, originally a dry white vermouth
, in the Hérault département
of Southern France
. Joseph Noilly, a herbalist, developed the first formula in 1813. It was the first example of a dry vermouth and led to white vermouths being known as "French". Red and amber versions are more recent and less widely known. Noilly Prat is 18% alcohol by volume.
It has long been known that wine
left in a barrel naturally alters its characteristics. Wine that was transported long distances in barrels, exposed to the weather, became darker in colour and fuller flavoured. It was to mimic this natural process that Joseph Noilly, in 1813, designed a process that made France's first vermouth. In 1855, his son Louis Noilly and son-in-law Claudius Prat set up the company that became Noilly Prat, moving the business to Marseillan where it remains to this day. The brand is now owned by the Martini & Rossi
The process used today is virtually unchanged since the 1850s. Noilly Prat is made exclusively from white grape varieties grown in the Marseillan area, principally Picpoul de Pinet
. These produce light, fruity wines which are matured in massive Canadian oak casks inside the original storerooms. The wine stays in these casks for 8 months, maturing and absorbing the flavour of the wood, before being transferred to smaller oak barrels which are taken outside and left for a year. Here they are exposed to the sun's heat, wind from the sea and low winter temperatures, while the wine is slowly changing. The result is a wine that is dry, full-bodied and amber coloured similar to Madeira
. During the year outside, 6 to 8% of the volume is lost to evaporation, the "angels' share
Brought back inside and left to rest for a few months, the wines are then blended together into oak casks. A small quantity of Mistelle (grape juice and alcohol) is added to the wines in order to soften them, along with a dash of fruit essence to accentuate their flavour.
In the oak casks, a process of maceration, supposedly unique to Noilly Prat, takes place over a period of three weeks. A blend of some twenty herbs and spices is added by hand every day. The exact mix of herbs and spices that goes into Noilly Prat is a closely guarded secret, but includes camomile, bitter orange peel, nutmeg, centaury, coriander, cloves. After a further six weeks, the finished product is ready for bottling and is shipped in tankers to Beaucaire, Gard where it is bottled by Martini & Rossi.
The vast bulk of Noilly Prat is the world famous dry white vermouth, but two special variants are made:
- Red Noilly Prat is made in the same exacting way, but with the addition of 30 flavourings, which produce the rich red colour. It is not available in France, except from the Noilly Prat shop in Marseillan, being produced for export.
- Amber Noilly Prat is available for purchase only from the Noilly Prat shop in Marseillan.
Although a fine drink in itself, Noilly Prat is often used in cocktails, the most common and well-known of which is probably the dry Martini
, which consists of approximately 1/3 Noilly Prat and 2/3 gin. These ratios are often adjusted depending on personal taste.
Cooking with Noilly Prat
Noilly Prat is extensively used in sauces, especially to accompany fish. In his BBC TV series French Odyssey
, Rick Stein
described Noilly Prat as a "true flavour from the Languedoc" and said, "I've done lots of experiments with white wines for fish sauces and I've come to the conclusion that Noilly Prat is the best. In fact, it makes very little difference to the finished sauce how good a white wine is (though this is not the case with red wine). However, the Provencal herbs and spices used to flavour Noilly Prat seem to add flavour to the reduction.
The Noilly Prat cellars are open to the public from March to November, for a small charge. Tour guides explain the whole process, and finish by giving visitors a taste of each of the three varieties of Noilly Prat produced. A major draw for visitors to the area, Noilly Prat attracts more than 80,000 tourists every year.
Noilly Prat was the name given by T. S. Eliot
to his cat.
- Green Guide: Languedoc, Rousillon, Tarn Gorges Michelin & Cie (1998), p 337 ISBN 2-06-136602-3