Your Guide to Buying Vermouth
Words by Jane Ryan
Vermouth is an essential ingredient in most classic cocktails – but information on it can be confusing. What is vermouth, what vermouth brands should you buy, what cocktails call for vermouth and how should you store vermouth? Let’s dive in.
World Vermouth Day
World Vermouth Day, observed on March 21st, is a celebration started by Giancarlo Mancino, a day to honour this vital cocktail ingredient (which is also incidentally delicious sipped as an aperitif over ice if you fancy trying it on its own).
Giancarlo is an Italian bartender who started working with a small family run distillery in Piedmont to make his vermouths in 2011. His love of vermouth meant his own wines were very traditional, even grinding his botanicals in a traditional mill in use since the 1930's. If you pick up a bottle of Mancino (and we recommend you do) the town pictured on the bottle's label is inspired by Giancarlo's home town of Pignola, Italy.
What is Vermouth?
Vermouth is a style of fortified and aromatised wine. If you’ve drunk cocktails, you will have encountered vermouth before – probably in a Negroni, a Manhattan or a Martini but it’s use is far more widespread than just these classics. There are several styles of vermouth, ranging between dry and sweet, and unaged, minimally aged or aged with heavy oak-influence.
In case you are wondering, fortified means additional alcohol can be added to boost the abv or alcohol percentage. Vermouth is typically between 14 – 22%. Aromatised means it is flavoured with herbs and spices. Vermouth is unique to all other aromatised wine in that it must be flavoured with at least one herb from the wormwood family – remember, a vermouth without wormwood is like a limoncello without lemon.
You can read our in-depth piece on what vermouth is here, but let’s quickly go over the three different styles you’re most likely to encounter and see on labels in Aussie bottle shops. There is of course plenty more, but this should get you started.
DRY: also labelled as secco. This vermouth is, as the label says, dry, with less than 50 grams of sugar per litre and is most recognisable as one half of the ingredients in a Martini – plus these other 400 drinks. It was historically called French vermouth, and you’ll see this in old cocktail books, however don’t be fooled into thinking only France made this – the Italians will tell you otherwise. Dry vermouths bring fresh citrus, acidity, and a piney, salty flavour to drinks. Example: Mancino Secco.
BIANCO: also labelled as blanc or blanco. White, amber or orange in appearance, bianco vermouths are sweeter than dry vermouth and occasionally even sweeter than rosso vermouths. They vary widely from brand to brand, with some offering spice, some citrusy palates and others a honeyed sweetness. Best enjoyed in drinks like a Tuxedo, an El President or an agave-based Martini – anywhere that benefits from a little additional sweetness to compliment other flavours. Try these delicious bianco cocktails. Example: Mancino Bianco.
ROSSO: also labelled as sweet. With 130 grams or more of sugar per litre, a rosso vermouth is used in Negronis, Manhattans, the Martinez and Americanos – plus these other 400 rosso vermouth cocktails. Historically made with red grapes, most sweet vermouths are now made with white grapes and given colour through their botanicals and caramel. A sweet vermouth will often bring rich spice, stewed fruits and orange to a cocktail. While dry vermouths were called ‘French’, these wines were labelled as ‘Italian’ in old cocktail books. Example: Mancino Rosso.
Other styles to look out for: Well aged sweet vermouths like Antica Formula, amaro vermouths like Cocchi Vermouth Amaro and full-bodied sweet vermouths like Punt E Mes.
What To Look For When Buying Vermouth
A great wine base: your vermouth should be based on at least 75% of wine (the other 25% could be additional alcohol) so it makes sense you need a quality wine to make a quality vermouth. Most vermouths are nowadays based on white wines grapes, but there are exceptions that still use Cabernets and Shirazzes. A good rule of thumb is that the brand of vermouth you’re buying is vocal about its wine base and how important the quality of that is – whether it’s Trebbiano di Romagna, Picpoul, Masarla, Viognier or Chardonnay.
It’s not dirt cheap: we’ve all seen those diagrams that show how much the bottle itself costs, the taxes, the shipping and label, so when a bottle of vermouth is less than $15, even $20, the liquid inside is costing so little to make it’s scary. Avoid and use your dollars on a product that’s had love and care put into it.
It’s not a litre bottle: unless you live with four or more other vermouth lovers and you all drink vermouth by the truck load, a litre bottle is going to oxidise before you finish it. True, vermouths are fortified but they have half the amount of alcohol that a spirit has and they do go off once opened between four to six weeks. Exceptions to the rule include batching Negronis or Martinis for a party (or your freezer).
Where to Keep Your Vermouth
Once opened, keep it in the fridge. Don’t use open vermouths beyond two months.
Cocktails to Mix With Vermouth
Dry: Martini 3:1
With: Mancino Secco Vermouth and gin.
We say: Three to one may be unfair odds in a fight but vermouth shines in this stirred off-dry Martini.
Dry: Bamboo Cocktail (Joaquín Simó's recipe)
With: Mancino Secco Vermouth, fino sherry, sugar syrup, orange bitters, Angostura bitters.
We say: Dry, delicate. Aromatic and complex.
Bianco: Tequila Martini
With: Mancino Bianco Ambrato vermouth and tequila.
We say: A 2:1 Dry Martini that's like no gin or vodka comparison – it's arguably better.
Bianco: Tuxedo No. 2 (Flora Bar's recipe)
With: Mancino Bianco Ambrato vermouth, gin, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters and absinthe.
We say: Sweet white vermouth and generous maraschino liqueur mellow the usual Tuxedo bone dryness while also adding aroma and flavour.
With: Mancino Rosso vermouth, gin and Campari
We say: Glowing red in hue, the Negroni manages to be both sophisticated and simple at the same time and is definitely for a grown-up palate. It takes its depth from the vermouth, is centred by the bittersweet liqueur, and is made to sing through the vitality of the gin. It makes the perfect aperitivo and, though popular the world over, is absolutely de rigeur during aperitivo hour in Milan.
Rosso: Brooklyn (Perfect)
With: Mancino Rosso vermouth, straight rye whiskey, Mancino Secco vermouth, Amer Picon and maraschino liqueur.
We say: A perfect Manhattan with bittersweet liqueur rather than aromatic bitters and a balancing dash of sweet maraschino liqueur.