Spirits & Liqueurs Vermouth

The 9 Best Sweet Vermouths to Drink in 2021

The backbone of some of your favorite classic cocktails.

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“Let’s start with the basics,” says François Monti, spirits educator and author of El Gran Libro del Vermut. “Vermouth is aromatized, fortified wine.” Fermented from grapes, it is then bolstered with a spirit to boost its alcohol content, and it’s flavored with an infusion of herbs, spices, and other botanicals, the most important of which is wormwood. A bittering agent, the wormwood (or, sometimes, quinine) gives vermouth the complexity that makes it so important to mixology. “Its backbone is the interplay between bitterness and sweetness,” says Monti. “Today, it’s not only a staple of aperitivo culture in Southern Europe, it’s an extremely important ingredient for classic cocktails.”

“It adds a layer of flavor to strong, spirit-based drinks that isn’t overly sweet,” says Sam Nelis, bar director at Vermont’s Barr Hill Distillery. That element is so important, he says, that elixirs like the Manhattan and Negroni would have never come to be without it. “And without those drinks, we would have no contemporary cocktails.” 

First concocted over two centuries ago in the Italian city of Torino, the original vermouth is sweet, or Italian vermouth. Though the region surrounding that city continues to produce some of the most popular sweet vermouths, France and Spain, as well as the U.S., also turn out great bottles. Here are some of the best vermouths to get right now.

Best Overall: Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

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  • Region: Italy
  • ABV: 16.5%
  • Tasting Notes: Herbs, Chocolate, Vanilla, Cherries 

“Cocchi strikes the perfect balance of chocolate and vanilla notes, with a lingering hit of bitter herbaceousness,” says Monti. In short, it provides “everything good in a sweet, Italian-style vermouth,” yet is “easier” on the palate than others in its category. “It’s super accessible,” agrees Hyatt Lifestyle Division’s national director of bars, Miranda Breedlove, “so it works with cocktails that have an aggressive backbone and is also good for low-ABV drinks.”

Best for Negroni: Martini & Rossi Rosso

Martini & Rossi Rosso Sweet Vermouth

Image Source / Drizly

  • Region: Italy
  • ABV: 15%
  • Tasting Notes: Orange, Clove, Oregano, Saline

“Vermouth was such a popular product from Torino that when Campari was invented [in 1860 in Milan], to sell it, they made a drink called the Milano Torino, putting it together with vermouth. That was the beginnings of the Negroni,” explains Nelis.

Indeed, the Negroni—equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth—is an ideal cocktail for a lighter, sweeter vermouth. “You already have a strong ingredient in Campari,” says Monti, “so you don’t need something really bitter. You want something mellower, so Martini works well.”  

Read Next: The Best Vermouths

Best for Manhattan: Carpano Antico Formula

Carpano Antica

Image Source / Wine.com

  • Region: Italy
  • ABV: 16.5%
  • Tasting Notes: Chocolate, Vanilla, Dried Fruits

The original Italian vermouth brand, Carpano named their aromatized wine after the German word for bitter wormwood, “wermut.” You’d never know it from this version, which is “very rich and sweet,” says Nelis, “almost like a dessert.” That doesn’t mean that it lacks complexity. Max Green, owner-mixologist at New York’s Blue Quarter finds “overarching dense chocolate, vanilla, and strong dried fruits: figs, dates, and apricots.” All those big flavors, says Breedlove, make it an “iconic” companion to “any big, heavy, whiskey” in a classic Manhattan.

Best with Soda: Carpano Punt e Mes

Punt e Mes

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  • Region: Italy
  • ABV: 16%
  • Tasting Notes: Coffee, Toffee, Menthol, Bitter Herbs

Made by Carpano, this “herbaceous” vermouth is “the opposite end of the spectrum” from the company’s popular Antica version, says Monti. “Of all the better-known Italian vermouth, this is the most bitter one, but it also contains a lot of sugar, so it’s big on flavor.” A complex layering of chocolate and toffee notes balanced by a menthol freshness, it’s almost “medicinal” in its intensity. But Nelis calls it “a personal favorite” in cocktails or, better yet, on its own with soda water, where its personality shines.

Best for Boulevardier: Cinzano 1757 Rosso

Cinzano 1757 Rosso Vermouth

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  • Region: Italy
  • ABV: 16%
  • Tasting Notes: Red Berries, Flowers, Eucalyptus, Camphor

Green appreciates the “rich, purposeful mouthfeel” of the Cinzano 1757. “When you're talking about sweet, classic cocktails like the Boulevardier,” he says, “you want that density to run over your palate and have a sort of permanence in the moment, and Cinzano’s texture works really well.”

Nelis likes the “cherry, raspberry, and red plum” flavors that “brighten” its bitterness and balance out the whiskey, while Breedlove appreciates how its herbal flavors “play well” with the Campari in the drink.

Read Next: The Best Gins

Best on the Rocks: Gonzalez Byass La Copa Rojo

Vermouth La Copa Rojo

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  • Region: Spain
  • ABV: 15.5%
  • Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Clove, Dates, Saline

Spanish vermouth, says Monti, is built for drinking on the rocks: “It tends to be less bitter and intense, so it’s a nice, refreshing style in spring or summer when you’re enjoying more than one.”

Leah Moss, head bartender at Brooklyn’s Tooker Alley, agrees. “It’s like a sunny day in Spain,” she says. Recently, the rise of vermouth based on sherry has led to bottles like this one that exhibits “a complex sweetness, cloves, and vanilla aromas, and bit of oxidation,” says Monti. “But it’s not as sweet as people expect it to be,” says Moss. “Diluted a bit, it’s definitely drinkable. I mean, sherry, who doesn't love that?”

Read Next: The Best Cocktail Glasses

Best Budget: Dolin Rouge

Dolin Vermouth Rouge

Image Source / Drizly

  • Region: France
  • ABV: 16%
  • Tasting Notes: Light Raisins, Prunes, Citrus

At The Haymaker and Killjoy, his bars in Raleigh, North Carolina, owner-mixologist Josh Gagne’s house vermouth for whiskey- and gin-based drinks is this bottle from the French AOC of Chambéry. “Lighter in texture but with a little bit of raisin and prune notes, it really helps highlight the spirit,” he says. “In combination with citrus it has the qualities of a dry vermouth,” says Moss. “It might be unusual to use a French sweet vermouth, but I really like it for some applications.” 

Best Bianco: Dolin Blanc

Dolin Blanc Vermouth

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  • Region: France
  • ABV: 16%
  • Tasting Notes: Citrus Peel, Stone Fruit, Honey Blossom

Vermouth bianco, or blanc, a sweet, white vermouth, is “its own animal,” observes Moss. She’s “a big fan” of Dolin Blanc. “It’s a great blender and emphasizer of flavors,” she says, “good in a martini to add a little fruit note,” or as the base for housemade ingredients like her raw honey liqueur. Gagne “sneaks it into a Collins,” where “it adds complexity and a little grapefruit and orange peel flavor,” and Monti appreciates its “beautiful floral, peach and apricot notes” over ice in summer.

Read Next: The Best Dry Vermouths

Best American: Ransom

Ransom Dry Vermouth

Image Source / Wine.com

  • Region: Oregon
  • ABV: 17.8%
  • Tasting Notes: Cherries, Vanilla, Bitter Herbs

Moss calls this Oregon product “the best American vermouth you can get.” Not like an Italian vermouth, it’s “a whole new take on the category,” she says, that’s “really delicious” sipped on its own with some sparkling water. Made entirely in house using a blend of cold-climate grapes vinified and oxidized in Ransom’s winery and fortified with brandy run from its own alembic still. It is bittered traditionally with wormwood but sweetened with muscat grape juice and maple syrup, and infused with everything from thistle to coffee nibs to chamomile for an end product that Monti agrees is “very interesting.”

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Betsy Andrews is a freelance journalist specializing in food and drink, travel, and the environment, and has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades. Betsy has written for Liquor.com since May 2020. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Eating Well, The Wall Street Journal, SevenFifty Daily, VinePair, Wine Enthusiast, Travel & Leisure, and more.

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