Ode to the Martini

There’s nothing sexier than a martini. Beloved by James Bond, the clean, spirit-forward cocktail has proven itself impervious to countless trends, from “shaken, not stirred” to the unfortunate appletini. Although traditionally made with gin, I prefer vodka (fewer morning-after headaches. . .). A martini is usually dressed with olives but occasionally with a lemon twist or onion (but that is actually a Gibson, not a martini).  A properly made martini is like drinking a cloud.

History of the Martini

Like many classics cocktails whose origins stretch deep into history, the martini’s story of inception is the stuff of legends. Since the 1950s, the town of Martinez, California has claimed the drink as their own. The story goes that during the Gold Rush around 1849, a prospector who struck gold wanted to celebrate with Champagne, but since the local bar didn’t have any, the bartender instead threw together what he did have—fortified wine and gin—and called it the Martinez special. Over time, the Martinez recipe, which is more similar to a Manhattan, evolved into the martini.

Another theory is that the martini is actually the result of a very successful marketing ploy by Italian vermouth maker Martini & Rossi in 1863, when the brand created a drink in response to customers asking for a tipple of dry vermouth and gin. When cocktail historian David Wondrich published the first edition of Imbibe! in 2007, he floated several martini origin stories. But he suggests the most plausible, although not proven, to be one involving New York judge Randolph B. Martine who supposedly invented the martini at New York City’s The Manhattan Club.

Steps to a Perfect Martini

One: The Vodka. Vodka makes the basis of the martini and is its most important ingredient. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is one of my favorites. I started drinking this a few years ago when it was still a small batch vodka made in Texas. It has since grown to be quite popular (and more expensive). I find it to be very smooth with almost a creamy mouthfeel. Works great in a martini.

Tito's Vodka
Tito’s Vodka

Variations

  • 50/50 Martini: The ultimate wet martini with equal parts gin and vermouth.
  • Gibson Martini: A martini garnished with a pickled onion.
  • Martinez: The precursor to the dry martini, made with sweet vermouth, Old Tom gin, and maraschino liqueur. This cocktail similar to a Manhattan cocktail, but made with gin instead of rye.
  • Vesper : The vodka and gin martini variation created by Ian Fleming in his first James Bondnovel, Casino Royale. It’s three parts (Gordon’s) gin, 1 part Russian vodka and a 1/2 part Kina Lillet (sub Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano).
  • Puritan Cocktail: A martini variation from 1900, made with yellow Chartreuse (1 3/4 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, 1/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse, a dash orange bitters).

Manhattans: The Perfect Fall Cocktail

I first published this post last winter. With the advent of crisp fall days it seems appropriate to revisit.

The perfect winter cocktail
The perfect fall cocktail

Manhattans have become my fall cocktail of choice. I used to drink exclusively white spirits – premium vodka preferably. But something about brisk temperatures, short days, fires in the fireplace just lends itself to dark spirits.

My first foray was perfect brandy Manhattans (I was weaned on these as my parents drink them religiously). After awhile I decided to branch out and started experimenting with bourbons – Basil Hayden, Hudson (a great small batch bourbon), Eagle and Buffalo Trace (for everyday pours) were all favorites.

A couple of years ago I learned that the original Manhattans were made with Rye. I started experimenting with Rye. And then realized I couldn’t ignore the other key ingredients in Manhattans – vermouth, bitters, cherries (or a twist if you are so inclined). So after many pleasant experiments:

  • 3 parts Rittenhouse Rye
  • 1 part Carpa Antica sweet vermouth
  • dash of bitters
Rittenhouse Rye - the perfect choice for Manhattans
Rittenhouse Rye – the perfect choice for Manhattans
Carpica Antica is the best vermouth for a Manhattan
Carpica Antica is the best vermouth for a Manhattan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 100 proof Rye and the Italian vermouth balance each other perfectly.  A Yarai mixing glass and strainer is also a critical supply should you prefer straight up vs. on the rocks (Manhattans should be stirred not shaken!).

Yarai Mixing Glass + Strainer
Yarai Mixing Glass + Strainer

I normally garnish with a lemon twist, although I recently found Woodford Reserve’s spiced cherry bitters – with the proper cherry (see below) it is an interesting choice.

Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters
Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

If you like the traditional cherry make sure you do not use the traditional fire-engine red maraschino. Luxardo is a much better choice (and a great measure of the quality of a bar and skills of a bartender).

Luxardo Cherries - the original Maraschino
Luxardo Cherries – the original Maraschino

 

My Favorite Summer White and Rose Wines

Summer White Wines
Summer White Wines

My go-to varietal in the summer is Sauvignon blanc. I have never been a fan of Chardonnay – too popular, overdone and I just don’t like the buttery, creamy, oakiness of many Chardonnays. Sauvignon blanc is crisp, light, acidic – the perfect counterpart to a hot summer day. I favor light and fruity (especially those with grapefruit and herbaceous notes). While the Marlborough region in New Zealand is a favorite I have found a few good California Sauvignon Blancs as well. Another big benefit to sauvignon blanc wines is their price – I rarely spend more than $15 for a bottle. A few of my favorites are (tasting notes from the vineyards unless noted):

  • Kim Crawford (Marlborough, New Zealand) – “Beautifully bright pale lemon color. With the crack of the cap, unleash the unexpected as an array of delicious aromas leap from the glass. Pink grapefruit, key lime, passion fruit, frangipani, and pineapple tempt your senses. An exuberant wine packed with flavor, balanced by mouth-watering acidity and a fresh, zesty, lingering finish.”
  • Villa Maria Estate (Marlborough, New Zealand) – “This intense Sauvignon Blanc is alive with a myriad of flavours dominated by gooseberry, passionfruit, fresh citrus, melon and herbaceous aromas. The wine has an enticing palate with a juicy flavour profile, purity and concentration, finishing crisp and clean with an interwoven thread of acidity.”
  • Geyser Peak (Sonoma) – “The fruit flavors are abundant and the acidity bright and crisp. Geyser Peak blends grassier elements with citrus and mineral notes and passion fruit and melon flavors.” A Wine Enthusiast  Best Buy – “This tastes bone dry, and it offers acidity that’s so clean and racy, it makes your mouth feel like it’s shining. The flavors of limes, lemons, hay, white pepper and vanilla are delightful.”
  • Cloudy Bay (Marlborough, New Zealand) – A bit of a splurge vs the others on the list ($30 or so). “Zesty lime and grapefruit aromas are the first to emerge from the nose of our 2013 sauvignon blanc, followed by nectarine and lemongrass tones. The palate is fresh and focused with ripe citrus, stonefruit, fennel and mineral notes lingering on the persistent finish. From Wine Spectator: “Graceful and elegant, with spice, Meyer lemon and quince notes up front. This is silky smooth but shows tremendous power on the finish where crisp, clean acidity and flavors of mineral, ruby grapefruit and stone fruit crescendo.”

 

Summer Roses
Summer Roses

Over the past few seasons I have also become a fan of rosés – no longer for that big box or jug-size bottle of wine.  No particular favorites here yet but see the links below for a few good choices at reasonable prices.

 

Manhattans: The Perfect Winter Cocktail

The perfect winter cocktail
The perfect winter cocktail

Manhattans have become my winter cocktail of choice. I used to drink exclusively white spirits – premium vodka preferably. But something about brisk temperatures, short days, fires in the fireplace just lends itself to dark spirits. My first foray was perfect brandy Manhattans (I was weaned on these as my parents drink them religiously). After awhile I decided to branch out and started experimenting with bourbons – Basil Hayden, Hudson (great small batch bourbon), Eagle and Buffalo Trace (for everyday pours) were all favorites.

A couple of years ago I learned that the original Manhattans were made with Rye. I started experimenting with Rye. And then realized I couldn’t ignore the other key ingredients in Manhattans – vermouth, bitters, cherries (or a twist if you are so inclined). So after many pleasant experiments:

  • 3 parts Rittenhouse Rye
  • 1 part Carpa Antica sweet vermouth
  • dash of bitters
Rittenhouse Rye - the perfect choice for Manhattans
Rittenhouse Rye – the perfect choice for Manhattans
Carpica Antica is the best vermouth for a Manhattan
Carpica Antica is the best vermouth for a Manhattan

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 100 proof Rye and the Italian vermouth balance each other perfectly.  A Yarai mixing glass and strainer is also a critical supply should you prefer straight up vs. on the rocks (Manhattans should be stirred not shaken!).

Yarai Mixing Glass + Strainer
Yarai Mixing Glass + Strainer

I normally garnish with a lemon twist, although I recently found Woodford Reserve’s spiced cherry bitters – with the proper cherry (see below) it is an interesting choice.

Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters
Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

If you like the traditional cherry make sure you do not use the traditional fire-engine red maraschino. Luxardo is a much better choice (and a great measure of the quality of a bar and skills of a bartender).

Luxardo Cherries - the original Maraschino
Luxardo Cherries – the original Maraschino

If the Manhattans above don’t work for you see the links below for alternatives.