Vermouth’s Resurgence as Aperitif: Dry and White Vermouths from Europe and America

Vermouth is enjoying growing popularity, including a number of American producers of attractively packaged, premium bottlings.  As shown in the graph below, sales in the US are on a strong upward trend (a 21% increase in US Vermouth imports in 2018 alone) as younger consumers shift from spirits to lower alcohol drinks like Vermouth. The global market for Vermouth is predicted to almost double between now and 2027 to $15.7 billion.  A fortified, aromatised wine flavored with herbs and spices, Vermouth comes in many different styles ranging from very dry to sweet. It varies in flavor, sweetness, and texture depending on how they’re made, including the base wine, the level of sweetness or residual sugar, the herbs and spices added, and the type and length of aging.  In this article, we focus on dry and off-dry Vermouths made by some of the best European and American producers.  In a future article, we’ll review sweet Vermouths and Chinatos.

US Actual and Projected Sales ($ million)

Vermouth dates back to ancient Greek times when it was used as a medicine.  Historically, its list of herbs included the bitter Wormwood; indeed, its name comes from the German word for this herb, wermut.  Today, European regulations require wormwood (technically, artesimia) be a component of Vermouth. The same is not true of America, where it was in fact banned for almost a century, until 1912.  Once falsely considered a hallucinogen, today wormwood is touted for its beneficial health effects. 

In America, Vermouth is still used mostly as a mixer for cocktails, Martini being the most famous, but it’s increasingly drunk neat or on the rocks with a twist of citrus.  In this article we review dry and off dry Vermouths, tasting them both neat and on the rocks with a citrus twist.  The Vermouths reviewed below are listed by style: Extra Dry (<30 g/L Residual Sugar), Dry (<50 g/L RS), and Off Dry (traditionally referred to as Blanc).  Several of the Vermouths tasted stood out as being especially good. In the Extra Dry and Dry category, we especially liked the Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambéry from France, the Lacuesta Vermut Blanco Extra Seco from Rioja, Spain, and two American Vermouths, the Quady Vya Extra Dry from California, and Ransom Dry Vermouth from Oregon. In the Off Dry/Blanc category we prefer a Spanish Vermouth, the Padró Blanco Reserva from Tarragona.   

Extra Dry & Dry

Dry Vermouth is a French creation, the first being Joseph Noilly’s dry, lightly aged, oxidative Vermouth in Marseilles launched in 1813. The second was Joseph Chavasse who started producing a sweet, pale Vermouth in Chambéry beginning in 1821. With the marriage of Chavasse’s daughter, the label changed to Dolin in 1852. Another early producer of Vermouth in Chambéry was Jean-Pierre Comoz in 1856. With the declining popularity of Vermouth in the 20th century, Comoz went out of business, but today Dolin makes a Comoz Vermouth using the original recipe.  We review both the Dolin Dry Vermouth and the Comoz Blanc Vermouth in addition to dry Vermouths from Spain and America, and Ransom Dry Vermouth Oregon. 

Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambéry   Clear and colorless, the Dolin has subtle floral and green herbal aromas.  It offers a silky palate that’s lightly flavored with floral and herbal notes.  It’s an elegant, smooth Vermouth that’s neither assertive nor alcoholic.  When served over ice with lemon zest, it offers more precise aromas, clean and subtle flavors, and a bright finish.  The Dolin Dry Includes a maceration of 30 Alpine plants, flowers, and spices in a white wine base.   made from Macabeo and Xarel-lo grown in estate vineyards.  17.5% alc. US Importer: Haus Alpenz  Outstanding!

Lacuesta Vermut Blanco Extra Seco Rioja  Light yellow gold.  The bouquet on this extra dry Vermouth offers floral and warm spice aromas. On the palate, it’s very smooth with a bitter edge and fairly assertive flavors of gingerbread cookies and warm Christmas spices. Finishes very dry. Served on ice with a zest of lemon, it’s even more elegant, bright and refreshing.   Lacuesta began production of Vermouth in Rioja in the 1930s; they are all made of white wine and matured in wood. 28.8 g/L RS, 15% alc.  US Importer: Fasel Shenstone  Outstanding!

Quady Vya Whisper Dry California Medium straw.  The bouquet reveals peach flowers, a hint of tangerine, and warm spice notes. It’s full and round in the mouth with ripe, fruit forward flavors complemented by cooking spices and herbs, all beautifully woven together.  Finishes dry. The addition of ice reduces the spice and increased the vibrant fruit and fresh clean character of the wine. A vermouth that’s delicious on its own. Made by Andrew Quady at his Madera winery as a delicate dry wine. Colombard and Orange Muscat grapes form the base wine.  17% alc. 

Quady Vya Extra Dry California  Medium yellow straw. Shows an attractive, spicy nose with bright citrus and herbal notes. The palate offers a creamy texture and lovely light lemony citrus and fresh thyme and other herbal flavors.  Finishes dry with just a hint of bitterness.  It doesn’t change appreciably when served over ice, although a zest of lemon accentuates that part of the wine. 17% alc. Outstanding!

Ransom Dry Vermouth Oregon   Medium gold. This Dry Vermouth reveals a high toned nose of lemony citrus, herbs and a lovely floral brightness.  There’s a lanolin like character to the palate with sweet notes of herbs and oak complemented by vanilla and walnut notes. Finishes very dry. A very flavorful Vermouth that’s beautifully crafted. The base wine for the Ransom Dry is a mix of aromatic white varietals and Pinot Noir blanc with a botanical infusion of wormwood, chamomile, star anise, cinnamon bark, vanilla bean and several other spices.  Barrel aged in mixed French oak.  18.4% alc. Outstanding!

Tribuno Extra Dry Vermouth California  Although labeled extra dry, this Vermouth is a tad off dry. It’s lightly aromatic and offers simple, light flavors.  When served over ice, menthol and herbal notes appear. This inexpensive Vermouth offers tremendous value.  However, the label is deceptive, mimicking an Italian label with no reference to where it’s produced.  In fact, it’s made by a large California producer, The Wine Group, best known for making Franzia wine.  16% alc.

Off Dry and Blanc

Dolin Comoz Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry A pleasant Blanc with a multifaceted bouquet of dried fruit with hints of marjoram and rosemary. It’s spicy on the attack with a creamy mouth feel and notes of dried stone fruit, brioche, walnuts and ginger. Very flavorful.  More interesting taken neat than over ice. This white Vermouth was introduced in 1881; it became famous as the essential Vermouth in Cuba’s El Presidente cocktail. Comoz is less sweet than other Vermouth Blanc. 16% alc.  US Importer: Haus Alpenz

Padró Blanco Reserva Tarragona    Medium amber.  There’s lovely purity of aroma on the nose, showing notes of citrus and roasted nuts. The attack is dry, and the palate is, too, with a continuation of nuts complemented by hints of orange marmalade.  It’s creamy in texture with a nice bright citrus edge on the finish.  Complex, flavorful and interesting.  Best taken neat.  This Vermouth includes an infusion of aromatic herbs with the peels of several different citrus fruits and a base wine of Macabeo and Xarel-lo grown in estate vineyards.  This family started making Vermouth in 1886 in Tarragona. Currently, the 5th generation of the family is managing the winery, still at the same location.  18% alc. The US Importer is Preiss.  Outstanding!

Vittore White Valencia  A pale colored, and subtly aromatic wine. The palate is nicely balanced with prominent citrus notes and light, high toned flavors.  Persistent finish.  Best served on the rocks where it is fresh, clean and lively. Made with a Macabeo white wine base, it includes 24 botanicals including Gentian Wormwood, Coriander, Sage, Chamomile and Orange and Lemon peel.  Vittore began producing Vermouth in 1904; today the 5th generation of the family still makes it using the ancestral formula.  US Importer: Kysela 

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