Vermouth makers would like to remind you that their product is more than just a cocktail ingredient. It’s also wine, albeit fortified with a spirit and aromatized with herbs, spices and bittering agents.
To that end, grape varieties have taken center stage lately.
In some cases, vermouths are made by or in collaboration with local winemakers. Alysian Wines, in Healdsburg, California, for example, makes a “Bittersweet” bianco vermouth that uses its Russian River Valley Chardonnay as a base.
Similarly, Washington State craft distillery BroVo makes a handful of varietal vermouths, distinguished by grapes sourced from local wineries: Sauvignon Blanc for dry vermouth; Pinot Gris for its version of an off-dry blanc; Pinot Noir for rosé; and Merlot for its “Jammy” sweet vermouth.
Tightening the wine-vermouth connection has also been a way to signal quality and encourage consumers to enjoy it straight.
“Vermouth, as a category, has been underrated,” says Nicole Preiss, a partner with Preiss Imports. The company represents Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth, made in Germany’s Mosel region, which uses Riesling as a base.
While Riesling is trumpeted proudly on the Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth label, don’t expect to see many grape varieties printed on vermouth bottles. The U.S. government agency that regulates alcohol tax and trade generally doesn’t allow it, says Preiss.
That hasn’t stopped producers from using grape varieties as a selling point though. When Martini & Rossi launched its premium Martini Riserva Speciale Vermouth di Torino line in the U.S., the brand made a point of discussing the grapes used to underscore its Italian heritage. The Rubino is made with Nebbiolo, while Ambrato contains Moscato d’Asti.
The upshot of such loving attention to vermouth production is that, when a key building block for cocktails gets better, it means higher-quality drinks.
“I’m a firm believer that your cocktail is only as good as your vermouth,” says Preiss.