Vermouth is one of the three elements of a negroni, and has recently been given the limelight in its own right. (Read our negroni guide for more information here). Vermouth was once considered the backing singer of the booze world – we knew vermouth only for its role in cocktails like the martini – but that’s all over. For a few years, bartenders have been giving this underrated wine a leading role in drinks, and now its fame is starting to spread.
What is vermouth?
Wine? Yep, vermouth is wine, but, more accurately, it’s a wine that’s been aromatised (infused with botanicals) and fortified (spiked with brandy, which brandy helps it keep longer – you’ll get about six weeks before it oxidises if you keep it in the fridge). The word itself comes from the German ‘wermut’ meaning wormwood, vermouth’s backbone botanical. While the word may be German, vermouth is most commonly associated with France (dry) and Italy (sweet).
Which is the best Italian vermouth?
If you’re going Italian, our favourite is Cocchi Americano, also loved by bartenders including Oskar Kinberg from supercool Oskar’s bar. Produced in the Asti region and with notes of orange, elderflower and apple, it works particularly well in a spritz like this.
Which is the best French vermouth?
France produces the likes of Noilly Prat, one of the most popular brands, along with Dolin from Chambery (the only AOC for vermouth), and Lillet Blanc, made famous in the vesper martini. But with resurgence in popularity comes a new wave of innovation.
Where else makes vermouth?
Breaking away from the idea that Vermouth is strictly European, Regal Rogue was created from the desire to blend high-quality new world wines with native herbs and spices in Australia’s outback. Rather than masking the wine, these botanicals, including finger lime, thyme, lemon myrtle, wattleseed and pepperberry, have been chosen to enhance the unique character, resulting in an elegant, complex vermouth that’s as good sipped over ice as it is used in cocktails
Available in fresh, citrussy bianco and spicy rosso, you can buy it from Selfridges, or enjoy it at a handful of London restaurants, including Jago, a Southern European/Middle Eastern/Ashkenazi Jewish restaurant, set inside a sort of orange bubble that hangs over the edge of Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane. Regal Rogue is perfect as an aperitif, or enjoyed lingering over lunches with friends – it’s dangerously drinkable. It’s also great in cocktails.
Try our rogroni recipe here – a fresher, lighter update to the traditional, super-bitter negroni – perfect for the summer months.
Here are some small-batch vermouths to try, including an English vermouth...
40 Albourne Estate
This boutique Sussex winery uses 40 botanicals in its award-winning vermouth. Cardamom and saffron notes shine through, along with a very pleasing herbaceous astringency. Enjoy it on its own or with anything cheesy.
Regal Rogue Wild Rosé
Made in Australia from Barossa Valley shiraz, and botanicals plucked from the bush, this pretty pink vermouth is lovely to sip with just a little ice. It’s ideal in the alba rossa (right), and it makes a mean wet martini mixed with an equal measure of gin.
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
A revival of a recipe from Turin that dates from 1891, this is rich with smoky spice, dried fruits and citrus peel. Gorgeous in a negroni, it’s also great sipped by itself or with a chocolaty pud.
Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato
Iconic vermouth brand Martini launched its premium range in 2015, and I’m rarely without this in my fridge. Fruity and floral with a delicate sweetness, try it over ice with tonic and some salted almonds alongside. It also makes a cracking cardinale.