I attended a rebranding dinner for what has been know in the US for a hundred years as Martini & Rossi – best known for vermouth and Asti Spumante. It gave me the opportunity to taste their wine products and learn more about them.
The company was founded in 1863 in Pessione, Italy, by Alessandro Martini and Luigi Rossi as a vermouth bottling plant, Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino. Martini was a commercial agent and Rossi crafted a new recipe for vermouth.
The apéritif or aperitivo has been drunk in Italy since the 16th century. These drinks were generally used to stimulate the appetite and were often bitter. By the 18th century, fortified wines became a popular and more palatable alternative.
Vermouth is a blend of wine with alcohol, sugar, herbs, spices and fruits that became a popular aperitivo during the 19th century. Martini & Rossi saw an opportunity to export this product into the US market. In 1890 Martini & Rossi exported more than 300,000 cases of vermouth to the US – using steam engine boats, trains and horse carriages.
The invention of the Martini cocktail in pre-Prohibition America helped grow the brand’s fame. There is no clear answer to how the cocktail was named. There are numerous claims floating around, but it’s fair to say that the fortunes of Martini & Rossi certainly grew as their name became linked to the cocktail.
Their wine business developed with the production of Asti Spumante, a fully sparkling, semi-sweet, low-alcohol wine made from the Moscato Bianco grape. The softly sweet flavor makes this a good pairing with lightly sweet desserts and cheeses. You’ll also find it pairs well with spicy Asian food because of the cleansing properties of the bubbles and the 9% ABV (alcohol by volume). ($12.99)
Then they began producing Prosecco. This is a wine with a softer sparkle, more pronounced fruit aromas and 10.5% ABV. Produced from the Glera grape, it is much drier than the Asti; it has 15 grams per liter of sugar versus 90 g/liter. ($14.99)
Their sparkling rosé, made from Moscato Bianco, Brachetto and Malvasia grapes, has 49 grams per liter of sugar placing it squarely between the Asti and Prosecco. It is light wine that serves as a lovely aperitivo at only 9.5% ABV. ($12.99)
Finally, the newest product is a full-on sweet wine. Moscato d’Asti is a still wine with a very gentle effervescence; the carbonation is about half that of a traditional sparkling wine. Made from 100% Moscato Bianca grapes, the wine is light and refreshing. With 130 grams per liter of sugar and only 5% ABV, it’s a great way to end a big meal. ($14.99)
These wines are readily available throughout the New York area.