Vermouth is having a moment—and I personally hope it lasts. Herbed wine, once a key feature of life, started as a medieval tonic, and reached its zenith of popularity when Tristan and Isolde quaffed it as a love potion. What was once kept around to medicate sick kids has more recently been reintroduced by savvy bartenders. Naturally, the hipster set appropriated it, and mainstream culture has noticed.
Vermouth is wine that has been flavored with herbs and spices (think wormwood, coriander, ginger, lemon peel, and mint, among others) then fortified with brandy as a preservative. The Alps of France and Italy remain great centers of vermouth production. On the French side is the region of Chambéry, and its jewel, Dolin, can actually slake your thirst for Alpine mists while beefing up the best martini ever. While I love the Rouge and Blanc, especially with a twist over ice, the Dolin Dry actually pairs a bit like a sauvignon blanc—it’s fabulous with oysters, garlic, and goat cheese.
Crossing the Alps to the Italian Piedmont region, the vermouths are sweet and rather neon in intensity. Contratto, a storied sparkling wine producer, has recently revived its century-old recipes. The Rosso is suffused with allspice, and mixes well with bourbon. The more crystalline, grapefruit pith-toned Bianco is refreshing enough to sip over ice.
Italian producers also make a strongly bitter aperitif-style known as Americano. The Cocchi Americano, delicious with citrusy zip, has helped bring one of my favorite old-school cocktails, the Corpse Reviver #2, into the spotlight. Cocchi also makes an Americano Rosa, which is the only Italian vermouth I’ve encountered that has the sort of juicy red-fruitiness you find in wine—making it the perfect gateway vermouth.
Refrigerate an open bottle—it will last up to three months.
Recipes usually mean French vermouth for blanc or dry, Italian for red.
Serve cold. A twist, raspberry, or sliced strawberry make it even better.
Originally published in the February 2015 issue.
Photographs by Anna Jones/OMS