I’m not
sure I’ve ever been anywhere more evoc-
ative of the final product. Ancient bar-
rels sit outside heating in the sun, with
the sea 100 meters away. You smell salt
in the air and hear seagulls screaming.
Two of the 15 full-time employees do
nothing but repair barrels all day. Ver-
mouth is intentionally oxidized so the
barrels are not topped; the winery loses
6% of its volume each year to the angel’s
share (evaporation).
Inside, the tank room is the best-
smelling one I’ve ever entered, with oxi-
dizing wine mingling with an olfactory
rainbow of spices—clove, chamomile,
nutmeg, bitter orange…. When I taste
Noilly Prat Vermouth now I taste the
fruit of the local Picpoul wine used as a
base, floral notes of the botanicals, and
the saltiness of the sea. Wine geeks go
nuts over traditional products, yet here’s
one made the same way for 200 years,
that sells for $6 for a half-bottle, and
people just pass it by every day.
Stock Up
Half-bottles are the way to go with ver-
mouth, because few people use a full
bottle before it goes bad. For non-pro-
fessional customers, merchants should
consider stocking half-bottles of the
leading brands.
DrinkUpNY has one of the largest
vermouth selections in Manhattan, with
obscure U.S. brands and big multina-
tionals. Store owner Kamal Mukherjee
says sales are split evenly between dry
and sweet vermouth, and niche brands
sell better when they have a different
taste profile than a famous brand.
“The small brands aren’t able to
stand up against the really big brands,”
Mukherjee says.
Distributor reps host vermouth tast-
ings in his store, and he also opens a
bottle of sweet vermouth when whiskey
reps host tastings, so customers can taste
mini-Manhattans. He makes sure to tell
customers how to store Vermouth when
they buy it. “Our customers living around
the store are not wine geeks,” he says.
And even most wine geeks don’t under-
stand vermouth. But soon they may.
Wine geeks go nuts over traditional
products. here’s one made the same
Way for 200 years, that sells for $6
for a half-bottle.
Before being combined
with the proprietary
mix of botanicals and
mistelle, barrels of
wine are intentionally
oxidized in the humid
Mediterranean air,
losing up to 6% of their
volume to evaporation.
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