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Rosso, rouge, rojo, red—it goes by many names in various places around the world, but whichever ruby-hued name you call it by, sweet vermouth is arguably one of the most important spirit sidekicks in drink-making. But it doesn’t need to always play a supporting role: If you haven’t explored the charms of this fortified and aromatized wine over ice with nothing but a slice of citrus, your drinking life is about to change for the better.
What differentiates it from its white (dry or semi-dry) sibling? Well, in addition to the color, the answer’s in the category’s name. Sweet vermouth typically has a higher addition of cane sugar—between 130 to 150 grams per liter. It also often, though not always, contains the addition of caramel for coloring, hence its mahogany-red hue.
In other respects, sweet vermouth resembles its colorless sibling. All have a base of predominantly still wine with some type of shelf-life-extending booze added, often a grape-based neutral spirit, without which its shelf life (like any wine) would be mere days, which also serves to boost the ABV into the 15-20% range. Note that you’ll still want to keep an opened bottle in the fridge and use it up within a few weeks. Crucially, all vermouths also contain wormwood, plus a bevy of other botanicals. Those botanicals vary from brand to brand, in which lies the fun of trying different versions.
It's said that sweet vermouth’s ancestral home is Turin, Italy—once a center for spice trade—and the moscato grape its standard base, but sweet vermouth (and, really, all vermouth) is made all over the world. Some countries have maintained it as tradition for hundreds of years—from Spain and France to Switzerland and Germany and, especially as of late, the United States.
Whether you’re exploring the vast options for low-fi sipping or dialing into which versions work best for your favorite cocktails, the options are in aromatic abundance. These are a dozen to try.
Boissiere Sweet Vermouth
The two most historically recognized spots for vermouth production, Turin and Chambéry, were once part of the Kingdom of Savoy, the span of which included these alpine regions of northern Italy and southern France. The recipe for this bottle dates to 1857 and the Mt. Blanc area of France, but in the 1970s, Boissiere moved production to Turin, Italy, where it remains today. This vermouth’s floral nose of gentle elderflower and coriander doesn’t prepare the drinker for its grip and intensity on the palate, resembling oversteeped chamomile tea and vanilla extract but in a good way. It has a long, herbaceous, spicy finish that would add some excellent oomph to a Martinez.
Carpano Antica Formula
In tiny letters on this bottle, itself a replica of the original, is the phrase Tempus Judex: Time is the judge. Since this vermouth has been around since 1786, it seems to have won its case in the world’s court. White muscatel grapes from Piedmont are at its base, along with other white, aromatic grapes sourced from the vineyards of southern Italy as well. There’s a distinct but mellow star-anise-licorice note on the nose, along with grapefruit peel, cola, and candied ginger. Bright yet dense on the palate, this vermouth is spicy and fruity, but with a satisfying pomegranate-like tartness. Even though the company limits production of this vermouth to just 25,000 bottles a year, it’s worth seeking out for its innate versatility in a multitude of cocktails.
Carpano Classico Rosso
Antonio Benedetto Carpano is the creator of the Turin-style sweet vermouth, and this is a reimagining of that original recipe. Mahogany in color (without the addition of caramel) with an appealing dried fig and star anise nose, Classico formula is juicy yet full of the rich flavors of dried fruit, clove, allspice, gentian, rhubarb, and orange zest, with a spiced amaro-like bitterness on the finish. Go stirred and boozy for cocktails made with this vermouth.
Cocchi Dopo Teatro Vermouth Amaro
The drinking culture of Italy, where drinks and dishes are consumed as ritual, makes everything an occasion for a gustatory holiday of sorts. Case in point: In Turin, it’s customary to sip this particular vermouth on ice with a lemon twist after seeing an opera at, say, Teatro Regio. As its name implies, its amaro-like flavors are more akin to a digestivo, with aromas of orange peels and cherries covered in dark, bitter chocolate. On the palate, its dessert-like cherry-sweetness has a counterpoint of robust espresso bitterness and lingering flavors of cola and vanilla bean.
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
With its sweet, musky, citrusy notes on the nose, you might be inclined to wear this vermouth as a perfume. It fills your mouth with bright, spicy cinnamon, orange zest, cocoa powder, vanilla bean, and ripe plum juiciness, grounded by a savory wormwood note. On the finish, its bitter bite balances out the rich flavors of dried dates and plums. It works beautifully in a Remember the Maine.
Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry
Made in France’s Alpine region of Savoie, Chambéry is France’s only protected designated spot for vermouth production. Its story flows back to the early nineteenth century, when a sweets maker named Joseph Chavasse instead went into liqueurs and fortified wines after seeing their success in Turin. Years later, his daughter would marry Louis-Ferdinand Dolin, who entered the family business and gave it his name. You can smell the alpine influence on this vermouth’s nose with bits of roasted nuts and baking spice. Its flavors are bright, juicy, and fruity on the palate, with plenty of orange and cherry, and a cooling, slightly medicinal note on the finish. It’s a good balance for a Negroni's herbaceous bitterness.
Giardino Vermouth di Torino Rosso
The family-owned Zamora Company, best known for creating the Spanish liqueur Licor 43, smartly enlisted the help of American bar pros Chris Patino and Stacey Swenson of Simple Serve to create a classic duo of vermouths aimed at elegant cocktails. The recently launched result is this Turin-style vermouth made by Italy’s Villa Massa (acquired by the Zamoras in 2017). The aromatic rosso opens up with notes of sandalwood, dried cherry, vanilla bean, and orange zest, the latter of which grows nicely on the palate and adds a balanced zippiness to the silky texture, tang of hibiscus, and gravity of the warming baking spice and snappy herbaceous finish.
Interrobang Recipe No. 47 Sweet Vermouth
Interrobang’s owner, Carr Biggerstaff, says his sweet vermouth made in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a nod to Germany’s history with vermouth as a medicinal liquid soother, but the influences don’t stop there: The base wine is riesling, which provides a wonderful fruity, floral, ginger note as backdrop to the botanicals, which include gentian, cinnamon, orange peel, and eucalyptus. Its balance of fruit, piney herbaceousness, and bitter bite is complementary to the gin and fernet in a Hanky Panky.
Martini & Rossi Vibrante Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo
Smartly noting the low- and no-alcohol wave, M&R just released an excellent duo of non-alcoholic vermouths. The rosso delivers on its name: Vibrante is a bright rose-y red, and while the lack of alcohol perhaps turns down the volume on the flavor intensity, the appealing aromas of elderflower, clementine, and rosemary along with the bright and bitter flavors of bergamot and Roman chamomile are satisfying enough to make it a pleasure to sip over ice, with tonic, or in an even more low-fi Sbagliato.
Poli Gran Bassano
Holy thistle, yarrow, rhubarb, vanilla, pimento, ginger, and licorice are just a few of the 33 botanicals in this Veneto-made vermouth from Poli, well-known for its excellent grappa. Although merlot isn’t an unfamiliar grape in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia area of northeastern Italy, it’s not so common as a base for vermouth. But Poli uses the red grape to good effect here. It’s ruby-hued and more noticeably vinous than herbaceous in aroma, and it’s downright cheerful on the palate. Its flavors of bright, tart rhubarb, sour cherry, orange zest, and vanilla are extra-refreshing with a splash of club soda over ice.
Punt e Mes
So the story goes, Punt e Mes got its name when a customer of the storied wine bar owned by the family Carpano (and current maker of this amaro-like vermouth) wanted a slightly more bitter edge to his rosso aperitivo and asked for a splash of amaro. The resulting point of sweetness and half-point of bitterness referred to in the bottle’s name caught on. Notes of cola, saffron, and dried fruit fill your nose, while the palate is all about the pleasantly bitter grippiness wrapped in a balancing fruity sweetness. It makes for a nice way to reign in the caramel sweetness of a bourbon-based Manhattan.
Timbal Vermut de Reus
In the Catalan region, Emilio Miró is one of the oldest vermouth producers from this coastal southeastern area of Spain. At the turn of the 20th century, Reus was one of the most important vermouth-producing locations in all of Europe, with dozens of producers. Today, Emilio Miró is one of the few remaining. Warm cinnamon-brown in color, this bottle smells like yellow raisins and saffron, and is almost amontillado-sherry-like with its dried fruit notes and nuttiness. The sweetness is concentrated and lip-smacking, but the finish is dry and savory. Try swapping it out for the sherry in an Artist’s Special.