I recently finished The Mixellany Guide to Vermouth & Other Aperitifs by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, a definitive guide I consider a must-read for vermouth lovers. Let’s face it, if you read this blog then you’re a vermouth lover whether you know it yet or not. Within the back-lit pages of my Kindle, they recount the lengthy and complicated history of vermouth, including the origins of its first, commercial expression — Carpano Antica — a history that is echoed within the cyber halls and brick walls of every article and establishment where craft cocktails are spotlighted and respected. We have used Carpano in various recipes, including the Manhattan, the Plum Riot and the Grouse Hunter.
From Torino to Los Angeles, and at every good locale between, you’ll find the fat, red topped bottle with the vintage label featuring “Antica Formula dal 1786 Vermouth di Guisseppe B. Carpano.” Signor Marendazzo posited himself in the heart of the affluent café culture that revolved around the piazze di Torino, and in growing his business found a need for assistance — that assistance came in the name of Antonio Benedetto Carpano. It was Carpano’s intriguing recipe and the duo’s marketing of it as “wermut” that found favor in the House of Savoy (Holy Roman = Germanic = wermut) and catapulted the aromatized wine to the fervent cin-cins of hip Torino.
So, what of Carpano Antica? Like Fernet-Branca, if you’ve had it then you know; but unlike Fernet-Branca, it is palatable for a large segment of drinkers. Conveniently enough, Fernet-Branca actually purchased Carpano in 2001, assuming the rights to the Antica Formula, as well as its bitter brother, Punt e Mes. Both elixirs have similar flavor profiles, but differ intensely on their bitterness. Still, suggested to be the original formulas of each, and believably so given that their flavors are noticeably outside of the standard, American preference; these two red-headed Italians are redefining what Americans know about aperitivi and they’re doing it thru grassroots marketing. I’m a believer and an advocate. Here’s why.
Carpano Antica Formula
The first time I had Carpano I immediately tasted bacon. How can that be a bad thing? It’s a copper color that is deep orange in the middle and lightens to pure gold at the edges. Putting your nose to the glass immediately invokes sensations of bittersweet and meaty characters. There’s a saltiness that deepens to blood orange and gentian, and finally to tobacco. The entry conjures up meaty and tobacco flavors that seem to bring a chaotic world into order. Bits of chocolate continuously pop up throughout the enjoying. The bittersweet carries through to wild strawberries and fennel, deepening further into layers of apricot, plum and orange. Grapefruit starts to kick in through the lingering bitterness, dropping into spicy notes of clove and cardamom, evening out as it moves toward the back and all you can taste in the end is a sweetly-bitter peel of red grapefruit and lingering notes of chocolate.
Punt E Mes
If Carpano Antica is just not bitter enough for you, then you’ll love Punt e Mes. The deep brown, aromatized wine has been described as Carpano and Campari. Indeed. All the same aromas are there as in Carpano, only with stronger notes of citrus oils, including grapefruit and orange. There’s no mistaking Punt e Mes, it’s probably the favorite evening wind-down of Oscar the Grouch — dry, spicy and bitter as hell. The entry smacks of bitter grapefruit. As it deepens, notes of apricot and bright orange emerge. A raspberry tartness develops with a brace of tobacco underneath. Wood, rosemary and gentian give-way to a chocolate and bitter grapefruit finish that will stay with you for as long as the memory of that furry, green, trashcan hermit will (i.e. forever).
Drinking these two formulas is not a passing fling of lessened importance: it’s either love at first taste or a violent revulsion that you’ll be mysteriously drawn to until suddenly, you’re in love. While Punt e Mes may not be for all, reserved for those niche few who hang up their hats with a glass of Fernet; Carpano Antica is a drink for the people. Like Prometheus bringing fire down the mountain for all of mankind, Antonio Benedetto Carpano found a product of the Gods, captured it, and gave it to the Earth. To that I say, “Cin-cin! Viva Torino!”