Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Old Noilly Pratt is New Again

For as long as I can remember, I insisted any cocktails requiring dry vermouth as an ingredient be made with Noilly Pratt.

I own no stock in the company, know no one connected with it, and get no special treatment from said firm. What prompted my stance was simply this: The flavor and consistent quality of Noilly Pratt French Vermouth were above reproach. Or so I thought.

I eventually discovered that the version sold outside the U.S. borders, which I’ve tried in such diverse locations as Scotland, France and Ireland, has had more oomph, more quality. It’s obvious that somewhere along the line, the original 1813 recipe was not being used in the French dry vermouth being shipped here.

Today, Noilly Pratt officially announced what has been buzzing around the industry blogosphere for a while — “the return of its original, classic blend to the U.S. market.”

Ludovic Miazga of Noilly Pratt, France, says, “While U.S. consumers continue to explore the world of cocktails, they have turned their attention to authentic and sophisticated blends that speak to heritage and tradition.

“When early mixologists were writing the first cocktail books around the turn of the century, they reached for the original Noilly Pratt to provide an essential flavor and complex touch to their classic cocktails of the future. Now, once again, cocktail enthusiasts may taste the classics as they were meant to be enjoyed.”

Noilly Pratt is aged for two or more years, and aged outdoors in oak casks for a full year before being blended with a secret combination of herbs and spices. In the aging court, called L’Enclos, the wines are directly exposed to the elements through the changes of season.

The vermouth was created by Joseph Noilly in 1813. It is a classic French aperitif created from Picpoul and Clairette grapes. The dry, full-bodied aged wines are infused with a blend of 20 herbs and spices, macerated directly in the wine for three weeks.

Noilly Pratt’s packaging also has been changed. The new bottle shape, its designers say, was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and includes a pebbled surface to reflect the weathering effects the outdoor aging has on the wine. L’Enclos, the enclosure at the Noilly Pratt facility in Marseillan, France, is pictured on the front of the bottle. The suggested retail price of the 750ml bottle is $10.99.

On the Domestic Front:

There are wineries in every state of the Union, but it appears only those from California will grace the table when Barack Obama, Joseph Biden and about 200 guests sit down for the traditional Inaugural Luncheon in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Inaugural Day, Jan. 20.

The menu itself has been “designed to reflect the theme of the 2009 Inaugural ceremonies, ‘A New Birth of Freedom,’ which celebrates the bicentennial of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln,” according to an announcement from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Curious that no wines were selected from the state of Lincoln’s birth (Kentucky) or principal residence (Illinois).

Can’t get enough? The announcement further states:

“The menu, created by Design Cuisine, a catering company based in Arlington, Virginia, draws on historic ties to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Growing up in the frontier regions of Kentucky and Indiana, the 16th President favored simple foods including root vegetables and wild game. As his tastes matured, he became fond of stewed and scalloped oysters. For dessert or a snack, nothing pleased him more than a fresh apple or an apple cake.”

The official menu:

First Course: Seafood stew, paired with Duckhorn Vineyards 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley in California.

Second Course: A Brace of American Birds (pheasant and duck), served with sour cherry chutney and molasses sweet potatoes, paired with Goldeneye 2005 Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley in California, the same company that produces Duckhorn.

Third Course: Apple cinnamon sponge cake and sweet cream glace, paired with Korbel Natural “Special Inaugural Cuvee” from California.