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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

18 Under 30 Part 14: Make It A Very Cocchi Christmas

Wow, 14 products in now and after the dreadful experience of the 'whisky wee bag' we reviewed on Monday, we needed something stupendous to take away both the bad taste and the feeling of pouring good money down the drain.  When faced with this situation, we've found that the only thing to do is to simply shrug it off and make a cocktail.

So that is just what we did and in keeping with our festive good cheer, we've decided to leaf through some unusual, but absolutely delightful vermouths, that deserve a place in any discerning drinker's cocktail cabinet.

Christmas is a chance to show one's siblings and parents that hanging out in bars isn't really such a bad career choice.  On the contrary, if you can whip them up something superb in a chilled, zested coupe glass, then they've fallen headlong into your trap and soon, even your granny will want a tour of the Shoreditch or Edinburgh speakeasies, eager to track down the best cask-aged Martinez known to man.
With all this in mind, there's a wheely case steadily being prepared in the Caskstrength office, doubling as a portable bar, which includes many of the great bottlings we've reviewed over the past 2 weeks -  and its newest addition is three different fortified wines from the wonderfully named Cocchi.

Giulio Cocchi founded his wine and spirits business in the late 19th century in Florence, famously exporting Asti Spumante sparkling wine across the globe and establishing a flourishing number of cafe-bars.  Alongside his passion for the fizzy stuff, Cocchi produced some wonderfully aromatic fortified wines, including his Barolo Chinato, Vermouth di Torino and Cocchi Americano, the latter two purportedly having recipes dating back to around 1891. These vermouths became immensely popular as aperitif drinks, but later as key ingredients in cocktails and fortunately, after a lengthy absence, Cocchi vermouths are now back on the menus in some of the world's most prestigious bars... and fortunately for us, to take home too.

Cocchi Barolo Chinato has been relaunched, using a recipe that brings together some of the best wines from the Nebbiolo grape variety, alongside Chinese Calissaja bark, gentian, cardamom seeds and rhubarb root to create a very uniquely flavoured fortified wine indeed.  On its own as an aperitif or poured over ice, it gives off a hugely complex aroma of dark chocolate, bitter cinnamon bark and and citrus notes, alongside a bold, plummy and fruit laden palate. In fact, it's possibly the most essential Christmas flavour that you never knew you needed! Couple this with a bar of wonderfully rich chocolate covered Niederegger Marzipan (the finest available IMHO) and your in festive heaven.

Cocchi Barolo Chinato is available for £29.95 here

Being that we like a cocktail or two, we found time to 'Cocchify' three of our favourites:  The whisk(e)y based Manhattan and the gin-based Martinez and Vesper. Here, Cocchi's vermouths come into their own, the rich notes in the Vermouth di Torino coming from a recipe harking back to the its original introduction back in 1891, rereleased to coincide with the 120 birthday of the House of Cocchi.

In a Manhattan, using 50ml Pikesville rye whiskey as the base, 25ml Cocchi VdT and a dash of Bitter Truth's Jerry Thomas Bitters, the Cocchi highlights the more robust, peppery notes found in the rye and the smooth well-rounded fruitiness gives the drink a real sumptuousness.  In fact, it might just have pipped our previously favourite vermouth, Antica Formula, to the punch.

Our Martinez, used the rather intriguing creation of Master Of Malt's Cream Gin, made in conjunction with our great friend and colleague, Ryan Chetiyawardana, for a really authentic, late 19th Century feel. Using 60ml of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, 30ml of Cream Gin, a bar spoon of Maraschino liqueur and 2 dashes of Bokers bitters.

Oh my...  The aromatic botanical notes in the gin really start to come alive with the bitterness of the vermouth, but the cocktail has a rich sweetness too, dark chocolate, cinnamon and anise all jumping out.  As Martinez cocktails go, this one is our favourite recipes by a long way.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is available for £17.75 here

Our final cocktail uses Cocchi's Americano Aperitivo.  It has a very citrus'y feel, with grapefruit juice, orange zests and an intense bitterness (from the cinchona bark, which is where quinine comes from)

With a Vesper, to be frank, you know you're drinking a  f**king powerful cocktail: the classic recipe, as created by the master of espionage himself, Ian Fleming, calls for three measures of Gordon's gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet (a sweet, aromatic, gold-coloured vermouth) and a lemon peel as a garnish.  Here, we decided to plump for the superlative experience of Berry's No.3 gin,  Ketel One vodka and a, shall we say, gentleman's pour of the Cocchi Americano in place of the Lillet.

The result is a fabulously clean, sophisticated drink, with a wonderful citrus balance and dry/aromatic botanical hit, which lingers for ages on the palate. An outstanding drink in every stretch of the imagination.

Cocchi Americano Aperitivo is available for £15.75 here