There’s no doubt about it—vermouth is in the midst of a revival. The last time we reviewed the category, just two years ago, the styles were mainly white and dry or red and sweet. Since then, the spectrum has widened: “extra dry” for those who can’t bear even a hint of sweetness; “blanc/blanco/bianco” for a richer, more honeyed version of dry; “amber/ambrato”—a bridge between blanco and sweet, often with a tawny hue and enticing flavors that hint at dried fruit and spice; and of course “rosato,” the vermouth equivalent of a rosé wine.
The point is this: there’s now a veritable rainbow of vermouths out there, spanning a wider range of flavors and hues than ever. No wonder bartenders are so excited about painting with this ever-expanding palette. At San Francisco’s Wildhawk, the vermouth list includes a whopping 22 options, and partner/bartender Jacques Bezuidenhout even spotlights vermouth cocktails in a separate section of the menu.
“Vermouth at Wildhawk started from my love for the Martini,” Bezuidenhout explains. “Over the years I have been giving more thought to the quality of vermouth that goes into the Martini or other cocktails.”
The widening availability of great vermouths encouraged him to showcase vermouth-centric cocktails, like the Bette Buck (sweet vermouth plus a splash of Maraschino liqueur, topped up with ginger beer). “They make for a very tasty complex base to a cocktail rather than just being a small component,” he notes. “So opening with a vermouth cocktail page in our book was a no-brainer.” It also dovetails with the rising interest in lower-alcohol drinks.
Sometimes, the dialogue even continues with a tasting of neat vermouth in wine glasses. Bezuidenhout says, “All in all it starts a conversation about a great category of fortified wines and still brings us back to making delicious Martinis. We love vermouth!”
Dry and Extra Dry
Imbue Dry Classic Vermouth (USA; Imbue, Gaston, OR); $27, 93 points. Mild honeysuckle and fresh apple aromas lead to an orchard fruit palate warmed up by honey and vanilla. Mix this light, easy-drinking vermouth into a spritz or sip straight. abv: 17.3%
Vittore White Vermouth (Spain; Kysela Père et Fils, Winchester, VA); $20, 92 points. Pale straw in the glass, look for a fresh, light vanilla-pear scent and a juicy palate showing mild sweetness up front, finishing grassy with green apple tartness. Sip or mix. abv: 15%
Routin Dry Vermouth (France; Back Bar Project, Seattle, WA); $17, 91 points. Aromas of pineapple and tropical fruit are accented by a hint of vanilla. The bone-dry palate opens with tart green apple, though any hint of fruit sweetness disappears in a flash, winding up crisp and bracing overall. Martini material. Best Buy. abv: 16.9%
Montanaro Vermouth de Torino Extra Dry (Italy; Domaine Select Wine & Spirits, New York, NY); $25, 90 points. The nose leads with pears and tropical fruit, plus a warming cinnamon hint, while the super-dry palate teases with Granny Smith apple tartness and racy acidity, plus a hint of bitterness. The finish is crisp and tart, with just a brush of fruit. Mix into martinis. abv: 18%
Blanco, Blanc and Bianco
Priorat Natur Vermut (Spain; Think Global Wines, Santa Barbara, CA); $31, 96 points.Ruddy orange in hue, this Catalonia vermouth offers earthy aromas. The deep, intriguing palate has plenty of bittersweet interplay, flitting between hints of melon and white floral freshness to orange peel and almond bitterness, accented with rosemary and vanilla. Complex and delicious. New to the U.S. as of July 2017. abv: 16%
Vermouth Routin Blanc (France; Back Bar Project, Seattle, WA); $17, 94 points. Herbaceous aromas lead into a light-bodied palate marked by mild pear sweetness, finishing light and crisp with hints of fresh-snipped herbs and cinnamon. Versatile; sip or mix. Best Buy. abv: 16.9%
Vermut Lustau Blanco (Spain; Europvin USA, Van Nuys, CA); $22, 94 points. This pale gold, Sherry-based vermouth is made from fino, sweetened with Moscatel wine. Mild, grassy aromas lead into a sweet and citrusy palate, with mouthwatering acidity and a fresh, grassy exit accented by a floral hint. abv: 15%
Montanaro Vermouth de Torino Bianco (Italy; Domaine Select Wine & Spirits, New York, NY); $25, 91 points. This golden vermouth offers bright tropical and orchard fruit aromas, which are echoed on the sweet-tart, citrusy palate. The finish is appropriately bitter. abv: 16%
Alysian Bittersweet Vermouth (USA; Alysian Winery, Healdsburg, CA); $25, 88 points. To be clear, this vermouth is deliberately bitter, flavored with herbs and roots in the style of an amaro. Orange-gold in the glass, the aromas evoke orange peel, honey and almond, which belie the bracingly bitter, herbaceous palate, with just a touch of honey in the background. Made from a base of Chardonnay from California’s Russian River Valley. Launched June 2017. abv: 17.5%
Routin Original Rouge Vermouth (France; Back Bar Project, Seattle, WA); $17, 91 points. The rich date and fig scent is echoed on the palate. Look for hints of cocoa, dried fruit, fresh fig, orange peel and vanilla, winding into a gently spiced finish. Recommended for mixing into any drink made with brown spirits, especially whiskey. Best Buy. abv: 16.9%
Imbue Sweet Vermouth (USA; Imbue, Gaston, OR); $27, 90 points. The aroma suggests raspberry compote, plus a hint of vanilla. The palate is lighter and silkier than the rich scent suggests, bringing mouthwatering dried cherry and caramel dried by herbs, including a refreshingly minty breeze on the exit. Negroni worthy. abv: 17.3%
Vittore Red Vermouth (Spain; Kysela Père et Fils, Winchester, VA); $20, 88 points. This tawny-hued vermouth has a mild scent and restrained palate. Dried cherry and dried fig notes lead into orange peel and spice; the finish fades quickly. abv: 15%