Chances are pretty good that most people in the Western world who are at least occasionally exposed to advertising, have seen an ad from Martini & Rossi. While their ad budget is almost certainly south of the big American beer producers, I doubt that there are many Italian producers who have as much of a presence in the U.S. as Martini & Rossi.
Martini & Rossi was founded in 1863, just two years after the unification of Italy, in the tiny (1,200 residents) Piedmontese town of Pessione, which is still the center of the company today. Not long after the founding of the company, Martini & Rossi embraced advertising and racing, in particular. It started with cycling, actually, in 1916, with the company soon embracing a pillar of bike racing: the Giro d’Italia.
The commitment to racing continues then shifted to motor sports in the middle of the last century, a commitment that continues today, stretching from F1-Indy car racing to the cross-country rallying style of racing.
I have a few memories myself about the brand, the most prominent being an ad about Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante:
Martini has long used American movie and T.V. starts as spokespeople for their various products, starting with Angie Dickinson and Jaclyn Smith in the ‘70s and ‘80s and a bit later, George Clooney:
While the company continues to produce a variety of distilled products, relatively recently there has been a move to return to their roots, in a way, with a renewed emphasis on sparkling wines.
Italy has just over-taken France as the number one sparkling wine producer in the world, with Martini the number one Italian Sparkling wine producer, and number three in the world.
A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch in downtown Houston with a few representatives of the brand, where we tasted through the current sparkling line-up.
NV Martini & Rossi Rosé Extra Dry: Retail $13. Chardonnay, Riesling Italico, Trebbiano, Garganega, Nebbiolo. 12-17 grams of sugar. Grapes come from several regions in Italy, thus no DOC. A relatively new addition to the brand as it was just launched a year ago. The company was looking for drier styles of sparklers, and the US is one of the first markets. Good fruit on the nose. Bright light red not pink. Good fruit flavors nice acidity, good finish. Solid, particularly at the price. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
Although two-thirds of Martini’s sparkling production remains Asti—the sweeter style of sparkling wine which is the company’s roots, they are increasing their production of Prosecco, which they started making in 1989. Today, Prosecco represents roughly 20% of Martini’s sparkling output.
The first part of the production is conducted in the Veneto, where the grapes are grown, but then it is moved to Pessione for the second fermentation and bottling. Normally, this would not be allowed under Italian law, but since Martini started the process long before the DOC laws were enacted, they are allowed to continue the practice.
Martini & Rossi Prosecco DOC: Retail $13. 100% Glera. Light straw color. Sweet fruity (yellow apple) nose. Good fruit, tons of citrus, nice acidity. Another solid wine that will not hurt the pocket-book. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
Prosecco Collezione Speciale DOCG: Retail $25. 1005 Glera. This new addition to the Martini line (to be released this fall) comes in a delightfully fancy bottle. For this wine, the winemakers selected a different yeast that promotes a longer fermentation which leads to better flavors. A beautiful color, slightly golden, with subtle aromas of apple and peach. Drier than the Prosecco, and more refined with a much longer finish. Very nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
As was mentioned many times over the course of the meal, while Martini & Rossi is delving more deeply into the dry sparkling wine market, it’s heart and soul remains in Asti, the sweeter style of sparkling wine that launched the brand over 150 years ago. There are 250 families in Asti that grow the grapes for Martini, which they call “conferenti” which roughly translates to “partners.” And many of the conferenti have been with Martini for decades, providing a cohesion and tradition that is at the core of the brand.
Martini & Rossi Asti DOCG: Retail $13. 100% Moscato Bianco. Asti is the largest wine producing region in Italy, and all of the wines there are DOCG. Very fruity Muscat nose. Sweet but not cloying. A prototypical Moscato d’Asti. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
Martini & Rossi Asti DOCG Collezione Speciale: Retail $25. 100% Moscato Bianco. Another new release for the U.S. market this fall (and also in the fancy bottle), this Collectione Speciale of Asti is a significant step up in quality. The “Asti Method” is a bit different as the wine is only fermented once and the sparkle is captured near the end of the fermentation process. The key to Asti is the freshness of the wine—no need to age these bubbles. This Collectione Speciale is hand picked in small 6-7 kilo (12-15 pound) boxes and crushed within two hours to preserve as much of the fresh fruit flavors as possible. It has finer bubbles and is less sweet on the nose than the standard Asti with plenty of citrus (lime) aromas. Wow. And almost a Whoa. The lime really comes through on the palate with a much longer finish. Really fantastic. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
Many thanks to the kind people at Martini & Rossi for coming to Houston on a sweltering July day to share their sparkling wines!