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Punt e Mes Poster from the 1960'sPunt e Mes; a bottom shelf bottle back in the “them were the days” days of running a wine merchant. Not exactly neglected, more ignored and misunderstood.

Sales were negligible, 2 or 3 bottles a year to the same old comely gent, but you have to forgive my ignorance over what exactly it is. Vermouth, certainly, but in explaining the differences between Punt e Mes and the ubiquitous green bottled Martini – not a clue. In my defence there were more interesting things to discover, I was studying for the wine diploma at the time and I don’t recall vermouth mentioned once during the course.

My education continues – Punt e Mes was born in 1870, like a majority of vermouths, in Italy. “The story goes that a stockbroker from the nearby exchange engaged in a heated discussion with his colleagues in Carpano’s bar, and ordered vermouth with the addition of half a dose of China spice (quinine). He used the Piedmontese dialect punt e mes, or point and a half to indicate the mix of measures he wanted.”

That little gem was sucked from Vermouth by Gerard Noel a 112 page, hard-backed book received as a review copy recently.
All the basics are covered – the medical origins, the founding of the various Italian and French producing houses, the surge in popularity during the cocktail age of the 1920′s and through to the drinks popularity in the 1970′s and its decline to the present day.

Like a cocktail olive, the book is stuffed with such snippets. Did you know that up to 50 barks, peels, herbs and spices are used in the production of Vermouth? Or that these ingredients are either infused, macerated or distilled during production with most producers using a mix of all three methods?

Decent Italian vermouth uses Moscato wine grown in the Piedmont hills as the base but is generally mixed with wines from other regions of Italy too. Charcoal filtering, similar to that used in the manufacture of vodka, is brought into action to strip colour and other undesirable components. The sweeter red vermouth gains its colour from the addition of caramel.

Is Vermouth likely to swing back into fashion? Noel fails to tackle the thought. Perhaps ‘relegating’ the drink to culinary uses is degrading such an illustrious product; more though in the chapter on the culinary uses would have been useful. Fish dominate the recipes – Whitby Crab Bisque, Lemon Sole with a Prawn Mousseline, a Noilly Prat sauce for Sea Bream for example. A dessert too. Anyone tempted by the Pears Poached in Spicy Honeyed Vermouth? If cocktails are more your bag though, then there are plenty to explore in its dedicated chapter

“a slim, fascinating volume that richly deserves a place behind every self-respecting bar and on the shelves all all who profess an interest in an occasional Martini or how to make really good fish stock”.
What I can’t tell you though is where to buy. The press release details the price at £14.99 and supplies the ISBN (0-9549799-1-0). But Amazon’s listings are empty… The publisher is Wine Destination Publications, 44 Oakland Avenue, Droitwich Spa, Worcs, WR9 7BT. 01905 773707.
For details of the Lillet range of vermouths in the UK see UKWinesOnline.

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