Integral to the history of Turin vermouth production, Chazalettes launched its aromatised and fortified wines in 1876. The company prospered and, in 1907, was even granted use of the royal seal of Queen Margherita of Italy (yup, her of pizza fame). However, it hit the skids after the Second World War, when its factory was bombed, and eventually closed up shop in the 1970s.
The grandson of its founder Giovanni Chazalettes, now 78-years-old, withstood repeated offers to revive the brand, until he was convinced to join forces with the Bava family behind Cocchi, who have themselves made wine in the region for five generations.
‘Being able to find out how vermouth would have tasted 150 years ago is like discovering the pyramids and opening a Pharaoh’s tomb,’ says Cocchi managing director Roberto Bava. ‘The recipes are their DNA and they’re unchanged, right down to the mint grown in Piedmont.’
Chazalettes is relaunching with an extra dry, a bianco and a rosso vermouth. Made using a wide range of herbs and spices, these are dried and then separately macerated in order to extract the most from their distinct flavours. Giovanni Chazelettes, who worked in the company’s factory before its closure, helped them to rediscover the original flavours. Despite having exact recipes production has changed, something the team had to grapple with.
‘We had samples from the past, but it’s difficult to compare because they’re 100 years old,’ said Roberto. ‘Also, we don’t have the same machinery, so we had to work hard to understand the processes of the time.’
Francesca Bava, who is spearheading the brand’s revival, says the Chazelettes Vermouth Extra Dry was central to the family’s decision to restart production, as the recipe is ‘completely different to all other vermouths on the market’.
At 18% abv, it’s the strongest of the three and uses a Cortese base wine, favoured for its neutrality and minimal quantities of sugar at 30g/l. The vermouth includes 20 different herb and spice extracts, including Piedmont alpine herbs, lemon balm, bergamot, juniper, cardamom and bitter orange.
‘You know the taste of Noilly Prat and Martini, for example, but this is something else,’ says Roberto. ‘It's like a super aromatised wine, and could also be drunk with oysters as you would an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. We used a really good wine for the base, so you can almost treat it like a wine.’
Roberto describes the Chazalettes Vermouth Bianco as a particular challenge to make, getting the right balance of sweetness, bitterness and acidity. Using Muscato as the base wine, it incorporates 130g/l sugar, sweet citrus, elderflower, rhubarb, cardamom, coriander and other bitter herbs.
‘We further ferment the Muscato, so it becomes dryer, and leaves a slight bitterness, which is also instrumental in balancing the sweetness,’ explains Roberto.
While most rossos are typically made with a base of white wine, before colourings such as caramel are added, the Chazalettes Vermouth Rosso uses a Barbera base wine with a touch of Nebbido. It includes the same sugar quantities as the Bianco, as well as cinnamon, musk mallow, galangal root, wormwood and coriander.
‘You get a very different reaction between the red wine and the extracts,’ says Roberto. ‘The tannins react to the spices and bitterness and evolve in a different way over time.’
He describes the resulting drink as having a richer colour and a more solid chewiness to the flavour, that is thicker and more consistent that modern vermouths.
You might expect a twinge of competition between Cocchi and its ‘back-from-the-grave’ neighbour, especially given the crowded vermouth market, but the Bava family doesn’t envisage an Italian turf war between the two.
‘Our first thought was simply to save the heritage, then we thought about the market,’ says Francesca. ‘Of course, there aren’t many vermouths with such a history as Chazalettes, and that’s really what’s missing – a very traditional vermouth di Torino that covers these three categories.’
Imbibe’s tasting notes:
Chazalettes Vermouth Extra Dry, 18% abv
Particularly floral and aromatic on the nose, with notes of lemon balm, elderflower, dusty notebooks, apple blossom and grapefruit peel. The aromatics hid the dryness. On the palate it morphs into a more traditional dry vermouth, with bay leaf and thyme, before a saline finish.
Chazalettes Vermouth Bianco, 16.5% abv
Expressive on the nose, with apples, hay and florals there too, and a bit of eucalyptus and porridge oats. One the palate, it’s quite grapey and wears its Moscato base on its sleeve. Fantastic medium body, nougat and gentian bitterness. Violets on the mid palate and caramel and vanilla sweetness of the finish.
Chazalettes Vermouth Rosso, 16.5% abv
Burnt caramel, dark chocolate, wormwood, orange peel, worn leather, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaf on the nose, followed by sour cherries and bitterness from wormwood and gentian on the palate. Light bodied with notes of burnt toffee, orange peel, rosemary, caramel sweetness in the background. A whisper of Chinese 5 spice and a gentle chewiness.
Chazalettes is distributed in the UK by Speciality Brands.