When it comes to aromatized wines, there are several main families. The link in their lineage is that all are infused with herbs and botanicals for taste and hue. At the head of the table sits the most popular category, vermouth—the Martini’s and the Negroni’s best friend, historically rooted from northern Italy through southern France to Spain. Surrounding vermouth is the gentian root–accented Americano, and the wines bittered with cinchona bark (the source of quinine), the best-known of which are French quinquinas.
American drinkers may be somewhat familiar with quinquinas such as Dubonnet or Lillet, and today a Corsican quinquina is making steady inroads: Mattei Cap Corse. Named for its point of origin on the northern Corsican peninsula, the wine was developed by Louis-Napoléon Mattei in 1872. The aromatized wine has been in production ever since, and today Mattei Cap Corse is produced in blanc and rouge versions.
Mattei Cap Corse blanc uses grapes grown in rich volcanic soil to produce an aperitif with geographical distinctiveness and a bright, acidic bite. The base is a crisp combination of nonfermented Vermentino (a light-skinned wine grape widely planted in parts of Italy) and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (white grapes), with a blend leaning to regional botanicals. The application of cedrat, a citrus fruit specific to Corsica, adds a significant edge to the wine, and the star of the show is the bark of the cinchona tree.
Functioning similarly to vermouth in a cocktail yet with its own inimitable balance of acidity, florals, honey, and fruit, Mattei Cap Corse has the necessary strengths to provide wide applicability in cocktails. New York City bartender Simon Sebbah makes a simple highball by matching Cap Corse blanc with Calvados and soda water, leaning into the quinquina’s compatibility with fruit flavors. Jena Ellenwood, also in New York, pairs Cap Corse blanc with mezcal and Suze gentian liqueur for her Winter in Oaxaca cocktail. “By pairing the bright French ingredients with the subtle smoke and vegetal notes in the mezcal, I stirred up my favorite variation on a Negroni,” she says.
At The Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle, bar manager Lindsay Matteson says Cap Corse blanc is one of her favorites, used in cocktails such as the Sea Level. “It has more brightness and salinity than a traditional blanc vermouth, and it also has a more delicate body, but a lot of flavor,” Matteson says. “It’s a great addition to a cocktail without overpowering things.”
La Pomme Pétillant
1 1/2 oz. Calvados or other apple brandy
1 1/2 oz. Cap Corse blanc
Chilled soda water
Garnish: lemon twist
Add the first two ingredients to an ice-filled glass and top with soda water. Stir briefly to combine, and garnish.
Simon Sebbah, Grand Tour Hospitality, New York City
1 3/4 oz. London dry gin
3/4 oz. Cap Corse blanc
1/2 oz. manzanilla sherry
Tools: barspoon, strainer
Garnish: fresh shiso leaf
Stir all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled glass, and garnish.
Lindsay Matteson, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
Winter in Oaxaca
1 1/4 oz. Cap Corse blanc
1 1/4 oz. mezcal (Ellenwood uses an Espadín)
1/2 oz. Suze
Glass: double rocks
Garnish: rosemary sprig, orange twist
Add all of the ingredients to a glass along with a large ice cube. Stir to combine, express an orange twist over the drink, then wrap it around a sprig of rosemary to garnish.
Jena Ellenwood, New York City