Review: Red Vermouths
First produced and consumed for medicinal purposes, drinkers soon realised you needn’t be ill to enjoy red vermouths as an aperitif, the Italians being particularly enthusiastic about a glass or three of aperitif. Around the turn of the 20th Century, its abilities to mix with a host of other boozy ingredients led to the creation of many of the finest classic cocktails ever conceived.
Using wine fortified with spirit and a mix of botanicals, ‘red vermouth’ is typically sweeter than ‘white/dry’ vermouth, although the colour actually comes from the addition of caramel in most cases rather than the use of red wine as the base.
Sacred Spiced Vermouth
Produced at home by craft distiller Ian Hart in London using English wine and a host of botanicals reminiscent of an English country garden. The nose is very fresh with bucket loads of thyme, strawberry, berries, and Christmas spice. Tasted neat there is a hint of fizz to it but the stand out feature is a remarkable freshness and clarity of flavour. The mid-bitter entrance with clove, nutmeg and cardamon gives rise to a juicy citrus, red wine, and huge berry flavours punctuated by the heady savoury depths of thyme. Outstanding.
38 different botanicals are used in production, including vanilla, rhubarb root, juniper, myrrh, chiretta, cloves, cinnamon and orange zest. The botanicals are first macerated in neutral spirit before being blended with the wine. Filtration and resting for 6 months take place before bottling. The nose offers up deep bitter herbal notes with dried orange peel and Christmas spice. On the palate a sweet entry becomes quite syrupy with honey and rhubarb flavours standing out. The bitter finish creeps up through the hearty flavours of stewed apple and cinnamon pie.
La Quintinye Rouge
Using both red and white wines for the base and a blend of 12 botanicals including wormwood, vine flowers, angelica, iris root, cardamon, bitter orange, nutmeg, ginger, quinine and liquorice. The result is an intensely herbal aroma, much like a slightly muted fernet. Medicinal with notes of anise, coffee, dry soil, menthol, and prune. The prune note comes through on the palate, along with liquorice, berry jelly, menthol, smoke and bitter bark. Wonderfully herbal, complex and thought-provoking.
An unusual ‘rose’ vermouth, Cocchi rosa uses a blend of Brachetto and Malvesia grapes. These are fortified then aromatised using botanicals including gentian, cinchona, dried citrus peel, ginger and rose. The nose of strawberries, bark and fresh cut flowers is much more acceptable than the palate which is a little weird tasting. With insufficient fruit flavours, it tastes like bark, grapefruit and clove with too many bitter herbs dominating the balance. Both too ssweet and too bitter on the finish, this vermouth offers potential in concept but is too unbalanced to be sought out.
Produced using Ugni Banc grapes and 35 different botanicals, Dolin offers a nose of stewed fruits, but alas also a musky and fudgy aroma that smells just a bit too old and stale. It’s also a little weird tasting; a bit funky, only lightly spiced and balanced on the sweet-bitter scale but also offering lots of prunes and dark chewy fruit. It could do with a bit more spicing to perk it up a touch and counter the slightly flat and metallic finish.
Released to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Cocchi brand, this vermouth is based on the original recipe for their sweet vermouth. Moscato wine is used, but the botanicals are kept secret. A fascinating aroma of chocolate, menthol, prunes, other stewed fruit, bitter herbs and citrus is bold yet balanced. The complexity of smells does not become muddied, instead each is fresh and clear. Unsurprisingly this is followed by a staggering flavour; not too bitter, with tobacco, chocolate, coffee, fudge, rhubarb, raisins, prunes, and bitter herbs. Lovely sweetness finishing bitter to result in a vermouth that it seems a shame to mix.
Carpano Antica Formula
This highly esteemed vermouth in the bar community was revived from an original recipe only in 2001. Sold in hand-blown glass bottles sealed with red wax, it’s presentation befits the secretive nature of its production method. A nose of menthol, eucalyptus, vanilla and lightly spiced dried fruits leads to a palate with incredible layering of flavours. A Base of stewed fruits arrives first, followed by menthol and spiced/bitter herbs. Complex and festive; suitable for a very fine Manhattan.