Meet Luca Capecchi of Oscar 697 Vermouth

 

There's a new (vermouth) kid on the block and it's called Oscar 697. Ahead of the brand's official launch in Australia, we discover what this latest vermouth and the iconic Italian motorcycle brand Ducati have in common in a discussion with Luca Capecchi, owner of the Commons Local Eating House in Sydney, proud Italian and brand ambassador at large for Oscar 697 in Australia.

So how did Oscar 697 come to being?

The project is the brainchild of Stefano di Dio and it came about after a conversation he had with a few Italian drinks professionals in December 2012, about how the image of the vermouth category was still very traditional – vermouth has a very staid image and a lot of people still perceive it as something older people drink on its own.

So that was why he started Oscar 697. At the heart of it, we still respect tradition and that is reflected in the production methods but we also wanted a product that could showcase “Made in Italy” in the modern century. When people think people think made in Italy in respect of food and beverage, they think family, traditional, craft quality. But I find too that people also think old fashioned too. 

So who else is involved with Oscar 697?

There’s Oscar Quagliarini who is a professional bartender Stefano knew – he’s got this phenomenal palate and he devised the recipe for the vermouth. Then there’s Oreste Sconfienza, a vermuttista who’s been making vermouth since 1957 in the town of Calamandrana, a village in the Piedmont region of Italy. You need the vermuttista to know when to add things in the maceration or how to balance the maceration to create harmony between all the different botanicals that we want included in the recipe.

What’s with the number 697?

The first product in the range was the Rosso. Under Stefano's direction, Oscar and Oreste trialled and tested many samples and batches before they decided batch 697 was perfect. So that was the birth of Oscar 697 and they launched the Rosso in July 2013.

But how do you choose the botanicals that go into each?

That’s all determined by the nose, mouth feel and finish. All the botanicals have a specific job description. For example, for the Rosso, the three key botanicals are liquorice, rhubarb and wormwood. The liquorice provides a little spice but it’s duty is to provide the sweetness without the actual sugar content – liquorice is actually 7 times sweeter than sugar. Rhubarb provides tartness and roundness of flavor and the wormwood provides that herbal bitter note. We’ve got a few other botanicals in the mix of course but that is the secret!

The Bianco was next and that launched in in October 2013. The three key botanicals are the bergamot, yellow muscat (or black pepper) and elderflower. The bergamot is a very sharp citrus, similar to mandarin. And again you can see how they all balance each other.

The Extra Dry was the last to launch in September 2014 and we adopted the same philosophy in terms of balancing the different key botanicals to create the brief of a vermouth that was drier and more bitter than the others - in this one, we used wild fennel, dog rose and oak infusions. 

How did you get involved with Oscar 697?

Years ago, I was the Australian brand ambassador for Sagatiba cachaca and Stefano was the Europe and Asia marketing manager for Sagatiba. We had a good business relationship, which turned into a friendship. He contacted me after the brand launch for Oscar 697 Rosso and it was love at first sight when I tasted the liquid so we started talking about how we could bring this out to Australia. I’d been very impressed with his view on novelty brand building from my time working with him and this was such a good product, I felt we had something special.

So how are you bringing vermouth to the 21st century?

When you think cars and bikes, the two most iconic motorcycle brands from Italy are Ducati and Ferrari but even they have had to think about the way they introduce their brand to the market, especially in those markets that don’t perceive them as iconic. They had to change things a little – Ducati had to change its packaging in the last few years to appeal to the modern consumer.

We wanted simplicity in our packaging and go away from the busy imagery that is present in so many traditional Italian vermouth labels.

But we also do it through the use of the botanicals. Rhubarb and elderflower are very modern and not ingredients perceived as traditionally Italian.

Our Extra Dry has oak infusions in the maceration, which is quite innovative in itself. Putting wood chips in wine is a common procedure but not so much in spirit distilling but it is starting to be used. For example, Maker’s Mark puts French oak staves in the barrel for it Maker’s 46 bourbon.

What would your signature serve for each?

The Rosso is perfect in an Americano (equal parts Campari, Rosso and soda). It’s also the perfect foil against a rye whiskey in a Manhattan – the Rosso has got enough sugar from the liquorice without being overly sweet which offsets the spiciness of the rye. I’ve tried it against a few rye whiskies and the Rosso works each time.

I’d drink the Bianco in a spritz (Bianco, sparkling wine with mint leaves and a wedge of pink grapefruit). This combination really highlights the character of the Bianco – the mint leaves provide the freshness, the sparkling provides the body and the pink grapefruit is the perfect balance against the elderflower notes of the Bianco. It’s a really easy drink and perfect for spring.

Of course, the Extra Dry is made for a martini so that would be my signature serve for it. Either vodka or gin – I’ve been experimenting with different types of vodkas and gins with the Extra Dry and as it happens, the best vodka I found is the same one my father drinks.

Or you could combine 7.5ml of the Rosso and 7.5ml of the Extra Dry with gin and use that in a Perfect Martini, with vermouth infused olives and a lemon twist as garnish.

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