Review: White Vermouths
For almost as long as wine has been produced, so has something that resembles vermouth. Even the big-name Greek physician Hippocrates was known to be a producer of a wine-based digestive. Today, vermouth is required to be made from wine fortified with spirit and aromatised with herbs and spices. Wormwood is an absolute must; no wormwood, no vermouth. For a long while, vermouth was considered to be either sweet (usually red in colour due to colouring and often referred to as ‘Italian’) or dry (usually clear/yellow in colour and often referred to as ‘French’). For the last half-century or so, a middling medium-sweet category of bianco vermouth has been on the rise and so the ‘white’ category of vermouth may contain both.
Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery
Produced from Ugni-blanc grapes and 17 botanicals, even this ‘dry’ vermouth contains is sweetened with sugar (25g/L if you will). With an aroma of fresh grape and apple juice with a little orange blossom, this is a relatively light and short-flavoured vermouth balanced with minimal herbal contribution on a dry white wine base.Very slightly musky, this is a generally clean-tasting and minimally bitter dry vermouth that could be used in generous quantities in a Martini with overpowering even the most subtle of gins.
Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery
With the same wine base as the Dolin dry, this vermouth adds an additional complexity with 33 botanicals and a substantial dose more sweetness (33g/L). The nose is much deeper than the dry with hints of bark and just faintly floral. The sweetness is just shy of cloying, but served over ice somewhat quaffable. Orange boiled sweets, pear and elderflower sit alongside an undefinable earthier note. Easy-drinking with a slightly bittersweet finish makes this vermouth quite happy on its own in your glass.
Cocchi Americano Bianco
Based on Italian Moscato di Asti, the aromatised wine is left to marry for a year after blending before bottling. One feature is the relatively high levels of cinchona bark (the same stuff that you get quinine from), which makes this vermouth perhaps the best option for the long lost Kina Lillet preferred by Bond in his infamous Vesper cocktail. This hugely aromatic vermouth has a nose of orange blossom honey, seaweed/moss, orange marmalade, and stewed, slightly spiced fruits. A magnificent bitter palate upfront, almost like a white Campari. Flavours of orange marmalade are bold but sweetened with honey. The lingering bittersweet finish is complex and dreadfully elegant. Put this in your cocktail and you can be sure of a win.
La Quintinye Extra Dry Vermouth Royal
Allegedly the first vermouth to be based on the white Pineau des Charentes grape, to which 18 botanicals are added. The result is a musky, vegetal, black truffle, dried Mediterranean herbs and subtle curry spice-nose which leads to a bone dry, slightly bitter and herbal palate. Hints of fernet and intense red grapefruit juice make this a less than subtle but intriguing vermouth; just go easy on the mixing for it can easily unbalance.
La Quintinye Blanc Vermouth Royal
Also using the Italian white Pineau des Charentes grape, this blend also makes use of wines from SW France. It benefits from a few extra botanicals compared with the extra dry too, 27 in total in fact. The nose, while still musky is less so, although perhaps replaced with a little fresh sweaty socks combined with an interesting floral/menthol aroma. The palate offers a hit of bitter herbs, sweet muscat wine and golden sultanas. A perplexing combo of a sweet entry but dry finish spied with lemon zest and clove. Not quite as easily sippable as the Dolin bianco but this just begs to be experimented with, for it is wondrously complex.
This Italian vermouth uses the Trebbiano di Romagna grape to produce the wine base, onto which neutral spirit and a blend of 19 botanicals are added. It offers an aroma of oxidised wine spiced with indeterminable dry herbs, a little pear and a touch of satsuma skin. On the palate it is bone dry with a moderate bitterness. Light white wine with delicate herbal spicing with no dominant flavours. This, like the Dolin Dry is a straight down the middle vermouth, although comparatively this offers a slightly cleaner flavour profile.
Using the same wine base as the Secco, this sweeter style ups the botanical ante, with some 37 different herbs and spices being used. The result is an aroma with a whole lot more citrus, together with sultanas, apple, fresher herbs and a little more floral too. Unfortunately the palate is a bit too bitter and a bit too sweet. The herbal flavours are a little muddled, although the boost of citrus helps compensate. The 37 botanicals are perhaps just a bit too much, it’s all a little muddled.