Recently celebrating its 150th anniversary [Watch the video capturing this celebration here], Martini vermouth is one of the largest and most recognizable vermouth brands in the world. With the cocktail revolution in full swing, serving up Martinis, Manhattans, and Negronis by the bucketful, you’d think that Martini would be resting on its laurels, but it isn’t. Although Martini is still king of the hill, it has lost some mindshare, especially in the craft cocktail community, to smaller brands like Dolin and Carpano. Like many big brands, Martini has turned to innovation and premiumization to regain mindshare and reignite enthusiasm for its brand.
Gran Lusso Vermouth, a limited edition bottling (with only 150,000 bottles produced worldwide), follows a similar strategy to Absolut Vodka’s Craft release. Gran Lusso is a premium product in short supply that serves to illustrate the quality and capabilities of the core brand. Deep, dark, and bitter, Gran Lusso feels very much like it was created with the craft bartender in mind, but surprisingly it’s a product that’s been in the works and quietly aging for more than eight years.
Gran Lusso Vermouth ($30, 16% ABV) is very much defined by the base Barbera red wine which comes from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Barbera is a wine with great depth, flavor, and spice that can be quite expensive, so it’s a fantastic choice for this limited release. In Gran Lusso, the Barbera wine is blended with Trebbiano white wine from Emilia-Romagna which both helps balance it out and slightly reduces its intensity. This wine blend is fortified with two key extract blends, one made with Moscato must from Canelli, Italy aged for a full year in oak barrels, and another a recreation of a secret 1904 recipe which has rested in glass demijohns for eight years.
Adding the Muscato must extract to the mix gives Gran Lusso a subtle, sweet quality which, along with the deep, spicy Barbera and the secret extract blend, are a fantastic trifecta of flavor. Gran Lusso does a superb job of balancing all these elements while still delivering an exceptionally flavorful and bitter flavor experience. While Gran Lusso may have been produced with the craft cocktailer in mind, it’s actually best sipped neat or over ice with a twist of orange. Gran Lusso is fairly deep and lush in its fruit notes and when mixed it can often overpower the other elements in the drink. Gran Lusso does work when paired with other strong botanical and bitter elements like Campari and gin in a Negroni, but we still prefer it on its own over ice.
Martini has long been known for its sense of style, and the packaging of Gran Lusso is nothing short of stunning. At $30, Gran Lusso is presented like it’s a $100 bottle of vermouth, with a black and gold embossed label and display-worthy wood resting cabinet. Gran Lusso is a very fitting way for Martini to celebrate its first 150 years, and it’s a glimpse into a possible future of innovation and premiumization for the brand. While only one batch of the core extracts was produced, we won’t be surprised to see more interesting and unique offerings from Martini in the future.