"We've wanted to make vermouth for 15 years," says Steve Matthiasson, owner of Matthiasson winery in Napa.
It remained a fantasy until a few barrels of his 2011 dessert wine overfermented. A sommelier who works in the winery suggested they transform the mishap into fortified wine. ("I hugged him," Matthiasson admits.)
Into the barrels of Flora--a varietal created at UC Davis--went sugar and tinctures of cardoons, blood oranges and sour cherries from the family gardens. He added cinchona bark, thistle and coriander until the flavors matched the aperitif of his imagination.
Voilà: the citrusy, acid-edged 2011 Matthiasson Napa Valley Vermouth ($25 for 375 ml), released in the past few weeks.
With its mellow bitterness, the vermouth is designed to be sipped over ice. When we told Matthiasson we'd also asked Michael Cecconi of Two Sisters Bar & Books to make cocktails with it, he gave us his blessing. "Tell him it goes well with gin!" he said.
After Cecconi emptied the bottle and covered the bar with test drinks, we agreed--a Negroni with equal parts St. George Dry Rye Gin, Gran Classico and Matthiasson Vermouth is indeed an excellent thing.
Even more striking: A Blood & Sand that Cecconi made with blood orange juice (see the recipe).
The vermouth proves a gentle mixer that, just like Matthiasson's wines, has a finish that will last almost as long as the ice cube you drop into it.
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