Tasting: 10 Vermouths and Fortified Aperitif Wines

It was not so long ago that most bars would stock only two bottles of vermouth, sweet and dry. They would usually live in the speed rack, kept at room temperature, with a pour spout allowing even more contact with oxygen—not to mention a family of fruit flies living in the bottom of the bottle.

Given the oxidized state and “off” flavors of the vermouth in many bars and restaurants, it’s no wonder we started drinking our Martinis drier and drier!

Vermouth is an aromatized wine, meaning it should be treated more like a wine than a spirit. That means refrigeration once opened, after which vermouth and other aperitif wines have a shelf life that rarely should exceed one month.

As such, vermouths are meant to be enjoyed quickly, both in cocktails such as the Negroni as well as on their own, over ice with perhaps a splash of sparkling water and a slice of orange. Here are a few that I tasted recently.

Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth

Producer: Imbue Cellars

Region: Oregon

ABV: 16%

Nose: White wine revealing floral notes of chamomile and elderflower, fresh-cut herbs, orange and tangerine citrus, cinnamon and clove spice.

Palate: Honey, giving way to bitter herbal notes and lemon, apple and pear.

Finish: Long and memorable, with a pleasant bitter/sweet reminder.

Boissiere Extra Dry

Producer: J. Boissiere Vermouth

Region: France

ABV: 18%

Other types available: Sweet vermouth

Nose: Oxidized white wine, followed by a wave of sweetness, floral notes of orange blossom and rose petals.

Palate: Bright and crisp, with a surprising sweet flavor with hints of dried herbs and toasted nuts.

Finish: Dries out nicely with a touch of sweetness and a fresh grape reminder.

Cocchi Aperitivo Americano

Other types available: Giulio Cocchi Spumanti

Region: Italy

Other types available: 16.5%

Other types available: Barolo Chinato Cocchi, Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino

Nose: Extremely floral—elderflower and orange blossom—followed by bright citrus and orange zest, leading to ripe tree fruits—apples and pears—with just a nod of bitterness.

Palate: White wine with an initial blast of honey sweetness married to herbal bitter notes, cinnamon spice and citrus—lemon and orange zest.

Finish: Fresh, long and vibrant, with the sweet-bitter-citrus notes lingering.

Carpano Antica Formula

Producer: Fratelli Branca Distillerie

Region: Italy

ABV: 16.5%

Other types available: Carpano Classico, Carpano Dry, Carpano Bianco

Nose: Root beer, tobacco, dried fruits (prunes), cinnamon, dark chocolate, saddle leather, dried fruits—cherries and orange peel.

Palate: Powerful and complex, citrus—grapefruit and orange zest, vanilla, clove and cinnamon spice, raisins, prunes and toasted nuts.

Finish: Long and lingering, with orange marmalade, date and raisin.

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Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery

Producer: Maison Dolin & Cie (the last remaining producer of vermouth de Chambéry, France’s only AOC in the category)

Region: France

ABV: 17%

Other types available: Dolin Blanc, Dolin Rouge, Dolin Génépi

Nose: Tropical fruits—lychee and passion fruit, bright citrus, toasted almonds, with a nod of fresh pine.

Palate: Crisp white wine with herbal notes.

Finish: Medium in length with a pleasant oxidized white wine.

Martini Gran Lusso

Producer: Martini & Rossi

Region: Italy

ABV: 16%

Other types available: Rosso, Bianco, Extra Dry, Rosato

Nose: Floral notes of lavender, giving way to black pepper, orange zest, baking spices—clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Palate: Concentrated red wine, balanced sweetness, herbal notes, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla spice, dark chocolate, orange citrus, stewed dark berries.

Finish: The baking spices and orange zest linger into a long and pleasant reminder.

Cinzano 1757

Producer: Cinzano

Region: Italy

ABV: 16%

Other types available: Rosso, Bianco, Extra Dry, Rosé  

Nose: Big and bold with an herbal/floral tang, dried cherries, dates and raisins, orange peel, cinnamon and vanilla spice.

Palate: Sweet followed by subtle bitterness, stewed cherries, licorice, dried fruits and a nod of tobacco.

Finish: Long and pleasant with a touch of dark chocolate and stewed cherries.

Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso

Producer: Alessio

Region: Italy

ABV: 17%

Other types available: Alessio Vermouth Chinato

Nose: Powerful, with a whiff of bittersweet amaro followed by licorice, ground cloves, and stewed fruit with a nod of bitter orange.

Palate: Medium bodied with nice acidity, burnt sugar sweetness, touch of cola, dried fruits and baking spice—clove, cinnamon and allspice.

Finish: Medium length, dry with a lovely hint of dark chocolate and stewed cherries.

Punt e Mes

Producer: Fratelli Branca Distillerie

Region: Italy

ABV: 16%

Nose: Sweet molasses, licorice, orange zest, stewed cherries, prunes and tobacco with a touch of bitter herbs and quinine.

Palate: Silky, rich texture revealing bright ripe sherries, bitter orange zest, sweet black licorice and cinnamon bark spice.

Finish: Long in duration, fruity sweetness and a lasting bitterness.

Noilly-Prat Ambre

Producer: Noilly-Prat & Cie

Region: France

ABV: 16%

Other types available: Original Dry, Rouge

Nose: Lavender, orange, dried fruits—raisin, figs and dates—vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom spice

Palate: Rich, sultry wine, sweet cinnamon, orange, dried apricots, dates and raisins with lovely acidity.

Finish: Long and notable, with sweet honey, orange and elderflower notes.

Tony Abou-Ganim is the founder of Las Vegas-based cocktail consultancy The Modern Mixologist and the author of The Modern Mixologist—Contemporary Classic Cocktails and Vodka Distilled.

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