It is always an exciting moment when I spot a gin I have not tried on the shelves of our local Waitrose supermarket. Not content with having Gordons and Tanqueray in its stable, Diageo has decided to move into what is termed as the “super-premium gin” sector, one that has grown by 38.6% in volume and 41.3% in value here in the UK over the last year or so, with its Villa Ascenti, launched in the spring of 2019. It is the first offering to come out of the Distilleria Santa Vittoria, a distillery they built in the central Mosche region of Italy at a cost of €420,000. The ginaissance offers attractive rewards to those who succeed, clearly.
Villa Ascenti, after which the gin is named, is to be found high up in the Piemonte hills of Italy and the idea behind the gin is that it showcases botanicals that are found and sourced locally, allowing them to be distilled within hours of harvesting. Master distiller, Lorenzo Rosso, is a trained winemaker who hails from the area and so should know his onions. We are promised a heady infusion of fresh mint and thyme, triply distilled in a base spirit made from Moscato grapes, picked in August and September. During the third distillation, the Moscato grapes are infused with juniper berries that hail from Tuscany. The taste of Italy captured in a bottle, as the marketeers would say.
I have always been a bit wary of gins where the base spirit is made from wine. I have found that it adds a degree of astringency to the spirit which, no matter how many botanicals are added to the mix and whatever taste and flavour combinations they may bring, the distillers struggle to mask. At least, the Moscato grapes are generally sweet.
The bottle’s design has a very Italian feel about it, with a light green hue, with “Prodotto in Piemonte” embossed above and “Santa Vittoria D’Alba” below the wavy label which screams, in large type, “Villa Ascenti Gin”. The Villa appears on the label together with depictions of the botanicals that go into the mix. The cap is bronze with an artificial stopper. At the rear of the bottle, the label informs me that it is “a home-grown, Italian gin made from signature ingredients from the hills of Piemonte. Crafted with special distillation of fresh mint, thyme and Moscato grape, alongside select Italian botanicals”. As to their identity, there is no clue. “The result is a unique, velvety smooth gin with the freshest taste”.
Well, did it live up to its promise. On the nose, it was fairly subdued. Juniper was detectable as was the mint, but I struggled to detect any of the other elements. It seemed a little undercooked, none of the ingredients either powerful enough to make their presence truly felt or to overwhelm the aroma. In the mouth the juniper was bright, leading nicely into the fruitier more citric elements, with the mint and thyme giving a leafy edge to it. The grape elements in the base spirit gave the whole a subtly sweet feel. There was a lot going on in the mouth, but nothing jarred or felt out of place. It was pleasant, smooth, but, frankly, unexceptional. The aftertaste was long and minty.
Having feared the worst, I was pleasantly surprised. At 41% ABV it has a bit of life in it and is probably best served as a cocktail component. It is not the worst gin I have tasted but, by a long chalk, is far from the best.
Until the next time, cheers!