I’ll be the first to admit it. I have a bottle of vermouth in my cellar that has been open since at least 2010. I should throw it out…for many reasons. Vermouth keeps longer than wine since it is fortified, yet we hold on to our vermouth way too long and buy the poorest quality. When it comes to vermouth, many of us grab the cheapest bottle we can find because “You’re just mixing with it, right?”
However, when you make a proper Martini or Manhattan, the ingredients are two parts spirit, one part vermouth. When you make anything else like that, you don’t use inferior products just because you’re mixing it. When I make a Bolognese sauce, I don’t use inferior meat because it’s only one part of the sauce!
I believe many bartenders and at-home mixologists are doing things like rinsing the glass with vermouth or just adding a whisper of vermouth because the quality of spirits has gone up while the quality of vermouth has either gone down or remained mediocre. No one wants to ruin a perfectly good drink by adding an ingredient he or she wouldn’t normally drink on its own.
I had this discussion with Andrew Quady last week. Andrew is best known for making Muscat-driven, sweetly perfumed dessert wines like Quady Electra and Essensia. About 15 years back, someone dared him to craft a vermouth that could make a cocktail shine but was also good enough to drink.
It took a lot of trial and error, but what he’s made are highly aromatized, balanced, uniquely layered vermouths that any craft cocktail snob would be proud to use.
We tasted the dry, then the sweet, then both together for what Andrew calls The Vya, a warm-but-cooling cocktail that makes your senses stand up and take notice. Though some of the ingredients are kept secret, most of the usual players are here: dry white wine, angelica, lavender, and orris root for the dry and a dry red with cardamom, cinnamon, and citrus for the sweet. They are both layered with herbaceous flavor, the red having more candied-citrus-peel sweetness.
Even though the most-famous vermouths, such as Martini and Rossi, Dolin, and Lillet, are from Europe, American wine makers, including Andrew Quady, are trying their hands at it. I also highly recommend trying Ransom vermouths. Ransom got its start as a small-batch, grape-based spirits distillery, later adding wine production and grain-based spirits like gin and whiskey, which eventually lead to craft vermouths. Having in-house wine to use as a base and his own spirits to fortify, proprietor Tad Seestedt utilizes many organically grown Oregon herbs and fruits in his vermouths. Unlike most vermouths, Ransom has all of the ingredients right on the label. It’s intriguing and thought provoking to read the ingredients while sitting back and sipping on these and contemplating where the unusual roots, herbs and botanicals are grown.
Though these vermouths are normally purchased for cocktail consumption, I recommend you grab a bottle and have it in the fridge as a pre-dinner aperitif or mid-week pick me up.
Do you like having an aperitif before dinner? If so, which one? Keep the conversation going by tweeting me @ninoswineexpert!