Smart vermouth: a buyer’s guide
By LAURA FRASER
Vermouth, long considered a mixer with a fusty reputation, is returning to the center of the bar with recent artisan-made aperitif wines. Many Italian wineries, particularly in the Piedmont region, make small-batch vermouths, as do wineries in Spain. Here are a few US winemakers tinkering with botanicals in their versions of vermouth, which are often lighter than the traditional ones found in Europe:
Sutton Cellars Brown Label Vermouth is produced in San Francisco from Sonoma county wines; a dry style, using orange peel, chamomile, and rosemary. Carl Sutton has also just come out with a rosato and sweet vermouths, both with wormwood.
Ransom makes handcrafted vermouths at its Sheridan, Oregon distillery, in both dry and sweet varieties. The company grows many of its own botanicals, and lists them all on the bottle, from arch angel root to wild cherry bark.
Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth is made in small batches in Oregon, from Pinot Gris, with flavors of chamomile and sage, and is designed for drinking on the rocks.
Uncouth Vermouth, made in Brooklyn, has a variety of unconventional, some might say unvermouth-like, flavors, including Serrano Chile Lavender, Beet Eucalyptus, Butternut Squash, and Rhubarb.
Vermina, just released from Los Angeles Bar Murano’s David Rosoff and Palmera Winery’s Steve Clifton, is a Spanish-style vermouth—more aromatic than its Italian cousins–made from Santa Barbara wine with organic local herbs.
Vya, produced by Quady Winery in Madera California, was a pioneer in the artisanal vermouth category, producing one in the 1990s. They make extra dry, sweet, and whisper dry varieties, for cocktails or sipping alone.
Now, what to do with these myriad treats? Jordan Mackay, a San Francisco wine critic and vermouth aficionado, says cocktails like the “Sutton & Soda” described in my story, are a light, refreshing, welcome change from big, boozy cocktails. But when it comes to a classic martini, he likes a classic vermouth—Carpani’s dry white vermouth—understated, simple and crisp. For my Negroni, I’d stick with an Italian sweet vermouth, like Antico Carpani, or Martini & Rossi.