Like Stanley Tucci and your Italian nonna, we are firmly committed to the art of the aperitivo - which means we've glugged our fair share of sweet vermouth (it's a crucial ingredient in our fave pre-dinner classic, the Negroni, after all).
Today we're introducing you to one of the best: say ciao to Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino, the bottle that’s a staple of our booze shelf and a fixture in bars round the world. We took a trip to Cocchi’s HQ in Piedmont, Italy, to learn the story behind the bottle and what makes it so special.
The hint’s in the name: Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino is a sweet aromatised wine hailing from the northern Italian region of Piedmont, of which Torino is the capital. “Storico” means “historic”, and that’s exactly what this bottle is. The recipe was first dreamed up by Giulio Cocchi in 1891 and is still made using the same spec today. Now that's consistency!
Raisins. Bittersweet dark chocolate. Citrus peel. No, this isn't some kinda boujee pick 'n' mix - it's the aromas you'll get when you stick your nose in a glass of Cocchi VdT. Mouth watering yet? Good - time for a sip. On the palate, things get even deeper and richer. We’re talkin’ notes of fresh orange zest, caramelised almonds, more chocolate and a scattering of earthy spices straight from the pestle and mortar, all balanced by a cheeky bitterness.
Like we said, our guy Giulio created this juice back in the 19th century. He was a pastry chef, and he harnessed his keen sense of flavour to develop the recipes for loads of aromatised wines. (Ever heard of Cocchi Americano? That was his handiwork, too.)
Since 1978, the company has been owned and run by the Bava family. Winemaking is basically in their blood, and they’ve brought their vino skills to the vermouth biz. Today Cocchi Storico - and the rest of the company’s range, which also includes sparkling wines - is produced in Cocconato, a little commune in the province of Asti, right next to the Bava winery in the dreamy Piedmontese hills. (We can confirm that this is the place you wanna hit when you're in your Eat Pray Love era.)
Ya can’t just slap the “Vermouth di Torino” label on any old bottle - it’s a Geographical Indication (GI) dished out by the EU, and it’s special stuff. In order to qualify as a Vermouth di Torino, the vermouth has to follow some pretty strict rules, including that it has to be made in Piedmont, from Italian wine; it has to use wormwood (yep, the same botanical used in absinthe) grown in Piedmont; and it has to clock in at least 16% ABV.
Within those rules, Cocchi puts its own spin on Vermouth di Torino. It’s made from a base of Moscato wine; caramelised brown sugar, which lends it a lush amber colour, and a garden’s worth of herbs and spices.
Giorgio Bava, Cocchi’s export manager, says: “The key, the secret, is actually in the formula, in the way we blend the different botanicals.” While the exact recipe is closely guarded, we can say that it contains rhubarb, cinchona, bitter orange and, of course, wormwood.
Those botanicals are all natural, baby! Their flavours can vary from harvest to harvest and season to season, so keeping VdT's profile consistent for more than 130 years is no small task. That means testing is crucial to Cocchi's production - both through measuring technical bits like sugar and alcohol levels, and through good old-fashioned tasting (that's our style, obvs). Master distiller Paolo Bava has a massive archive of all the different batches he's created, and a sample that he always comes back to so he can keep that signature profile going. "The same numbers, for example, of alcohol and sugar in two different wines still taste different," Paolo explains. "That kind of analysis is for technical use, but tasting is really something else." Paolo, if ya ever need assistance, we volunteer as tribute.
Vermouth isn’t always one to sip straight, but Cocchi Storico certainly is. Serve it over ice garnished with a lemon twist, or - our favourite - try it paired with a dark chocolate truffle or three. That sh*t’s wicked.
But if you’re like us and ya can’t resist the call of the cocktail, you’re in luck. Bartenders love this stuff, and it’s ideal in any drink that calls for sweet vermouth - which means it’s a go-to for some of our fave classics...
Add all ingredients except the garnish to a mixing glass filled with ice and stir. Strain into a coupe and garnish with the cherries.
Add all ingredients except the twist to a mixing glass filled with ice and stir. Strain into a coupe and garnish with the orange twist.
Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino, 16% ABV, £19.95, thewhiskyexchange.com
Wanna keep the vermouth train rollin'? Check out our guide to the art of the aperitivo.