Think “white vermouth” and your mind is likely to leap to the dry style of the aromatized wine, also sometimes referred to as “French vermouth,” although it’s made in plenty of other countries as well. Dry vermouth tends toward the herbaceous and botanical, sometimes with even a hint of brininess, making it perfect for a classic Martini, where its frondy aromatics and flavors cleave to the gin or vodka.
But that’s not the only style of vermouth that’s “white,” or nearly colorless. If your bottle is marked bianco or blanc, expect it to be richer and sweeter, acting as a bridge between the dry style and its sweet red cousin, its rounder body highlighting the robust flavors within.
Either way you go, both styles contain a host of spices, herbs, and bittering agents, lovely for sipping solo or on the rocks, or in a variety of cocktails.
How to know when best to reach for each type? Flavor, of course, should always be your primary consideration, but as a quick-and-easy guide: Dry is excellent in stirred and spirit-forward cocktails, such as most Martini riffs, pairing its bright, crisp flavor and texture with an equally bright, crisp spirit, while bianco or blanc can take to bubbles and even the darker, richer side of spirits—try swapping it in for the sweet vermouth in a Manhattan, ditch the cherry, and add a twist for a divine riff on the classic). Of course, exceptions abound: Many modern Martini riffs eschew the typical dry vermouth in favor of bianco, and plenty of Negroni variations, where you might expect to use the sweeter bianco style, instead call for dry.
So the real answer is: Make sure to grab the style a particular recipe calls for, but once you’ve become acquainted with each style’s—and each bottle’s–unique flavors and textures, do some experimenting to see what each adds to a cocktail. You might find yourself surprised.
These are eight excellent bottles for your home bar.
Boissiere Extra Dry Vermouth
Sounds French, right? It started out in Mont Blanc, France, but today Boissiere is produced in northern Italy’s Turin. Boissiere has a soft, plush mouthfeel and a balancing snappiness to its botanicals, with aromas of savory wormwood, sweet blanched almonds, and fennel seed, and flavors of dry, biting almond skin and olive pits. Try it in a 50/50 Martini.
Carpano Bianco Vermouth
Lower in alcohol than its dry sibling but with family traits that carry through from one to the other, you’ll pick up on the same grapefruit note and grapey-ness noted in the dry bottle, likely from the grape, trebbiano (also known as ugni blanc, the base of most vermouths and often brandy). Here, though, it’s even rounder and more mouth-filling, with a slightly briny blanched-almond note, along with a spiciness although here it snaps back the sweetness like a rubber band, making you eager for another sip. It’s lovely on the rocks with a twist of pink grapefruit zest.
Carpano Dry Vermouth
As with most vermouth, whether dry, off-dry, or sweet, white grapes are at the source here, and the grape-y ripeness of Carpano’s dry vermouth comes off as playful and even a little tropical, with notes of ginger and apricot to compliment the dominant grapefruit juice and zest notes. It’s also sweeter than you might expect from a dry vermouth—which isn’t to say it’s overly sweet in the least, but this Italian bottle possesses a richness that nicely balances the zippy spicy note that hits you toward the end.
Dolin Vermouth De Chambery Dry
If there is a cornerstone dry vermouth, Dolin is it. Made from ugni blanc grapes, it’s subtle and cool and smells like lemon verbena, white lilacs, and fresh citrus peels. On the palate, it’s fresh and bright but with plenty of intrigue: a little savory wormwood, a little gentle almond nuttiness, a little chamomile. It's the go-to bottle for most industry pros for Martinis and so much more.
Interrobang White Vermouth No. 73
The number 73 is the number of attempts it took to get this Willamette Valley-made semi-sweet style of vermouth just right. And just like its excellent sweet counterpoint (which took 47 tries), the white is a layered pleasure on the palate, all ginger, dried apricot, and grapefruit peel and pith, with a piquant zip that makes it lovely by itself or stirred into a gin cocktail. The base wine and the likely origin of the wild-ginger note is Oregon riesling.
Poli Gran Bassano Bianco Vermouth
This Veneto-made vermouth from Poli (well-known for its excellent grappa) makes use of the indigenous Vespaiolo grape variety for this bianco-style aromatized wine. (Fun fact: The grape gets its name from the word for wasp—vespa—which are apparently quite smitten with this particular white grape). This complex golden bianco is rich and plush, sweet and spicy, with a surprisingly dry finish. It’s made with 20 botanicals, including wormwood, hawthorn, elderflower, grapefruit, galangal, myrtle, and sweet and bitter orange. Take a hint from the base-grape’s name and try this in a Vesper variation.
Timbal Vermouth Extra Dry
Made in the Catalan region of Spain by one of the last remaining old vermouth producers of the region, Emilio Miro, there’s no sugar added to this excellent vermouth, proven on your tongue with its cracker-dry elegance, freshness, and lip-smacking savoriness. It begs to be paired with clear spirits, with its pretty notes of crisp Granny Smith apple, fennel, sweet basil, and chamomile. It’s ideal for a 50/50 Martini.
Villa Massa Giardino Mediterranean Dry Vermouth
It’s no surprise that lemon plays a pivotal role in Giardino’s entry into the dry vermouth category: Its owner, the Zamora Company, acquired Italian limoncello maker Villa Massa in 2017. With a consult from seasoned American bartenders Chris Patino and Stacey Swenson of Simple Serve, Giardino feels full on your palate but immediately dry out of the gate. It employs a host of lovely botanicals and has a lovely, soft note of elderflower along with its tell-tale citrusy punch. It’s perfect in an El Presidente.