I've mentioned aromatized wines a lot lately. Not only on this blog but in all kinds of situations, to all sorts of people. Have I hit evangelical status? Maybe, but I'm cool with that. There are still so many people who treat vermouth as the butt of an Alfred Hitchcock joke. Glance at it, keep moving.
It's true that vermouth used to be a kind of laughing stock. Sort of like bourbon used to be swill. Or like Bill Cosby used to be funny. Times have changed. New information has come to light.
Not only that, people like Mauro Vergano have been improvising on the age-old standards and concocting some extraordinary results.
Vergano makes four variations of bitter-sweet aromatized wines: Chinato, Americano, Luli, and Vermouth Bianco. Each one is very different from the other, and yet they form a kind of family with an obvious parentage.
The first step in making any great aromatized wines is having a great wine as a base. The second step is knowing how to balance the heady flavors and aromas of said great wine with the addition of herbs, barks, roots, seeds, rinds, and other edible plant parts.
In this case, Vergano Chinato starts off with Barbaresco from the Giuseppe Cortese winery. The Barbaresco then undergoes a blending process with the extractions Mauro Vergano has prepared — as the name would indicate, that preparation includes chinchona bark, from which we get quinine, in a neutral spirit.
It is next to impossible to describe the particular experience of this drink, except to say it has *all the flavors* suspended in some strange and dynamic balance. It's like a Rube Goldberg machine in your mouth. There is no practical reason for it, no way to justify its existence, and yet there is no other pleasure quite like it. Every tonal shift keeps you in suspense of the next. And in the end you are left only with joy.
While Chinato is king, to be sure, Vergano's other wines are equally exciting. His Luli takes the same approach only instead of nebbiolo he starts with a base of moscato wine. His Americano is made from grignolino grapes infused with a wormwood- and gentian-based preparation. And the Vermouth Bianco, honeyed on the nose and yet finishing like an amaro, is crafted from a blend of moscato and cortese wines infused with a spate of rare botanicals.
Mix these in cocktails in place of portions of simpler vermouths, or drink them with a splash of soda and a citrus twist. Again, the long drink, indulging your summer like a slow evening with friends.
Vergano spent fifteen years making flavors in a high-tech chemistry lab. He also went to one of Italy's top oenology schools. His uncle made vermouth. His uncle's father (Giulio Cocchi) invented Chinato. He's got the pedigree and the skill. But while Mauro Vergano may have inherited the tradition, and he may have trained in the science, in his wines there is more than a combination of heritage and knowledge.
What I feel most obviously in Vergano wines is the spark of real inspiration.
Vergano Chinato $40
Vergano Luli $40
Vergano Americano $30
Vergano Vermouth Bianco $30