by Jacob Brower, Wine & Spirits Professional
Gone are the days of vermouth’s bad reputation—when people didn’t realize it needed to be refrigerated and consumed within a few weeks after opening, or only knew vermouth based on the massive, lower-quality brands at every neighborhood bar. Mention the category to a hip drinker today and it conjures images of day drinking in a Barcelona café, sipping Manhattans in a dim NYC speakeasy, or enjoying a late-night Negroni during a trip to Italy. With the craft cocktail scene booming stateside, adventurous drinkers are after unique, interesting, high quality vermouth not only for cocktail-making, but to drink on its own. And—you guessed it—we have some incredible options for you to try.
But first, what is vermouth? Simply put, vermouth is a category of ‘aromatized wine’ infused with aromatic herbs and botanicals, made in both dry and sweet styles (and everything in between). Like wine, vermouth will eventually go bad due to oxygen exposure, but thanks to its higher alcohol and sugar content, high quality vermouth should last in a sealed, refrigerated bottle for up to a month. If you buy a delicious one, there’s no way it will last that long!
- La Quintinye ‘Blanc,’ Charentes, France - $26.99
A source of some confusion for those new to vermouth, the ‘Blanc’ category refers neither to the extremely bone-dry styles or the sweet ‘red’ vermouths that are common in many cocktails. Tending toward the drier side of the spectrum, La Quintinye’s ‘Blanc’ imparts bright, fruity, herbaceous qualities that your average ‘dry’ mixing vermouth simply cannot—it’s superb in a martini, but versatile in a variety of gin cocktails and delicious on its own as an aperitif.
- Volume Primo, Piedmont, Italy - $34.99 (1 Liter)
New to the American market, this outstanding sweet vermouth is distilled by Piedmont’s Antica Distilleria Quaglia to the specifications of Archivio, one of the great Veronese vermouth and cocktail bars—and Sharon’s favorite stop when she’s at VinItaly every year. Perfect for mixing in the classic cocktails—especially Negronis, Americanos, or Boulevardiers—it’s also delicious & distinct on its own, with hints of sage and subtle vanilla along with the more typical botanicals.
- Capitoline ‘Rosé’, Washington, D.C., United States - $35.99
I tasted this outstanding domestic vermouth just a couple of weeks ago, and was blown about by its freshness and complexity! Crafted from a high-quality rosé of Sangiovese before fortification and infusion with a proprietary blend of herbs and spices. This is vibrant and citrusy upfront, with delicate sweetness and herby-spicy complexity that pairs beautifully with good rye whiskey or simple, citrus-based cocktails. Also delicious with a splash of soda water and twist of orange!
- Matthiasson ‘No. 3’, Napa Valley, California - $39.99 (375mL bottle)
Made only when the vintage is ideal and according to the wisdom of winemaker Steve Matthiasson, rather than any particular formular, this is arguably America’s greatest sweet vermouth, ultra-complex and with great depth of flavor. Of course you could mix this as you would any sweet vermouth, but it begs to be enjoyed on its own, with just a splash of club soda.
If you’re still sleeping on good vermouth, you owe it to yourself—and your cocktails—to start trying the good stuff! Nothing elevates a simple, classic, few-ingredient cocktail like a Manhattan or Negroni more than improving the quality of your vermouth and base liquor. Martini & Rossi just isn’t going to cut it anymore!