I’ve told you that vermouth is one of the first 5 bottles you should buy for your home bar because it’s used in classic cocktails like the Martini and the Manhattan. Most people, however, have no idea what vermouth is, or that some vermouth tastes much better than others. So today, I’ll define vermouth for you and in my next post I’ll tell you what to do with it.
Vermouth is a fortified, aromitized wine.
Vermouth is wine (red or white) that’s fortified through the addition of hard liquor (usually brandy). Other familiar fortified wines include Port, Sherry, and Madeira. Because they’re fortified, all of these wines are both higher in alcohol content and more “shelf stable” than regular wine – lasting several weeks before they need to be replaced. Vermouth is unique from these other fortified wines, though, because it’s also aromatized with herbs, spices, tree bark, seeds, and sometimes more.
Because of the complexity of vermouth, every element in the bottle affects the taste of the final product. The type of wine, the quality of the brandy fortifying it, and all of the aromatics contribute to the flavor, and the taste can vary greatly as a result. A vermouth can taste sweet, bitter, dry, herbal, cheap, syrupy – it can take on just about any flavor profile that you can imagine.
Here on the blog, I’ve covered some really high-quality vermouth, like Contratto (pictured) and Vya, and I’ve also used Trader Joe’s $4 vermouth from time to time, too. As I said in my Contratto post: “the extra money spent on a quality bottle of vermouth makes such a massive difference in the quality of my home cocktails, it’s impossible to ignore the value of it.”
Put simply, a better vermouth tastes better, and if you’ve ever shuddered at the taste of a $5 bottle of vermouth, then try something like Carpano Antica Formula, which will run you more like $30. When you taste them straight or maybe on the rocks like pictured above, the quality difference is very clear.