Saturday, March 7, 2009

Campari Comparo

During some research on my previous post on Campari, I (re)discovered that Campari's signature deep red hue comes from Cochineal carmine, a purified dye made from insects. I also discovered that Campari has recently changed their formulation, at least in the United States (not sure at this time if the carmine colored product is available in Italy) such that it is artificially colored. After reading a number of troubling reports -

On chowhound
On eGullet

- on the distinct differences in flavor profiles between the two versions, I decided to conduct my own tasting and report my results. I found a mini bottle of the carmine colored version at my local Bevmo and picked up a fresh bottle of the new artificially colored recipe from Trader Joe's. Below are my tasting notes. The Camparis were tasted blind, at room temperature, in Riedel Vinum port glasses.

Campari #1 (artificially colored)
Nose - bitter notes of orange, cherry fruit. After nosing #2, some off, chemical aromas appear.
Flavors - light, much less mouth filling than #2
Finish - shorter than #2
Score - 85

Campari #2 (natural carmine colored)
Nose - same subtext as #1 but no chemical aromas and distinctly more herbal and vermouth-like
Flavors - unctuous, mouth filling flavors of bitter orange and herbs. Very smooth with flavors well integrated and complex.
Finish - Long and complex
Score - 93

Final Notes and observations - Honestly folks, I was hoping that all of the hype about how bad the artificially colored version was would be unfounded and that the sanctity of Campari was preserved in the reformulation. Unfortunately, it was not. This is disturbing how much of the body and flavor has been lost in this reformulation. I keep going to the glasses sitting before me and keep getting consistent notes. With this big of a difference, I strongly suspect that a lot more has changed beyond just the coloring.

I think someone at Campari has made a bad decision and has ultimately sacrificed the quality of a classic product. I tried leaving a comment on their website here but I'm not sure if the message made it through as it appeared something wasn't working properly.

1 comment:

  1. o.k. Campari did write me back, but didn't really address the obvious flavor differences.

    My comment:
    I am a devoted Campari aficionado and always have a bottle on hand for drinking straight, on ice or in cocktails. After hearing sever bad reports about the new artificially colored formula, I conducted a blind test against the natural carmine colored version. The results were disturbing. The artificially colored version had an off, chemical aroma and lacked the unctuous mouthfeel, balance and complexity of the carmine version. Clearly more has changed beyond just the coloring(?). Please take this as constructive criticism and bring back the original (or at least the previous) formula as it is far superior.

    Their response:
    Thank you for contact SKYY Spirits.
    Carmine is no longer used in the process for Campari.
    As of June 2006, Campari no longer uses carmine in its recipe in the US market.
    Carmine is a natural ingredient that is available in very limited quantities. Campari felt the time was right to make an adjustment to the coloring to a more readily available vibrant bold red coloring to ensure the growth of the Campari brand worldwide.