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Cocktail chat: Francesco Lafranco

Cocktail chat: Francesco Lafranconi, Rosevale Cocktail Room

Francesco Lafranconi discusses assembling the largest collection of vermouths in the US.

*This feature was originally published in the November 2023 issue of The Spirits Business magazine. 

Just a hat toss from the bright lights of Broadway, Rosevale Cocktail Room has unveiled the largest vermouth collection in the US, curated by renowned bartender Francesco Lafranconi. Launched in late September, the 150-plus bottle collection includes Old and New World producers alike, and a chance for sophisticated drinkers and inquisitive bartenders to dive deep into a category that is rich in history and broad in flavour, from sweet to dry and everything in between.

Vermouth is one of those ready-to-drink beverages that has so much alchemy, complexity, and heritage,” Lafranconi says. “We needed a place, the epicentre of vermouth, and I couldn’t imagine a better one than New York City.”

Untapped attraction

When assembling the collection, which consists entirely of bottles that are currently in production, Lafranconi considered the wider world of spirits. Tequila and whisky seemed saturated, he said, and to make a splash with either, he would have to include steep age statements, and therefore large asking prices. Vermouth, on the other hand, is relatively inexpensive, and from a collector’s standpoint, largely untapped.

“I approached the project from the perspective of what can we bring to market to stimulate consumer curiosity and attention, and also from fellow bartenders,” he says. “I also like the fact that it’s a proposition that is not outrageously expensive. I wanted to find something that makes business sense and is affordable. It’s accessible. We’re going to really make the vermouth shine. That’s the purpose. This venue is going to be a destination.”

Vermouth can be ordered individually or in flights of four, which range in price from US$30 to US$35, and come with light bar bites such as olives and nuts. The World Tour flight features Carpano Antica Formula from Italy, Avelino from Peru, Maidenii from Australia, and Dionese’s from New York. Other flights include Old World vs New World, The Founding Fathers, and one called Giro D’Italia.

Overall, about a dozen countries are represented, with the majority of bottles coming from Italy, Spain and France. Still, there is an element of discovery at play, as local bartenders can visit the Rosevale Cocktail Room to sample vermouth they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Amor Y Amargo, a mainstay in the downtown New York City cocktail scene for the past decade, offers a similar experience but for amaro. Lafranconi says assembling the collection was a serious effort that took his team a year.

“We are experiencing a sleeping giant,” he says. “People don’t know much about vermouth, but in the past 10 years, mixologists and bartenders finally understood how to preserve it better, treating it more like a fortified wine.”

Bar snacks and vermouth tasting at Rosevale Cocktail Room

To that end, a collection this size isn’t without its challenges, namely storage. Vermouth is typically refrigerated after a bottle is opened, with Rosevale keeping its collection at an average of 12˚C. Seeing as the programme was only recently unveiled, Lafranconi says that it will take time to understand which bottles are selling well, and how to manage the inventory appropriately.

“We are going to learn as we go, meaning the lifespan of an open bottle,” he says. “Our idea is to take the first three to six months and understand what is moving and not because we’re in a soft-launching mode.”

Lafranconi names Pio Cesare from Alba, Italy, as one of his favourites in the collection. “When you drink something like that, it’s an incredible masterpiece,” he says. He also favours the elegance and discretion of Chazalettes from Turin, Italy. He says the US is still in its “pioneer-istic mode,” pointing to VYA from California and Imbue from Oregon as standout examples. He calls rosé the “underdog category”, mentioning Yzaguirre from Spain as a lighter representation of the style. “Vermouth is for everybody,” he says. “I just think people don’t know. They believe that vermouth is used in drops in a dry Martini, and maybe a Negroni.”

It is still early days for Rosevale’s vermouth collection, but Lafranconi hopes to attract some of the theatre professionals that work in the area, saying that for him, vermouth can be playful, deep, and emotional, just like a live performance.

“The Rosevale Cocktail Room is a beautiful stage for the vermouth itself. Think about Broadway, think about the stages, and the influence of the theatres and incredible talent that resides there to entertain millions of people a year,” he says. “The Cocchi Dopo Teatro was created to entertain the audience that would come out of the theatre in the 1800s and enjoy a nightcap before going back home.”

Inside look: the biggest collection of vermouth in the States

Example of civilisation

For those in the know, Rosevale Cocktail Room offers an escape from the bustle of Midtown Manhattan and an opportunity to, as Lafranconi puts it, experience a beverage that combines alchemy, complexity, and heritage. “It’s a fine example of civilisation,” he says. “You are looking at winemaking, viticulture, the world spice trade, Eastern medicine, something that was conceived around 250BC-300BC.”

He would like to see the collection grow to 200 bottles in the next year, and is constantly searching for new additions. He says he just accepted an Instagram friendship from an Italian man who is making vermouth from black rice, and he plans to bring over Otto’s Athens Vermouth, a Greek expression of the fortified wine.

“There’s always going to be hunting for these brands to make sure that if you’re not Martini and Rossi, Carpano, Cinzano, Dolin, or Lustau, you don’t fall off the grid,” he says. “At this point, we, as vermouth ambassadors, have the responsibility to deliver a great message to the world.”

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