I’ll admit it. I don’t know a heck of a lot about vermouth. But thanks to a great tasting here in Kansas City and some additional bottle and internet research, I know a whole lot more about vermouth than I used to.
First and foremost is the basic definition. Simply put, vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine flavored with a variety of botanicals. There are two main varieties: red, or sweet, vermouth, which originated in Italy, and white, or dry, vermouth, which is indigenous to France. Believe me, you can go much deeper into the subcategories of vermouth: Vermouth Chinato, Vermouth Alla Vaniglia, Chambéry Dry Vermouth and so on, but for our purposes, let’s focus on red and white, or sweet and dry, vermouth.
If you have a negative impression of vermouth, or like me not much of an impression at all, it’s likely due to big name, “little flavor” brands dominating the category. What I’ve learned is that there is an ocean of high quality artisanal vermouth being made in Italy, Spain and beyond, and many are bargains compared to other fortified wine options.
Not long ago, I attended a tasting hosted by one of the wine and spirits importers in town. The tasting featured 12 vermouths from three producers imported by Fasel Shenstone, one of the country’s best importers of quality vermouth.
I quickly discovered that I prefer white dry vermouths over red sweet ones. This is not a surprise to me as sweet wines have never been my favorite. Red, or sweet, vermouths are more likely to be used in cocktails. You’ll find them in Manhattans, Rob Roys, and a host of other bar creations. I’m not dissing them. They’re just not my cup of vermouth.
We tried vermouth from Yzaguirre and Lacuesta Vermouth Haro in Spain and Mancino Vermouth Canelli Asti from Italy. Spanish and Italian vermouths can vary widely, from the varieties of grapes used as the base wine to the aromatics used for flavor to the techniques employed during the production.
I enjoyed many of the vermouths from all three producers, but the three that stood out to me where the Lacuesta Vermouth Edicion Limitada, the Yzaguirre Vermouth Bianco Reserva, and the Mancino Vermouth Bianco Ambrato. All three would serve beautifully as an aperitif. I would recommend serving them chilled rather than over ice as the ice will dilute the wonderful flavors and aromas as it melts.
Following the tasting, I was discussing my new found appreciation for vermouth with a friend of mine. He turned me on to a French vermouth that I quite enjoyed. La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc is a blend of 18 plants and white wine from the Southwest of France. With citrus notes on the nose and hints of toast and yellow fruits on the palate, the La Quintinye Vermouth was a great find and a welcome recommendation. In fact, I think I’ll have a little glass right now. Cheers!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.