Vermouth is having a revival and getting the respect it deserves. Find out why it belongs as a featured ingredient in your home bar, explore the diversity of styles and flavors available, and get tips on mixing it up.
The wines discussed in this episode are:
@3:00 Routin Dry Vermouth
@7:30 Lustau Vermut Blanco
@15:12 Imbue Sweet Vermouth
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Read the full transcript of “Why Vermouth Demands and Deserves Respect”:
Jameson Fink: Welcome to Wine Enthusiast’s What We’re Tasting Podcast. I’m your host, Jameson Fink. Join me as we discuss three fantastic wines and why each one belongs in your glass.
This episode I’m talking about vermouth with contributing editor, Kara Newman. Kara covers spirits for Wine Enthusiast. What We’re Tasting is sponsored by Vivino. With the largest online inventory, Vivino finds the right wine every time, and it’s also got vermouth, which is a wine too.
Download Vivino to discover and buy your favorites, and stock up at Vivino.com/wineenthusiast.
So, I was recently at a bar, not surprising, and I was thinking about vermouth because the person I was with ordered a martini, and the bartender made a big show of pouring a cap full of vermouth, and putting the cap full of vermouth into the glass, swirling it, and then dumping it out, and just said, “This is the most important step in making a martini.” So, I wanted to talk to you, Kara, and welcome to the show, about vermouth because I feel like it’s still even in this day in age, it’s underappreciated, and people aren’t enjoying it as much as they should. They’re just dumping it out, and that was a criminal, that was a traumatizing moment.
So actually what I want to ask you, Kara, is how do you like vermouth in your martini? What’s your play there?
Kara Newman: Well, my go-to is actually a 50/50, so that means equal parts gin and vermouth, and that’s actually a lot of vermouth. That’s a pretty wet martini. Although, I just like to have it in the martini at all. It’s funny that happened to you. The same thing happened to me in Rome. I was appalled to order a martini, and they poured in the dry vermouth and made a big show of shaking it, and then pouring it all out. I was like, “Oh my god, what are you doing? Are you crazy?”
JF: It’s such a waste. I do like the 50 … another great thing about a equal parts 50/50 martini too is that you can have a lot more of them, and that’s another thing that’s nice about vermouth as more of a starring role. And then you’ve got sort of like the ultimate expression of that, which would be the reverse martini, which would be-
KN: Right, that was Julia Child’s play.
JF: Oh really?
KN: Yeah, I think she was the first person I ever heard of doing a reverse martini, yeah where lots more vermouth and just a splash of gin. Very civilized.
JF: Yeah, and that’s a good drink to have while you’re in the kitchen cooking too.
KN: You know it. She would know it.
JF: She would know it, she would know it.
KN: If Julia says-
JF: Yeah. And also the thing with vermouth is that we’re seeing kind of an explosion of small batch crafted type of vermouth’s from all over the country and all over the world, and I think we have so many more available to us now, and also with different flavors and types.
So, the first wine I wanted to talk to you about, and vermouth is a wine, it’s just fortified-
KN: Correct. Fortified, aromatized, correct.
JF: Aromatized and fortified. God, that sounds so cool. It’s a French vermouth. It’s the Routin Dry Vermouth, 91 points, Best Buy, and what are people doing with vermouth in France? I mean, I don’t even know what’s the tradition of vermouth there? Are there certain ingredients that they use that’s kind of like a signature? Or is it just kind of it’s anything goes, whatever you want to use?
KN: Well, traditionally you only heard about French vermouth or Italian vermouth and there were no other vermouth’s out there in the universe for years and years and years. And recently we’ve had more of an explosion where we’ve seen vermouth, as you said, from all over the world.
But the Routin, the one that you mentioned, that one’s more of an alpine vermouth and it has more botanicals, more of those beautiful herbs and flowers, and they even have bitter almonds listed in their botanical list. They really have this beautiful alpine sensibility.
JF: Now is it rare to … I think like a lot of those things it would be like a closely guarded secret-
KN: Oh, you know it.
JF: … do you see, like obviously there’s some things that they’re not listing, but do you find more people are just like, “Hey, we’re gonna let you know what some of the flavorings we use to make this vermouth.”
KN: Every now and then you see … You’re absolutely right, it’s definitely held close to the vest. I mean, sometimes I think it’s because it’s a secret, sometimes I think it’s because they change it pretty frequently, and it might be based on what’s available.
But I’m not sure that there’s really a … I’m trying to think if there’s anyone who’s really giving their full list of botanicals. Usually you just see a number if they talk about it at all.
JF: Right, like the secrets herbs and spices.
KN: Exactly. Very KFC.
JF: Yeah. And then this vermouth is a dry vermouth, and you mentioned in your review that it’s martini material, so what is … I mean, there’s different kinds of vermouth, but so if I’m shopping, do I want to look for like, okay, I’m making martinis, I want a dry vermouth?
KN: Well, for martinis, I would usually go for a white vermouth as opposed to a red vermouth. I think dry vermouth is lovely in a martini and can be very crisp. It goes really well with gin. I’m also a fan of Blanc vermouth, which are a little more oxidized. They have a bit more of like a honey note, and there certainly are a growing number of Blancs and Blancos out there. But yeah, dry would probably be my go-to for that perfect classic martini profile.
JF: And what about too, we’ve talked a little bit about oh vermouth, you mix it, you put it as ingredients in things, what about drinking vermouth solo, like just on the rocks with a twist? Is that something that’s becoming more popular or do people still look at vermouth as like, oh vermouth is just, it’s an ingredient, it doesn’t stand on its own?
KN: I’m seeing a lot of vermouth and tonics.
JF: Oh okay.
KN: Yeah, that’s sort of a Spanish tradition, and every now and then I’ll see a vermouth tonic. That’s very refreshing. Vermouth, tonic, a nice curl of citrus peel. Oh, it can be so good. A little tapas on the side-
JF: And then that’s kind of too with this trend of … which is great about vermouth, it’s got so much flavor, but it doesn’t pack the punch alcohol-wise that vodka or gin or something like that would too. Is that also maybe helping revitalize vermouth that people are trying to make these more kind of culinary cocktails or things that are … you can have a few more of them rather than just one giant stiff martini that’s 100% vodka?
KN: Well, we are definitely seeing a trend toward lower alcohol cocktails, what people call session cocktails. You can hang out and have them over a session. And vermouth forward cocktails are definitely a huge part of that. The Bamboo, the Adonis, those are two cocktails that are literally nothing but vermouth, like two different kinds of vermouth. Vermouth, sherry, all kinds of lower alcohol cocktails are definitely on the forefront right now.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, no doubt. And then actually, this is great because we’re not just talking about vermouth, we’re drinking some vermouth, and the second wine I found really interesting because I know Lustau is a great sherry producer, and I was really excited to see that they now have a vermouth, at least it’s new to me, and this is the Lustau Vermouth Blanco, 94 points, and it’s a sherry-based vermouth made from fino and sweetened with Muscatel wine. It’s really good. And is this more of that oxidized style that you were just talking about?
KN: Yeah, this one’s definitely Blanco. This is actually two of my favorite trends of vermouth right now.
JF: Uh-huh, in one bottle.
KN: In one bottle. Because I mean, I love the Blancos, and those I will drink straight up. Just a little ice is really all I need. But there’s also a trend toward … trendlet, toward more sherry-based vermouth’s. There are I think three or four on the market right now, and this one, Lustau was actually the first one out to my knowledge … and it’s so good.
JF: Yeah, it’s really delicious. I mean, it’s really … I mean, you can smell sort of the beautiful grapes, but then it’s got that kind of oxidized character too. I mean, it’s really good. It’s just good. I mean, we’re just drinking this on its own and it’s pretty damn good.
KN: No, it’s nice. I mean, it’s got that honey, it has floral characteristics. I mean, a bit of chamomile. It’s just really pretty and drinkable.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, it’s pretty and drinkable, absolutely. So it seems like the dry vermouth is the classic martini vermouth, but what do you like to do besides just enjoying it on its own or with maybe a little soda or something like that? What do you like to do with this as far as cocktails go?
KN: I think Blancos are really nice with anything that has a bit of citrus to it. I was playing around with kind of a gimlet martini mashup over the weekend, and I was trying to make a lemon cordial that I then combined with some gin and some Blanco vermouth, and it was really quite nice.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
KN: You’re looking very skeptical.
JF: Oh no, no. I’m just thinking, I’m just imagining you in your home … like I’m thinking of this like drinks lab, and you kind of like, “Oh, today I’m gonna make a cordial.” It just sounds really charming and intriguing. I mean, yeah, a lot of work goes into this stuff, right?
KN: Sometimes. This was … let’s call it a quick cordial. It was not exactly high maintenance. It was more or less simple syrup with lemon, and it was nice. It was very sunshiny, it was yellow. It went really well with the blanco and a little gin. I think next time I do it I might even do it with vodka. We won’t tell.
JF: Okay, no, not at all. And so cordial is, what is a cordial?
KN: It’s just a sugar syrup. It’s just a fancy word for that.
JF: Oh, okay, it’s like simple syrup, but it has fancier name.
KN: Yeah, you hear a lot about lime cordial for gimlets.
JF: Uh-huh, cordial, well it sounds so cordial.
KN: No, but it was fun. Personally, I think you can do just about anything with a blanco. It’s so versatile. I think it works well with whiskeys as well. Usually that’s just the province of sweet vermouth, but I think that blanco really just spans categories, defies categories.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So when you walk into bars, I mean, we’re in New York, it’s an amazing city for cocktails. Are you seeing a lot more selection and variety of vermouth’s on the shelf, or is it still just like we have the sweet vermouth and we have the dry vermouth, and that’s it? And you don’t know how old the bottles are.
KN: Well, it depends where you are. I think we’re seeing a little more variety than we used to. Every now and then I’ll see an amber vermouth, and those are quite good too. They’re even more oxidized. Once in a blue moon I’ll see a rosé vermouth, and I get very excited about those.
JF: I would think, yeah, I would think there would be a ton of just … ’cause there’s rosé everything now. The popularity of rosé wine, there’s rosé cider, there’s rosé gin?
KN: There is. There is, yeah.
JF: Okay, yeah, I think I’ve seen that too. Yeah, and cider … if anything can be made like with a pink, pale Provencal color, it’s being done. But that’s pretty cool with vermouth. What do you do with a rosé vermouth?
KN: I think it probably would work very well in any kind of … I mean, I keep going back to gin just ’cause I want everything with gin. That’s just my go-to this time of year, but I think it probably would be really lovely on its own. It really wouldn’t need much embellishment at all. I think it would be really nice with anything with kind of a grapefruit, I think kind of a tequila would be really nice, a rosé vermouth tequila grapefruit concoction, like a Palomaesque kind of thing.
JF: Oh, I love a Paloma. I had a Paloma yesterday.
JF: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite drinks.
KN: Oh, okay, cool.
JF: All these flavor notes of vermouth, especially blanco vermouth, I mean, does it kind of remind you of gin in a way, botanically? Or do you think there’s similarities?
KN: here can be. I’m nodding, no one can see me. I think that a lot of the language is the same. You talk about botanicals in both of them, and I think there are definitely some common botanicals in both of them, like we were talking about the Routin, I know they use juniper, which is also typically a gin botanical. But they also are … in vermouth there are bittering agents that you don’t find in most gins. It really would be just too intensely bitter I think to drink.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
KN: And that gives vermouth a nice gently bitter undertone, that would be really unpleasant I think in a standard spirit.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, the other thing I want to talk about is your books. You’ve written a lot of books.
KN: Yeah, it’s a compulsion.
JF: Yeah, so your most current one is Road Soda, which I think is really fun. Actually, can you just explain what Road Soda is about?
KN: Yeah, yeah, sure. It is all about drinking well on the road, so good things to make and drink in hotel rooms, on planes, on trains, on camping trips, the great outdoors.
JF: Like what’s a good example of something, like one of your favorites that’s really innovative or fun … or I guess it’s all about being resourceful. Like what are some resourceful ways to make cocktails on the road when you’re not at a bar?
KN: Well, one of my favorite chapters in the book is all about drinks to batch and put into flasks.
KN: I think the flask is definitely an underrated cocktail tool-
KN: … and I definitely love being able to pre-batch drinks, like Negronis or a gin and tonic, or any kind of vermouth drink.
JF: Like to take to the movies or the park or all of the above?
KN: All of the above.
JF: Of course, you’re obeying all the laws of drinking in public and bringing things-
KN: Of course, of course.
JF: … but yeah, no that’s really fun. What’s a good drink to batch?
KN: I think anything in the old fashioned family works really, really well. Anything that doesn’t include citrus I think works particularly well. So any kind of combination … For me, the Black Manhattan I think is the ultimate. So, whiskey, sweet vermouth, some Amaro in there, maybe a drop or two of orange bitters or Angostura bitters, and then just cap it up and toss it in the freezer.
JF: That sounds really good, and you worked vermouth into it, which I think is really great.
KN: Oh hey, I didn’t even mean to do that.
JF: But you did, but you did. And then speaking of a sweet vermouth, the last one I want to talk about is Imbue Sweet Vermouth, 90 points, and that’s from Oregon. I remember … I have a vermouth story.
So, when I was working at a wine shop in Seattle, one of our sales reps, he was like … we have this room where we taste wine, it was kind of like our break room, and he’s like, “Okay, and I have one more thing for you to taste.” He was like, “It’s a vermouth,” and we were all like, “Ew, I don’t want to taste a vermouth.” We were all just like wine, you know, I mean, vermouth’s a wine, but you know what I mean, we were like, “I only want to taste red wine and white wine and champagne and sparkling wine.”
And he was really indignant. I mean, he wasn’t a jerk about it, he’s just like, “All right, I’m not leaving here until all of you taste this vermouth, and I guarantee you you’re gonna love it.” And it was Imbue, and it was really good. We were just blown away by it. And for me also, it was an introduction to … that people in Oregon are making vermouth too, which I thought was super cool as well.
But this is a sweet vermouth, which I think is really interesting because, I mean I guess the classic application for a sweet vermouth would be a Manhattan, right?
JF: So, what else can you do with sweet vermouth, and is it really that sweet? It’s not like super sweet. It’s still got some bitterness to it.
KN: I don’t think it’s that sweet at all-
KN: … I mean, sometimes I think everything should be re-categorized so it’s red vermouth or white vermouth, and sometimes I deliberately try to refer to them that way, which is not standard and not done, but yeah, you’re exactly right. Sweet vermouth is not terribly sweet at all. I do like the Imbue. I think they’re just so sincere also. There’s a certain earnestness to this particular brand that I enjoy.
JF: It’s very pacific northwest.
KN: I guess so, yeah.
JF: Yeah, it seems very Portland-ish.
KN: And they’re using a lot of local ingredients. They’re using … I believe they’re using Willamette Valley wines and I know they’re fortifying their wine with eau de vie from Clear Creek, and they’re a local producer of brandy’s and other spirits. They just seem like very well-meaning and they make a good product.
JF: Yeah, I also like the Petal and Thorn. Have you had that?
JF: That is rosé color.
KN: Yeah, I mean that sort of feels more like a Campariesque kind of … a [Parativo 00:17:31]. But also a wine-base, and very, very drinkable.
JF: Yeah, I haven’t had the sweet wine or the red one. Yeah, I like that. Maybe we should just ban, just stop calling it sweet vermouth. I think like anything, people hear the word sweet and they automatically go to a dark place. I enjoy sweet things, chocolate-
KN: Same, same.
JF: … all kinds of sweets. Sweet sweets, so yeah, I agree that sweet is a … well, it’s just a loaded word, and especially in the world of wine and spirits too, that people automatically think like, “Oh, it’s sweet-”
KN: Because something’s been added and-
JF: Right, or it’s just for dessert or something like that. Do you look at … I guess when you’re thinking about sweet vermouth and a manhattan, but do you look at vermouth in general as a category, as like, oh it’s just an apéritif wine, or does it depend on if you’re having it alone or in a cocktail?
KN: I think of vermouth as being an ingredient. I don’t know that I think of it as being an apéritif category. Maybe it should be, but I don’t think it’s typically consumed alone or as a precursor to a meal unless it’s mixed into something else. Maybe that’s something that should change.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I mean, I love the idea … One of my favorite summer cocktails, along those lines, is a white port and soda or tonic with just a twist, a citrus twist. It’s the same kind of philosophy. It’s like, lower alcohol, it’s got a ton of flavor, and it’s really refreshing … and it’s really easy to make too. I think that’s the nice thing about vermouth too is that it can be one small component of something, or it can just be like, hey, all you need to do is just [glug 00:19:15] some into a glass of ice, top it off with some soda or tonic, and add some citrus, and boom, you’re done.
JF: And you don’t even need to like, oh, like X number of ounces of this and that. Just kind of, you know-
KN: No, just eyeball it.
JF: … eyeball it, yeah. Yeah, I think maybe it’s hard. Well, you write a lot of cocktail recipes too. I mean, sometimes it’s kind of a relief to just tell people like, you know, you can just kinda eyeball it, and it’s not like a cocktail that requires 20 ingredients or 30 steps and eyedroppers of this, and you know, bar spoons of that.
KN: I think a vermouth highball, a white port highball, I think all of these just sound wonderful. Yeah, just put some into your glass, glug it up with a little bit of sparkling, and if you feel like some bitters, put in some bitters. If you feel like some citrus, put in some citrus.
JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You can be having … it’s like a hot summer day and you just have a little on the rocks with some soda, a little citrus, it can be part of a classic drink like a martini or a manhattan, and it can be a little bit of everything in between. It’s an underrated ingredient, and it’s really cool to explore it from all over the country and all over the world in many guises and flavors.
So, thank you for joining us, Kara.
KN: My pleasure.
JF: And thank you for listening to the What We’re Tasting podcast, sponsored by Vivino, wine made easy.
The three wines we talked about today are: The Routin Dry Vermouth, Lustau Vermouth Blanco, and the Imbue Sweet Vermouth. Find What We’re Tasting on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts. And if you liked today’s episode, please give us a five star rating on iTunes, leave a comment, tell your friends. What We’re Tasting is a Wine Enthusiast podcast. Check out Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com.