Gin begins, like vodka, as a neutral spirit (the base can be grape, malt, corn, wheat, rye, and/or molasses). It is the introduction of juniper and other botanicals that defines gin. These potent flavorings can be infused, re-distilled, or a third method has trays of herbs, roots, berries and spices that work like a filter to flavor the steam of the distillate. In the end, gin is the extreme opposite of a neutral spirit. The particular mix of botanicals, whether it’s one, six, a dozen or more, defines each gin’s identity.
Italy is renowned for its high-quality botanicals (Tuscan juniper berries are the most used in gin all over the world), and it could be said that Italy is the birthplace of juniper distillates, where the monks at the Medical School of Salerno produced them in the 12thcentury. Until recently, distilleries in Italy were mostly known for excellent products such as grappa, acquavite, vodka, and a range of liqueurs. Today, the whole scene of distilling in Italy is very much evolving, and Italian gins are extraordinarily successful. In the last five years more than 170 Italian gins were put on the market (and more are to be launched). The gins are remarkable for the high quality of the distillate, the abundance and variety of great ingredients, and the outstanding diversity between each product in terms of taste and botanicals.
Flavio Porcu, who was born and raised in Sardinia, founded Wild Sardinia. While Flavio had worked in the wine and liquor industry most of his life, it wasn’t until he turned 46 that he decided to set out on his own and start what he dreamed of doing for years. Wild Sardinia is produced in the Province of Oristano in Sardinia, an area is known for its wild and pristine beaches. When Flavio decided to start his project here, he knew he wanted to create a product that reflects its location and is made from high-quality ingredients. Flavio partnered with Silvio Carta, a distillery on the island whose history goes back more than half a century. Over the years, the company has instigated an ethos of combining tradition and innovation culminating in the recent opening of a new, state of the art distillery in Zeddiani in the heart of Oristano. Today the distillery is run by Elio Carta, son of the founder. Flavio was attracted by two key features of the distillery; its proximity to the Vernaccia vineyards, used for making first Wild Sardinia’s iconic Vermouth, and the company’s slogan Armonia della Natura or Harmony in Nature, which fit with Flavio’s plan of using all-natural ingredients.
Wild Sardinia Gin, which is made exclusively from the hand-picked berries of wild juniper plants that grow naturally along the island’s coasts. No other botanical is added. Thirty days of infusion in grain alcohol is followed by distillation with the discontinuous method for about 10 hours by means of steam heating and a copper still. The aroma and flavor are deeply concentrated and rich. The nose is overwhelmed and charmed by the perfume of Sardinian juniper that gradually leaves room for hints of resin and citrus fruit. The palate is mouth-filling and warm, long and expressive.
1 oz. Aperol
1 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. gin
Lemon twist, for garnish
Combine Aperol, vermouth, and gin in an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Squeeze lemon twist over cocktail and then discard.
1⁄2 oz. gin
1⁄2 oz. Braulio amaro
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 dashes orange bitters
1 sprig rosemary, for garnish
Combine Lillet, lemon juice, gin, amaro, and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with rosemary.
2 ounces gin
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 cup arugula
Lime wheel (for serving)
Combine gin, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill partway with ice, then top with arugula. Cover and shake vigorously until the outside of shaker is very cold, about 20 seconds. Strain through a very fine-mesh sieve into a coupe glass; garnish with lime wheel.
SPARKLING GRAPEFRUIT COCKTAIL
1 large ruby red or pink grapefruit
¼ cup sugar
2 ounces gin
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 sprig tarragon
2 ounces French sparkling wine (such as Crémant de Bourgogne)
Ruby red or pink grapefruit wedge (for serving)
Remove zest, along with some of the white pith, from grapefruit in wide strips with a vegetable peeler. Bring sugar and ¼ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, swirling constantly, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add grapefruit zest, pushing down to submerge. Let sit 30 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring cup.
Combine gin, lemon juice, tarragon, and ½ ounce syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice, cover, and shake vigorously until outside of shaker is very cold, about 20 seconds.
Strain cocktail into an old-fashioned or rocks glass filled with ice. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with grapefruit wedge.