Friday, May 10, 2013

Uncouth Vermouth - Tasting with Bianca Miraglia

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to meet and taste with Bianca Miraglia, the woman who founded Uncouth Vermouth. Uncouth Vermouth is made in Brooklyn from fortified wines made from Long Island grapes, using herbs that Bianca forages mostly in Long Island. I knew almost nothing about uncouth Vermouth before meeting Bianca. I read Alice Feiring's piece last year in the Times and I remember being curious about the wines. Turns out that the wines are interesting and delicious and that Bianca is a smart, principled, and fun person too.

Bianca makes about 2,500 cases of vermouth in a year but she plans to double production soon. She makes her wines at the Red Hook Winery, and lost almost all of her stock in the Hurricane Sandy flooding. So although right now her wines are as popular as they've ever been, she cannot supply the demand for her wines. Hopefully this will soon change.

This is terribly short notice, but Bianca is pouring her vermouth later today (May 10th) at Chambers Street Wines, and you should go taste them if you can - they are compelling.

Here are some of the things I learned while talking with Bianca about her and her wines:

-- Bianca's father's name (Miraglia) means "Admiral" in Italian. He grew up in Greenpoint and had a part in starting the local textile workers union. An original Brooklyn hipster!

--She is in her 20's - she is still so young! I envied her for the strength of her conviction, and for the fact that she is doing the thing she cares about and finding success at such a young age.

--She left the NYC area maybe 6 years ago on a whim, went to Oregon and worked at wineries for a while.

--She was searching for a vermouth answer for the dry martini and made the answer herself - apple mint uncouth vermouth.

--Bianca never uses sweeteners of any kind. If her vermouth is sweet it's because the wine it's made from is sweet.

--There are no fewer than 20 different herbs in any vermouth she makes.

--She strains her vermouth but never filters - she wants to leave the compounds that add flavor and aroma in the wine.
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Here are some of the things Bianca said while were were talking:

"Mauro Vergano makes the best Vermouth in the world, but his style already exists. I want to do my own thing and make something great."

"The longer my Vermouths are open, the more they smell like wine. These are wines, fortified wines, more so than they are cocktail ingredients. They should be served chilled but not cold."

"Did you see Jiro Dreams of Sushi? Like he said, if you cannot impress yourself you cannot impress others. I want to love my Vermouths, I think of myself as my own best customer."

"You can make great cocktails with my Vermouths, but they're perfect on their own and that's how I love to drink them. Or with a dash of bitters and a splash of soda. They're 18% alcohol and you're still going to  catch a buzz, by the way."

"I won't mail samples of my wines, even to Food & Wine, I just don't do it. I'm one person and I do everything with my own money. The finances make it so I cannot mail samples, but I don't want to anyway. Samples are unnecessary. I respect your money and time and I expect the same. If you want to taste the wines, let's meet and do that together and talk about them."

"I love Red Hook Winery. They select so carefully and always try to adhere to their principles of chemical free and healthy farming, but if they have to spray because of weird weather, they're transparent about it."

"I spoke with several distributors a while back and they said that if they were going to sell my wines they had all sorts of demands about how I do what I do. Then after a few articles and the Vermouths started to become well known, they came back to me with a different attitude. This time it was do whatever I want and they'll make my brand huge. But I'm not looking to sell my brand. I'm looking to wake up happy every day and to do what I like to do."
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I wish I could be in my 20's again, with the same unadulterated optimism and strength of opinion. It's good for us older folks to be around young whippersnappers so we can be reminded not to compromise our principles, if possible.
We tasted two of Bianca's wines, and here are some notes (they retail for about $40, when they're available):

Uncouth Vermouth Beet Eucalyptus - made of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viogner. Smells strongly of eucalyptus, fresh and enticing. Tastes like beets and eucalyptus, which sounds trite, but is true. It seemed like an odd combo to me, but it works. The wine is fresh tasting and the finish is mellow and complex. If not drinking it straight, Bianca says this Vermouth makes an amazing Negroni.

Uncouth Vermouth Serrano Chile Lavender - made of Finger Lakes Riesling (which was made by Abe Schoener). Both were excellent but this one really moved me. First of all, it's spicy, and not blunted so that all can enjoy it. It's legitimately spicy. Especially after swallowing. There is subtle lavender on the nose but more prominently, a smell that it took me a while to figure out, but it's the smell that I get from high quality silver tequila. Green, succulent like a cactus, and spicy. Agave? I have no idea. I would drink this chilled straight, but it seems like there are many cocktail possibilities here too.

Go Bianca! I hope that you refresh your stocks and can sell your Vermouth to everyone who wants to buy it. And that in 10 years, you still apply the same principles you do today to whatever it is you may be doing.

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