Ever since we received samples of Punt E Mes and Carpano Antica Vermouth back in late June, Limpd and I have been kicking around the idea of doing a post in which we would try to determine which of these Vermouths will make the better Manhattan cocktail. As is always the case, work and family obligations have gotten in our way, so we have yet to pull this ”Vermouth Showdown” together.
Since I’ve been really curious to find out how these two Vermouths stack up against each other, a couple weeks ago, I had a few hours to myself on a Wednesday night, so I decided to do my own “Vermouth Showdown” via one of my favorite cocktails, The Negroni. In addition to making two versions of The Negroni, I decided that in order to better understand Punt E Mes and Carpano Antica, I would first try them on their own (i.e. neat). But before I get to my Vermouth and Negroni tasting notes, let’s find out a bit more about the cocktail and the Vermouths…
Here is what I was able to find out about the origins of The Negroni courtesy of the good people at AskMen.com:
Like most dudes called “Count” in turn-of-the-century Florence, Count Camillo Negroni could party. So they say. And his liver, salty as a soldier, wasn’t much moved by comparatively candy-ass aperitifs like the then-popular Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda). So he asked his bartender to substitute gin for the soda. And the Negroni — granddaddy of all before-dinner cocktails — was born. So they say. No one really knows, because they were all drunk on Negronis back then. But it’s a nice story.
And now for some information about Punt E Mes and Carpano Antica from the Vermouth 101 website:
In Torino, 1786, Antonio Benedetto Carpano invented the commercial model for what we know today as red vermouth, possibly even coining the term “vermuth.” The Carpano brand was formalized some years later by Carpano’s nephew. The red vermouths of subsequent producers, such as Cinzano and Gancia, were their own riffs on what Carpano first successfully marketed. Today, production is in Milano, Italy.
Punt e Mes dates to around 1867 and is simultaneously amongst the bitterest and sweetest of vermouths. Punt e Mes is a rare example of a “vermouth amaro,” or “vermouth con bitter,” a style of vermouth with extra bitters added. Adulterating Vermouth di Torino with bitters or vanilla flavoring—almost like a cockail—when drinking it is an Turinese custom almost as old as vermouth itself; this style has bitters built-in. Although it is not typically described or marketed as such, Punt e Mes can be thought of as a bottled vermouth cocktail. Punt e Mes is Carpano’s top-selling vermouth.
Antica Formula is a highly-regarded product first introduced in the 1990s. Antica Formula is an example of the “vermouth alla vaniglia” style: a red vermouth with added vanilla flavoring and sugar to balance. Note: Antica Formula is based on an old recipe, but it is not Carpano’s original vermouth recipe.
Now that we have the back story and history lesson out of the way, let’s get on with the Vermouth tasting and Negroni showdown…
Punt E Mes
- Color: Chestnut brown with ruby red highlights.
- Aroma: Having a difficult time picking up any specific scents. It smells like an herbal and lightly sweet fortified wine. The nose reminds me of a cellared Barleywine or Belgian Quad.
- Taste: Reminds me of an aged Balsamic vinegar though nowhere near as syrupy. Overall, I found it to be lightly sweet with a good bit of herbal notes and just a touch of bitterness at the very end.
- ABV: 16%
- Color: A much lighter shade of brown with a brighter ruby tint.
- Aroma: Much easier to decipher this one. Picking up a distinctly nutty note that reminds me of Torrone candy (nougat with almonds) that I had in Sicily many years ago. Also getting a hint of bittersweet chocolate.
- Taste: A tiny bit sweeter than the Punt E Mes with those Torrone and chocolate notes carrying through to the palate. Also quite fruity with black cherry and dried fig in the aftertaste. Overall, very smooth and easy drinking.
- ABV: 16.5%
The Verdict: Considering that both Vermouths originated from the same company in Turin, i.e. Carpano, it’s truly amazing how different they are. Punt E Mes is definitely more bracing while the Carpano Antica is infinitely more mellow and easy drinking. I think this one will come down to personal taste and mood since I enjoyed them equally.
Now let’s find out what effect each of these Vermouths had on The Negroni cocktail. Here is the recipe I used:
- 1 ounce Hendrick’s Gin
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce Vermouth
- Orange zest
- Oodles of ice
Directions: Fill a pint glass with ice and add the Gin, Vermouth, and Campari. Stir for about 10 seconds. Pour into an ice filled Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a twist of orange zest.
And here are the results…
- Color: The Punt E Mes Negroni was slightly darker and definitely leaned towards the brown end of the color spectrum while the Carpano Antica version was much more reddish.
- Aroma: Tough to tell the difference between the two.
- Punt E Mes: Much more herbal and slightly astringent. There was a definite Sherry or Port like quality coming through in this version of the Negroni, and there was a a soothing bitterness as you approached the finish.
- Carpano Antica: The flavors are slightly more mellow with a touch of that nuttiness and chocolate coming through. This is a kinder and gentler Negroni for sure.
The Verdict: Once again, I can’t really decide between the two. I love the soothing bitterness of a Negroni, so when I want a stronger tasting version, I’ll go with the Punt E Mes, and when I’m in the mood for something smoother and more easy drinking, I’ll go with the Carpano Antica.