When Sebastian Zutant, wine director at Washington, D.C.’s Proof restaurant, wants to mix up a vermouth-based aperitif, he grabs a stockpot and heads for the stove. “Why buy something when you can make it yourself,” Zutant says. He favors vermouth for its clean taste, and his take includes a lengthy list of herbs and aromatics. But Zutant is quick to point out that it’s neither daunting nor difficult to mix up a batch at home, and his version elevates vermouth’s status from that of dependable mixer to a concoction you can sip all by itself.
Zutant starts with a crisp, neutral white wine like Pinot Grigio or Grüner Veltliner, to which he adds a mélange of herbs and spices before steeping overnight. After fortifying with sherry and straining, the vermouth is ready to sip. He prefers a straightforward cocktail preparation: chilled, with a twist of orange for the sweet version, and a twist of lemon for the dry. Zutant also suggests mixing equal parts dry and sweet for a beverage that pairs wonderfully with cheese. “I like the fact that it’s so malleable,” he says. “You can make it whatever you want it to be.” If you really enjoy citrus flavors, increase the amount of orange or lemon in the recipe. On the flip side, since wormwood may be difficult to obtain (it is, after all, one of the main ingredients in the long-banned Absinthe), it’s fine to omit it, or replace it with a preferred herb or spice.
Vermouth is traditional yet timeless, and making it from scratch gives you the chance to impart a personal stamp. “Cocktailing,” says Zutant, “is an art form, and I’m seeing a lot of people that are interested in developing that art, not just throwing some juice and liquor in a glass.” So heat the stove and find that stockpot.
Courtesy of Sebastian Zutant, Proof Restaurant
You can make either dry or sweet Vermouth with this recipe, depending on the wine you use to fortify.
2 heaping teaspoons dried wormwood* (may omit or substitute another herb)
1 heaping teaspoon dried gentian root (not powder)*
1/3 teaspoon dried chamomile leaves*
1/3 teaspoon juniper berries*
3 cinnamon sticks
1/3 teaspoon dried sage
1 orange rind
1 lemon rind
1/3 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/3 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 750 mL bottles light white wine (Pinot Grigio, Grüner Veltliner or similar)
2 cups dry or sweet Sherry
*Available at health food stores, or online at www.mountainroseherbs.com
Place all herbs and spices into a stockpot. Cover with both bottles of white wine. Bring ingredients to a boil, and then remove from the heat. After the mixture has cooled, set the pot in a cool, dark place overnight.
The next day, fortify the wine by adding 2 cups of Palo Cortado or Fino Sherry for dry Vermouth, or 2 cups of sweet or cream Sherry for sweet Vermouth. Strain mixture before serving. Yields about 2 liters.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine writer and educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.trywine.net.