It’s been a couple of years since Wine Enthusiast published a comprehensive review of vermouth bottlings. And since then, the pool has become considerably deeper.
For starters, it’s no longer just white/dry and red/sweet. The array of white vermouths now spans from “extra dry,” which tends to be crisp and lean, with little or no discernible sweetness; to “dry,” which tends to have a bit more flavor, often delicate touches of tropical fruit or white flowers and possibly traces of honey or vanilla; to “bianco” or “blanc.” That last category has downright exploded in the last year, and to no wonder—it’s delicious, featuring bolder, sweeter, more oxidized notes like golden raisin, baked pear and spice. It’s long been popular on a global basis, but it’s only recently found favor here in the U.S.
The pool has become considerably deeper…it’s no longer just white/dry and red/sweet.
Meanwhile, the red vermouth category is also growing at a fast clip, particularly among Italian-made reds. Look for the bitter-edged Vermouth di Torino, while boundaries are blurring between chinatos, vermouth amaros and more.
Another fascinating trend in the vermouth space: A small but growing number are starting to highlight the grape varieties used to make the base wine. The trend jump-started last year with Martini & Rossi’s lovely Riserva Speciale bottlings. Bases made from fortified wines like Sherry and Marsala also made an appearance in the review pile.
Consider vermouth geography, too. For decades, it was all about French versus Italian vermouths, with U.S.-made variations only recently bringing up the rear. But when did Spain start sending so many fabulously quaffable vermouths to the U.S.?
In addition to vermouth, I review a small sampling of aquavits this month, including some unusual but enjoyable barrel-aged versions. It was a fortuitous combination that had me mixing Nordic Negronis (aquavit, sweet vermouth and Campari) all month long.
Alessio Vermouth Bianco (Italy; Anchor Distilling, San Francisco, CA); $25, 95 points. Sip or mix this fresh, breezy bianco. Light straw in the glass, the aromas suggest ripe pears, white flowers, and freshly mown grass. The smooth, medium-bodied palate echoes that delicate freshness, but adds more rounded fruit on the finish.
Boissiere Extra Dry Vermouth (France; Palm Bay Imports, Port Washington, NY); $10, 94 points. The producer jokingly calls it “Bone White Boissiere,” but it’s indeed bracingly dry, with mouthwatering acidity. The aroma has a faint earthiness but no sweetness to it, while the palate adds mild pear and elderflower, finishing with just a squeak of citrus. Sip with a curl of lemon peel, or substitute it for dry Sherry in food pairings or cocktails. Best Buy.
Riserva Carlo Alberto Vermut de Torino Vermut Blanc (Italy; Martin Scott Wines, New York, NY); $38, 92 points. This is a bold, rich vermouth that could stand up in cocktails with more assertive spirits. Vibrant marigold in the glass, the rich, sweet aroma is almost dessert-like, evoking Sherry, golden raisins, honey and cardamom. The palate echoes those notes—baked apple, vanilla, honey, plus a gentle spiced fade.
Atxa White Vermouth (Spain; De Maison Selections, Chapel Hill, NC); $20, 91 points. With its light honey hue and sweet scent reminiscent of pears, honeysuckle and elderflower, this blanco vermouth is pleasingly sweet on the palate, layering citrus and toasty vanilla. Sip straight or enjoy in a spritz. Best Buy.
Dopo Teatro Cocchi Vermouth Amaro (Italy; Haus Alpenz, Edina, MN); $20/500 ml, 95 points. This silky, garnet-hued sipper features a double dose of bitter quinine, but don’t worry, it doesn’t read as especially bitter. It features an enticing spiced-cherry scent and a flavor that suggests cherry compote, with a violet lilt on the finish and just the right amount of bitter edge. Sip or mix. Best Buy.
Cinzano 1757 Vermouth Rosso (Italy; Campari America, San Francisco, CA); $30/1 L, 94 points. Pleasing enough to drink straight, this deep plum-hued vermouth features an oxidized scent that suggests raisins and dried figs. Rich and fruit-forward on the palate, the dried fruit flavor gives over to a relatively dry finish with bitter hints of grapefruit peel, gentian and dried herbs.
Vermut Lustau Rojo (Spain; Europvin USA, Van Nuys, CA); $22, 92 points. An interesting newcomer to the U.S. market, the base of this vermouth is rich, nutty Sherry—80% amontillado and 20% Pedro Ximenez, to be precise. It has a coffee-brown hue and a bright dried-herb scent. The palate wows with sticky toffee, dried apricot, orange peel and cocoa. Ideal for adding complexity to drinks featuring dark spirits.
Vya Vermouth Sweet (USA; Quady Winery, Madera, CA); $23, 90 points. Ideal for Negronis and other cocktails, this zesty vermouth has a honeyed sweetness, dried figs and sarsaparilla, plus a rounded finish with plenty of dried apricot, dried fig, Sherry and baking spice notes.
Brennivin Special Cask Selection (Iceland; Brennivin America, Jackson, WY); $50, 96 points. This limited-edition “winter aquavit” is finished in former Bourbon and oloroso Sherry casks. The end result is an excellent sipping spirit, exploding with vanilla and fresh pear sweetness. The finish is long and complex, with hints of banana, rye bread, baking spice and subtle smokiness.
Linie Aquavit (Norway; Sazerac, Metairie, LA); $30, 95 points. Stored in former Sherry casks, this aquavit famously takes a sea voyage across the world, sailing to Australia and back, crossing the equator or “linie” twice. The end result is a bright buttercup hue and mellow vanilla, spearmint, clove and oak tones, plus a silky butterscotch finish.
Aalborg Jubilaeums Akvavit (Denmark; Sazerac Company, Metairie, LA); $26, 94 points. This barrel-aged bottling tracks back to a 1946 launch, when it celebrated Aalborg’s 100-year jubilee, hence the name. The barrel time adds a bright gold hue and mild vanilla sweetness, but it’s still lively, with bracing mint and savory caraway layered on coriander and anise for a warming finish. Best Buy.
Krogstad Festlig Aquavit (USA; House Spirits Distillery, Portland, OR); $27, 93 points. This is big and bold, with plenty of anise, licorice and caraway on the nose and palate, plus hints of fennel, black pepper and cinnamon zing on the spicy, mouthwatering finish. Producer recommends for a “Norwegian Bloody Mary,” with tomato juice, lemon and spices. Best Buy.