Want to make the perfect Martini? Well it’s all in the squeeze, apparently. Get a sliver of fresh lemon or orange peel about 4-5cm long and about 1.5cm wide at the middle, pinch the longer edges in you fingers and ‘snap’ over your cocktail, says Richard Ehrlich, martini aficionado, prolific food writer and stalwart of the Guild of Food Writers.
Few drinks have so many myths, preconceptions and opinions swirling about the glass than the martini. What should be a simple mix of gin, vermouth and a garnish, perhaps an olive, a squeeze or twist citrus, or a cocktail in a Gibson, is a minefield, says Richard while entertaining a group of guild members at a martini tasting with stories and tips about this iconic drink.
Some say a ‘Perfect Martini’ is mixing equal measures of gin and vermouth, others say it’s a matter of opinion as to which ratio makes the best cocktail. Serve in the inverted cone-shaped Martini glass, which is sometimes referred to as a saucer, and typically holds around 250ml or 8.8 oz of liquid. The gin and vermouth should be mixed separately and poured over a chunk or two of ice along with the snapped lemon oil, before finally garnishing with the peel.
He encourages us to keep the gin in the freezer (give it a few moments to take on some warmth before using); store your vermouth in the fridge and garnish with strips of unwaxed lemon, or perhaps orange.
Martinis, says Richard, are a carefully calibrated cocktail mix of gin, vermouth, garnish and ‘cold’. This fourth ingredient is vital when serving Martinis with the gin being kept in the freezer. Adding a splash of ice is another way to chill the drink, but add too much and you’ll dilute the cocktail and its delicate flavour. Another way to ruin a great Martini including is to use a poor quality gin. There’s no need to buy a fancy flavoured gin – keep it simple, perhaps using your favourite brand, such as my choice of either Bombay Sapphire or Plymouth. You also need to treat the vermouth with care; keeping it away from direct light and heat, and not left open for months or even years. Like sherry, vermouth benefits from drinking sooner rather than later.
First created in eighteenth century Turin, vermouth is an aromatised, fortified wine flavoured with various botanicals including roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, and spices.
Made dry and sometimes referred to as white or French, this vermouth is a must have for the classic Martini cocktail, while sweet vermouth (also known as red or Italian vermouth) is the preferred addition to whiskey-based drinks such as the Manhattan.
But back to the tasting, where Richard pours two cocktails for us to compare – a very dry Martini with one part vermouth to 10 parts gin, and a squeeze of lemon, against a slightly sweeter recipe of one part vermouth to six parts gin. While I preferred Richard’s second recipe to the drier first, ultimately my preference would be slightly drier, at around seven or eight parts gin to one part vermouth. And of course finished with a flourishing snap of the lemon peel to complete the perfect martini.
Vermouth tasting at Terre Madre, Turin
A couple of years ago I attended the Slow Food Terre Madre food and drink festival in Turin, Italy where I pounded on a ticket for a sold-out vermouth tasting workshop. Vermouth is enjoying a renaissance across Europe with artisan producers realising that the drink would benefit from some alchemy; reinvented and refreshed. Traditional dry vermouth (also known as white or French vermouth) is used for a classic martini, while sweet vermouth (also known as red or Italian vermouth) is used in the old-school Martinez cocktail, a precursor to the classic gin martini as well as whiskey-based cocktails. Both white and red vermouths are made with white wine, with caramel adding colour to the red.
Served neat with ice and a slice of lemon, white vermouth is popular as an aperitif, while meals are deliciously completed with a red vermouth digestif.
The Terre Madre tasting was led by one of Italy’s top mixologists, Dom Costa, who introduced us to several vermouths from France, Germany and Italy including Dolin, Belsazar and Mulassano.
From France comes Dolin, a dry vermouth from the last independent producer in Chambéry, Savoy in south-east France, an area with close historical ties to Turin and the Piedmont region. It’s the only area in France to have received an appellation d’origine contrôlée (DoC) for its vermouths. Dolin has a full, intense scent of citrus peel, supported by menthol and balsamic notes. Its smooth, velvety texture also has aromas of almond and fruit pit.
Made in Germany, Belsazar offers a range of complex aromas from its six constituent wines flavoured with up to 20 different home-grown spices, herbs, peels and blossoms, including wormwood and small-batch fruit brandies. Complex and long, this Vermouth is described as “delicious to drink straight up over ice or as a strong partner in a dark and heavy classic cocktail recipes”.
Mulassano is a brilliant red vermouth from Italian producer Bordiga in the Occitan valleys made using Nebbiolo grapes, which are full of rich fruitfulness and sweetness in equal measures, and complement most gins and whiskies.
And, if you’re looking for a change to your Christmas drinks tray, try warming some red vermouth with a mulling mixture of cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, cloves and perhaps juniper.