Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Martini, Noilly Prat and Picpoul de Pinet

Noilly Prat, the vermouth produced in Southern France near the loverly town of Sete, is an essential ingredient of the traditional Martini that is so much loved by Americans. The company Noilly Prat was created in the 1800s by a Frenchman and an Englishman, Mr. Louis Noilly (French) and Mr. Claudius Prat (British), who also had family ties, in Marseillan, where the business has remained to this very day, although the company was sold to an international vermouth producer some years ago.

For many years, there were two versions of the dry Noilly Prat: an American version, sold exclusively in the US, and the original European version with a different flavor profile. While both versions are a blend of 20 herbs and spices that macerate in the base wine for three weeks, extended aging and the use of mistela and lemon liqueurs for sweetening produces more floral, fresher, herbal flavors and undertones of honey in the original (European) version --- for many years known only to those who had a Martini outside of the US, for example, at Harry'New York Bar in Paris or Newton in Berlin, or who brought a bottle over from Europe.

Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth has a new bottle design. But Noilly Prat discontinued producing the special version for the American market recently. So, for the American consumer, it does not matter any more whether you have your Martini in New York or in Paris, but if you have it in New York it is no longer the same as it was for so many years. In carrying an article on the Martini in the issue of last Sunday, the New York Times reminded me of this development.

What is still the same is that the main grape for making the Noilly Prat is the Picpoul de Pinet . This is a high yield grape that produces refreshing summer wines. Picpoul de Pinet is grown near the sea, just inland from the Bassin de Thau, south of Sete. The Picpoul is high in acidity, translating into freshness in the wine, which, when balanced by fruit flavours of lemon, apple or pear, provides a perfect partner to seafood, in particular the oysters farmed in the Bassin de Thau.

I had an amazing Plateau de Fruits de Mer in one of the many restaurants at the harbor of Sete earlier this year only to find out that the lobsters on the Plateau de Fruits de Mer was imported from Maine. They do not have enough lobsters there and anyway cannot compete with the prices of the Maine lobsters, which have been falling quite a bit in recent years.

The Picpoul de Pinet is widely available in the Washington D.C. area. I recently bought a case at Whole Foods for $7.99 the bottle. Great summer wine.

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