Sweet and Red Vermouth from Italy, Spain and America

Vermouth is growing in popularity, especially among younger people looking for a lower alcohol alternative to spirits.  Among all Vermouths, sales of red, or sweet, Vermouth are growing fastest.  While it can be used as a mixer for cocktails like Negroni and Manhattan, it’s increasingly drunk neat or on the rocks with an olive or a twist of orange citrus. And that’s how we taste them in this article that reviews sweet Vermouths made in Italy, Spain and America.  Vermouths that offer very good quality for a low price are designated exceptional value. For reviews of dry and white Vermouths, see our recent article.

Vermouth di Torino

The first modern commercial Vermouth was created in 1786 in Turin. It was sweet and red, and this became the official style of the Vermouth of Turin, where fashionable cafés served it as an aperitif.  Like all European Vermouths, Vermouth di Torino includes wormwood in its infusion.  Wormwood is an herb used in traditional medicine for thousands of years; it was used in Chinese medicinal wines dating from 1000 BCE. Although dark in color, Vermouth di Torino is often made from a white wine base.  Muscat is often included in the base wine for its floral aroma.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino ($20) 93  Burnt sienna.  Gorgeous, pronounced bouquet with lifted roasted nut, dulce de leche, and double cream aromas.  Equally impressive and superbly balanced in the mouth with a seamless, creamy texture and complex flavors of dried stone fruit, creamy caramel, and an assortment of nuts complemented by a note of Triple Sec. Served chilled on the rocks, it’s even more appealing with a pleasing, light bitter note. Piedmont Moscato is the base wine, and the botanicals include ginger, cocoa, citrus and rhubarb. Cocchi was established by Giulio Cocchi in Asti in the late 19th century. He became especially well known for his Barolo Chinato and Aperitivo Americano.  US Importer:  Haus Alpenz

Giacomo Sperone Vermouth di Torino ($18) 90  Medium dark amber.  The multifaceted bouquet reveals cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon joined by brown sugar.  It’s creamy smooth on entry with good complexity and an above average level of sweetness.  Caramel and nuts are joined by suggestions of orange and red cherry and a hint of gingerbread. Served on the rocks, it becomes lighter and fresher, especially with the addition of a touch of orange peel. The recipe for this Vermouth comes from Bernardino Martini who began producing it in 1880 in Turin. The recipe was passed down to his granddaughter who married the enologist Giacomo Sperone. This modern version of the original recipe includes an infusion of herbs and botanicals aged in oak before being blended in a red wine base.  Exceptional value. US importer: Scoperta

Mancino Rosso Amaranto Vermouth di Torino ($30) 91   Dark mahogany. Showing Christmas spices, dates, and cinnamon breakfast roll on the nose, the Rosso Amaranto is bright and very spicy on the palate with an almost peppery, menthol note and bright citrus like acidity. Delicious, and even better served over ice with a twist of orange.  Includes an infusion of 38 botanicals (including Christmas spices, rhubarb, juniper, myrrh, and toasted wood) in a base wine from Romagna.  US Importer: Fasel Shenstone

Pio Cesare NV Vermouth di Torino ($70) 94  Amber copper.  Effusive bouquet of sweet orange peel, cinnamon, herbs and hints of Christmas spices.  Thickly textured, viscous and lush, the richly flavored palate repeats the bouquet with additional notes of vanilla, balsamic, and licorice. This Vermouth has a lovely purity that makes it a fine wine to sip and contemplate. It’s lovely on the rocks, too. Pio Cesare resumed making Vermouth in 2016 in response to rising demand. 26 aromatic herbs are macerated for 40 days in white wines; this is then blended with a base wines of Chardonnay and Moscato d’Asti and aged four months in oak barrels. Burned sugar is added for color.  Just 1000 bottles of this outstanding Vermouth are released each year. US Importer: Maisons Marques et Domaines (MMD)

Spanish Vermouth

Italian Vermouth was imported to Spain and quickly became popular in Barcelona before local production began. This was focused on the town of Reus where up to 30 producers were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Vermut de Reus has applied for formal recognition as a legal appellation, which would make it the world’s third Vermouth appellation in addition to Vermouth di Torino and France’s Vermouth de Chambéry.

In the 19th century, fashionable Spanish cafés served Vermouth as an aperitif.  This is still the custom in Catalonia, where bars serve it on tap, and where it is traditionally drunk just before lunch in la hora del vermut. In Barcelona it’s often served over ice with an orange edge, possibly an olive, and a soda siphon. Vermut rojo (or sweet) is still the most popular style made and consumed in Spain, although all styles are produced.  The red Vermouths are darker in color and less bitter than their Italian counterparts. We review Vermouths from several producers: Falset, La Cuesta, Padró, and Yzaguirre. Spanish Vermouths have base wines made from a variety of indigenous Spanish varieties including Garnacha, Macabeo, Mazuelo, and Xarel-lo.

Agrícola Falset Marça

The Agrícola Falset Marça is a cooperative of 500 members and 250 ha of vineyards. It’s Falset winery is one of a collection of Catedrales del Vino designed in 1919 by architect Cesar Martinelli, a disciple of Gaudí. One of the most historic productions of the winery was Vermouth, which they produced from opening the winery. The historic recipe is followed in producing today’s Red Vermouth, and the Vermouth is aged in two of the winery’s historic, 30 hl wooden vats.   

 Vermut Falset Desde 1912 Red 3 Vermouth Montsant (Catalonia) ($20) 92  The Falset Vermut Red 3 is fruity, showing an herbal, candied red cherry nose, which is taken up on a complex palate along with forest floor notes. There’s bright acidity and enough bitterness to make the finish dry.  The addition of ice and a thin sliver of orange rind makes this a delicious aperitif.  Outstanding, and an incredible bargain, too. The base wine is 50/50 dry farmed, old vine Mazuelo (Carignan) and Garnacha matured in 500L neutral barrels and macerated for a year with 120 different botanicals including tobacco leaf, rosemary, thyme, wild fennel, wormwood, mint, lemongrass, chamomile, and walnut, after which the wine is racked into 100 year old wooden vats that have been used by the Agricola since its founding. The vermouth is bottled in small quantities and the vats are continuously refilled, similar in style to a solera.  An outstanding red wine-based Vermouth and an exceptional value.  US Importer: Jorge Ordóñez Selections

Lacuesta Vermouth Reserva Acacia Rioja ($35) 92  Medium mahogany.  Opens with a bouquet of Christmas spices, cola nuts, and fennel. Flavors of walnut, cola and spices are complemented by hints of Cointreau with a bitter edge that gives the outstanding Reserva a medium dry finish.  Smoothly textured from the beginning through the finish with very good complexity. Poured over ice this Vermouth loses some of that complexity and emphasizes a dried fruit note. This is a sweet Vermouth that we prefer drinking neat and lightly chilled. Félix Martinéz Lacuesta established this Rioja winery in Haro in 1895, but it wasn’t until 1937 that the winery began making Vermouth, first called Vermut Riojano.  It now makes 8 different Vermouths, including original creations aged in American oak, new French Allier oak and in Acacia barrels.  The Vermouth Reserva Acacia is aged 12 months in barrels of acacia.  US Importer: Fasel Shenstone

Lacuesta Vermut Rojo Rioja ($20) 91 Medium dark amber. Slightly shy on the nose revealing notes of caramel, brown spices, and dried figs. The mouth feel is exceptionally creamy with tangy citrus acidity giving a bright lift to the medium weight, nuts, coffee and toffee palate.   Made from a base of white wine infused with herbs and aromatic plants with the addition of sugar, citric acid, and caramel; aged in American oak barrels. 128 g/L RS; 14.9% alc

Padró Rojo Amargo Tarragona ($40) 92 Brown amber. Effusively perfumed with aromas that recall spice cake, mandarin, red berries, espresso and molasses. Beautifully balanced, full and silky palate that mirrors the bouquet with additional touches of toasted brioche, dates, dried apricot and crème brulée.  Finishes dry with a hint of bitterness.  This is an outstanding sipper, best served in our opinion over ice with a zest of orange. After an infusion of mountain herbs, this wine rests for two years in chestnut barrels, after which there is a second infusion of plant bark and roots.  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.  The US Importer is Preiss Imports.

Padró Reserva Especial Tarragona ($33) 91 Opaque in color, showing dates, coffee and dried cherry aromas.  In the mouth, creamy and thickly textured, almost unctuous, and densely flavored of dried dark fruit, espresso, hazelnuts, and Pedro Xímenez sherry. There’s a touch of honey and dark chocolate and a bitter edge on the finish that gives the wine an almost dry ending. A very rich, dark and flavorful Vermouth.  Contains 17% Tarragona Clásico made with red Garnacha and aged for about 5 years in 70 hl oak vats with a small amount of solera wine.  The finished Vermouth rests for 18 months in used sherry barrels.

Padró Rojo Clásico Tarragona ($27) 91 Brownish red in color with a reticent, savory nose of sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and black fruit.  It’s soft on entry and tangy on a dense palate with notes of figs, espresso, cola and dried herbs, finishing with lingering herbal and bitter notes.  Makes a lovely aperitif when served on the rocks with zest of orange.  Macabeo and Xarel-lo grapes are used to make the base wine to which herbs are added, and the final product is aged in old sherry barrels for 9-12 months.

Padró Dorado Amargo Suave ($28) 92 Light reddish amber, a natural color with no addition of caramel.  Beautifully perfumed nose evoking red berries, walnuts, dried herbs and maple syrup. Bright on the attack with lifted flavors that mirror the bouquet with additional notes of tarte tatin and orange marmalade.  Delicious when taken neat but even better on the rocks with a zest of orange.  The base wine for this Vermouth is Macabeo, which is infused with wild and dry woodland herbs including artemisia and gentian, both of which contribute to the bitter character.  The finished Vermouth is aged 9 months in slightly used chestnut barrels before bottling.

Cherubino Valsangiacomo NV Vittore Red Valencia ($16) 90 Red tinged light amber.  Vibrant nose of toasted nuts, lightly roasted coffee beans, and leather. This Vermouth with a Macabeo (Viura) base shows light bitterness on the attack with bright citrus notes.  The flavors are layered and, like the bouquet, nutty and leathery with good citrus acidity. Especially easy to drink when, served on the rocks with a sliver of orange peel. Exceptional value.  The Cherubino Valsangiacomo family founded this winery in Switzerland in 1831, but it moved to Valencia, Spain, at the beginning of the 20th century and began producing Vermouth in 1904 under the leadership of Benedetto Valsangiacomo.  Shown here: an early 20th century advertisement for Vittore Vermouth. Exceptional value. US Importer: Kysela

Yzaguirre Vermouth Rojo Reserva Tarragona ($28) 93 Amber brown.  An outstanding Vermouth that shows a perfumed nose of dark dried fruits, dates, and mocha caramel.  The especially rich palate shows Christmas cake, dates, toasted oak and a hint of red berries. Integrated and balanced in the mouth with excellent acidity offsetting the underlying sweetness. Chilled, it’s a great sipping Vermouth. This Vermut is made using the same basic recipe of 1884 that includes some 200 herbs and florals like verbena and star anise, spices like cardamom and nutmeg, and bitter herbs like wormwood (ajenjo).  The herb extract spends 6 months in barrel after which white wine is added along with a syrup of burnt sugar, which give the drink its dark amber color.  An outstanding darker Vermouth. US Importer: Fasel Shenstone

American

Over the last decade or so, the number of American Vermouth producers has grown rapidly, and the Vermouths they make are some of the most creative on the market.  We just scratch the surface here with a tasting of two of the earliest American Vermouth producers—Quady from California and Ransom from Oregon—and one of the most recent—Wollersheim from Wisconsin.

Quady Vya Sweet San Joaquin County ($23) 91 Multifaceted nose of Christmas spices, nuts, brown sugar and milk chocolate that are repeated on the palate. Creamy in texture but finishes just off dry.  As an aperitif, we prefer this over ice with some orange zest, which contributes a fresh fruit note. Largely made of Orange Muscat grown south of Fresno with Tinta Roriz.

Ransom Sweet Vermouth Willamette Valley ($18) 93  Light reddish amber.  Effusive nose of roasted nuts, herbs, maple syrup, and lightly toasted oak.  Creamy, spicy palate that mimics the nose with complementary Cointreau, baked apple, and pungent herbal notes.  Very long finish.  Delicious however it’s served, but we prefer it on the rocks. Several aromatic white varietals including Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Riesling and Pinot Gris are the base wine which is barrel aged in French oak after the addition of brandy; it is then infused with botanicals including wormwood and red cinchona bark in addition to coffee beans, walnuts, and dried cherries; sweetened by turbinado sugar, muscat grape juice, and maple syrup.  An outstanding American sweet Vermouth and an exceptional value.

Wollersheim Red Vermouth Wisconsin ($17) 90 This winery was founded by the Hungarian immigrant Agoston Haraszthy, better known as the “father” of California wine, in the 19th century.  Today, 20th century immigrant Philippe Coquard from Beaujolais makes the wines as well as Vermouth and distilled spirits.  It’s very fragrant and flavorful with prominent notes of anise and cinnamon. A perfect pairing partner with Christmas cake. A base wine of Syrah is infused with wormwood, cinnamon, anise and other botanicals before blending with estate produced brandy and aging in used red wine barrels for six months.  Exceptional value.

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