The Hottest New Spirit in Italy Is Also the Oldest
Gin might be the hottest new spirit in Italy, but it’s also the hottest old spirit. Like really old. As un-Italian as it sounds to modern ears, gin boasts one of the longest connections to Italian territory of any high-proof option behind the bar. An early form of gin was developed by monks in southern Italy in the 12th century, and juniper—the primary botanical in gin—was a popular drink additive since at least the time of the Romans.
The profound relationship with this particular distillate and its characteristic botanicals is what inspired Portofino Dry Gin, produced exclusively with ingredients from the northwestern Italian region of Liguria, as its cofounder Ruggero Raymo points out. Francesco Bargellini, marketing director for Ginarte, notes that his gin is also crafted using only local botanicals—in this case from the Tuscan countryside—and that the ingredients were also used by Renaissance artists in the creation of their pigments adds another layer of history.
And when Alessandro Malfitana, head sommelier at the Four Seasons San Domenico in Taormina, embarked on a spirits project, he turned to gin precisely because , as a wine professional, he loved the historical depth and terroir-driven aspects of gin. He and his partners make Volcano gin with ingredients sourced from Mount Etna, and their product line also includes a “sur lies” rosé gin that gets its color from time spent in barrels that formerly aged the red wines of Etna.
Volcano Etna Dry Gin, Sicily
If the bottling itself—which even includes a stopper rendered from volcanic lava—didn’t already announce the Sicilian identity of Volcano gin, then the notes of wild fennel that leap from the glass certainly do. Joined by other botanicals from Mount Etna, including juniper, bitter orange and the umami creaminess of hazelnuts, this pairs beautifully with Volcano’s own tonic, made with quinine and citrus also from Etna.
Portofino Dry Gin, Liguria
Citrus dominates the palate of this coastal Italian gin, with a salty undercurrent of the wild herbs that cling to sea cliffs, from lavender to marjoram to sage to rosemary, and a last note of crushed rose petals. Gorgeous on its own, better still in a classic cocktail that recreates the glamour and celebrity of Portofino, captured also in the panorama on the bottles.
Ginarte Gin, Tuscany
An utterly unique profile is sketched out by the introduction of calamint, safflower and woad, among other botanicals that connect art to spirit in this bottle, before more familiar notes of lavender, sambuca flowers and both pinecones and pine needles come through. Top Italian mixologists have worked with Ginarte to take advantage of its distinctive nature, blending it with everything from orange and cinnamon syrup to rhubarb bitters.
This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Published on April 7, 2023