Montale is a silly house. Its perfumes are almost always sledgehammer concoctions that drown out any nearby scents. The ‘nose’ behind the house, Pierre Montale, is a man whose extreme secrecy has prompted rumors about his possible nonexistence. When I ordered a set of samples from Montale online, I received not the elegant packaging the website’s photos suggested, but a ragtag bunch of spray vials rattling around in a dented paper box. Yet here I am, reviewing yet another of their billion releases, because there’s something in their approach that’s so bold and blatant that it’s almost loveable. That, and they make some absolutely killer perfumes.
What any veteran of the Montale testing circuit can tell you is that half of Montale’s perfumes are hilariously, misleadingly named. Though Montale is famous for their medicinal oud notes, half of their perfumes with ‘aoud’ in the title lack any noticeable hint of the substance. Meanwhile, our previously reviewed “Intense Café” is missing – you guessed it – a discernable coffee note. “Ristretto Intense Café” seems to be a direct answer to this gap.
Named after a particularly concentrated form of espresso, this is a perfume that absolutely follows up on the promise of its namesake. The huge coffee note and ridiculous performance power made it a bit of a fragcomm hypebeast upon its release. But was the response warranted? Were reviewers simply bewitched by a concoction that offered a remedy to its predecessor’s shortcomings? One thing is for sure: this monster of a fragrance demands discussion, whether you’re wearing it or simply within a few hundred meters of someone who is.
Ristretto Intense Café Notes
Coffee, Rose, Woods, Vanilla, Caramel, White Musk, Amber
Ristretto Intense Café opens with an impressive array of blocky, instantly-recognizable notes. The two signature accords of Intense Café, rose and vanilla, are absolutely still here. However, they’ve been shunted aside by something that is…almost coffee. There’s something bitter and dark here, yes, and edible too, but it’s so lacking in texture that it feels like some alien impression of the beverage – something to observe rather than drink.
Or perhaps it’s a very dark piece of wood impersonating the brew, like some sort of carnivorous plant. Montale’s lack of dimension stands out when they try to capture something that is normally experienced in stages. The waft of coffee, its initial sharpness on the tongue, and its earthy aftertaste have been shoved into some sort of vacuum chamber. Ristretto indeed.
As the perfume dries down over the next day or two (I’m not kidding), the sickly sweet of caramel becomes more pronounced, pairing with the vanilla, rose, and musk to make a far more friendly version of the fragrance. This is when Montale works best – at a distance, in either time or space. The coffee here is far more convincing as a sort of memory or afterthought than as a main player. For a perfume with such tenacity, this is an unfortunate phenomenon.
I tend to disagree with most reviews that claim a perfume’s opening has to be survived in order to get to rewarding heart notes – a chaotic beginning can be just as exciting as an organized main act. Here, it’s just not that interesting to observe a slab of coffee gracefully evolve into a whiff of some far-off roaster. It’s less about enduring a harsh opening than waiting for an overloud dinner guest to wear themselves out.
When pitched against the original Intense Café, Ristretto is often deemed an upgrade. Wearers who just want to add a loud coffee note to the fray are likely to be pleased here. But for a truly great coffee perfume, wouldn’t you want something that recreates the satisfaction of a hesitant, beguiling first sip? Intense Café is all rose and vanilla, simple and clean. What Ristretto really proves is that sometimes, losing one’s original intentions during the artistic process can be a good thing.
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The Fandomentals “Fragdomentals” team base our reviews off of fragrances that we have personally, independently sourced. Any reviews based off of house-provided materials will be explicitly stated.
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