Whilst in Marseillan I experienced a wonderful new event being presented by Noilly Prat, the vermouth manufacturers famously situated here by the port. I want to keep it a secret but it’s just so special that it needs to be shared and celebrated.
Outside the shop selling Noilly Prat was a small table offering a VIP event for the superb price of 30 euros each. As we stood in the hot sunshine reading the display, the company’s representative Lisa saw us and explained to us in perfect English the idea of the new event. We listened and as we were a small group of only six friends we all agreed that it sounded a good thing to do, and dutifully booked for the following night.
On arrival we were welcomed into the shop foyer by Lisa, and so started the tour of the Noilly Prat Company. We learnt about the business acumen of Mr Noilly and Mr Prat and the subsequent marriage that gave Noilly Prat its leadership through times that were to be challenging yet rewarding. We moved into the cave to see the huge Canadian oak casks containing ‘mystelle‘, a syrup based on a muscat wine, that pervaded the air with an alcoholic spiciness. Not only did we smell it but we also tasted this unique mixture, which started our journey towards understanding vermouth. Outside the huge cave we were greeted by the sight of over 1000 barrels of wine lined up and damp from their four-hourly soaking with water to prevent wood shrinkage.
Here we tasted the contents of two barrels, one of Picpoul wine and one of Clairette to determine the difference in flavour and colour. These wines eventually combine with the mystelle and other ingredients to make vermouth. The cellar master greeted us and explained the way the wines increased in alcoholic content during its time in the vast walled storage area, like a secret garden of wine.
We visited the Noilly Prat house, built in the late 19th century with the most wonderful oak roof timbers and a spiral staircase twisting and winding to the rafters, housing the cooperage where barrels are built and rebuilt. After this we entered another huge storage area housing all the botanicals and spices used to flavour the vermouth. The atmosphere was heavy with the perfume and sensory attributes of these ingredients so beautifully laid out for us to savour. We marvelled at the old machinery on display and the new technology monitoring the manufacture of this iconic brand.
Once our tour ended we walked through a massive storage cask into the VIP bar to taste the three varieties of vermouth that Noilly Prat produces. At this point our chef for the evening, Mariama, presented herself and brought Tapas-style platters for our consumption. These savouries married well with the white, red and amber Noilly Prat. Only later did we also experience the vermouth cocktails that blend so well with cheeses and nuts.
We entered the courtyard and sat in style, with candles, white napkins and plate after plate of the region’s finest ingredients. Sausages, pate, sliced salami, hams and beautiful crudites and dips. There was no rush, no tension, only a perfectly orchestrated evening in gorgeous surroundings.
We wanted to keep all this a secret. Our own very special event. But on the other hand we wanted to shout about it – why oh why is Noilly Prat not bombarding the market and sharing the range of vermouths for us to enjoy in London and other parts of the world? It’s a classy drink which deserves more recognition. So if you pass near Marseillan, go and visit Noilly Prat and spend some time in the shop, in the courtyard having coffee or vermouth ice-cream and book your own VIP tour. You won’t be disappointed.