by Fred McMillin
for November 7, 1997

Winery of the Week

Luigi's Legacy

Prologue: The year is 1863 and this is the beverage news.

  • Caleb Chase and James Sanborn begin selling coffee in Boston, the start of the Chase and Sanborn firm.

  • Ominously, English and French vinegrowers observe some type of blight associated with imported U.S.A. vines. It will turn out to be the dreaded phylloxera.

  • Turin is playing a leading role in the prosperous industrialization of the new Italian Republic. Luigi Rossi starts a wine company there.
The Rest of the Story: So how did the company turn out? Well, the full name is Martini and Rossi. Today it produces a mere 21 million bottles annually of sparkling wine and also is the world's leading producer of vermouth! The sparkling wine orginally was called "Moscato Champagne." It first arrived in the U.S.A. in 1933, just at the time the name was changed to the one we all know, Asti Spumante. Asti is the name of the town and region south of Turin that supplies Muscat Canelli grapes for the wine. "Spuma" means "foam" in Italian.

The sparkler's Muscat grape flavor and sweetness is enormously popular in America. My last figures show total spumanti sales here exceed total champagne sales. Many of my friends are only casual wine drinkers who do not like the shock of champagne. So I serve spumante with cheese appetizers when they arrive, and we get the evening off to a sparkling start.

Just the Facts

Name   Martini and Rossi
Location   Turin, Piedmont, Italy
Ownership   Still managed by descendants of Luigi Rossi.
Vineyards   Suprisingly, they own no vineyards but instead purchase all their grapes.
Phone   If you don't wish to call (011) 94191 in Italy, try Laura Baddish in NYC at (212) 867-6400.
Founders   Partners Martini and Rossi
Founding Date   1863
Principal Sparkling Wine   Martini and Rossi Asti
Price   $10 range

Postscript: The Muscat Canelli grape was right at home near Turin long before Luigi started his winery. Jancis Robinson tells us it is the oldest known variety in Piedmont. It was mentioned there as early as 1203 A.D.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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