Red Vermouth Tasting – A Comparison of 18 Red Vermouths

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A Collection of Red Vermouths CLICK TO ENLARGE

After our Dry Vermouth Tasting it seemed a natural progression to arrange a Red/Sweet/Italian Vermouth Tasting (the next step will be a Bianco Tasting) for the purposes of this article I will refer to this sweeter style of vermouth as “Red Vermouth” to avoid confusion. I used to think that the red colour in this type of Vermouth came from the use of red wine it appears that this is not usually the case and that the colour comes from the sugar or herbs used (sometimes colouring agents are added).

We decided to taste the vermouths in three ways, on their own (at room temperature) in Manhattans and in Negronis. For the Manhattans we were kindly supplied with tow bottles of Zuidam 5yr Old Dutch Rye. The Manhattans were mixed two parts Zuidam Rye, one part Red vermouth and a dash of Angostura, the mixture was stirred and served without a garnish.

On with the tasting…#1 Martini Rosso (15%ABV)
The brand synonymous with vermouth, Martini Rosso has been the company’s staple product since its founding in 1863. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret.

Own: Sweet, but deliciously herbal; a very classic example by all accounts. A number of the panelists confessed that they were surprised at how good it was.
Manhattan:
Classic and rather tasty; there was a good balance between the flavours of the whisky and the vermouth, with some extra herbal and vanilla notes. Needs one more dash of bitters.
Negroni:
Sweet and herbal, packed with flavours; a classic. Deliciously moreish.

I think it’s fair to conclude the Martini Rosso tasting notes by saying that a lot of the panel were not expecting a lot from this product, but that it is very clear that it was exceptionally good and easily competed with products costing over twice the price.

Martini Rosso is available from most supermarkets and off licences: £8 (70cl).

#2 Bellino Rosso (13%ABV)
Not technically a vermouth but a mix of wine, grape juice and herbs.

Own: Very sweet and heavy on the vanilla, needs more flavour. Confectionery feel mingling with the grape juice. Not great.
Manhattan: Better than expected, not very complex slightly cloying.
Negroni: Bellino is robust against the Campari with notes of vanilla and grape juice.

Bellino Rosso available from Tesco £2.39 (70cl).

#3 Punt e Mes (16%ABV)
Made by Carpano, this is an aperitif based on hillside wine, sugar and mountain herbs. The recipe was defined in 1870 and owes its name to a stockbroker: “Punt e Mes” means “Point & a half” in the Piedmontise dialect.

Own: Rather bitter, with strong notes of Gentian root. The complexity of this was popular with the majority of the panelists, although two members thought that it was far too bitter.
Manhattan: Flavours of black cherry and burnt sugar/caramel. Flavours of the whisky come through nicely. Overall, a rather good, but mysterious and contemplative drink.
Negroni: Sophisticated and complex flavours. Quite bitter (but not as bitter as I had expected), and the bitterness is balanced well with a sweet finish.

Punt e Mes is available for around £11 from TheWhiskyExchange.

#4 Toso (14.8%ABV)
Made by Toso SpA a company over 100 years old and based in Cossano Belbo, in North-west Italy; they also make a Dry, Bianco and Orange vermouth.

Own: Toso has a very dark colour and the nose of a classic red vermouth. It was light and sweet, with hints of vanilla. In terms of taste, it was okay, but rather forgettable.
Manhattan: Inoffensive, but a touch dull. Some herbal notes, but they are very subtle.
Negroni: Far too bitter; the herbal notes are lost as the Campari overpowers vermouth. Awful.

#5 Byrhh (18%ABV)
Byrhh was created in 1873 and is mad using a blend of Muscat mistelles, Macabeu and Grenache, which is then macerated with a various herbs and spices as well as Quinquina bark (the bitter taste in tonic water) this is then aged in small oak barrels.
On a side note the Byrhh bottle was the favourite of the panel.

Own: Berries and other fruit on the nose. The taste has a good balance of sweet and bitter; quite light, with herbs and fruit and a subtle port-like quality. Very good.
Manhattan: A rather unusual Manhattan, with great subtleties and it isn’t very sweet at all. A very different sort of Manhattan.
Negroni: Clean and crisp, and less bitter than a normal Negroni. Byrrh really takes the edge off of the Campari. Delicious.

Byrrh is available for around £19 (75cl) from The DrinksShop

#6 Stock (16%ABV)
Own:
Nose:Very rich and herbal nose, almost thick with a hint of bitterness.
Taste: The same richness and complexity a little syrupy but with herb and vanilla notes and a touch of bitterness at the end but more restrained than that of Antica Formula.

#7 Fillipetti Rosso
Made by Perlino who’s Dry vermouth scored very well in our last tasting. They also make a Bianco and the Classico (see below).

Own: The nose of a classic vermouth, with all the sweet and herbal elements that go with that. Quite a simple flavour: soft, with a little tartness. Very drinkable on its own.
Manhattan: The flavour of this was a little flat and quite sweet, but good overall.
Negroni: Sweet, with a subtle complexity and balanced bitterness. Pleasant.

#8 Antica Formula (16.5%ABV)
Made by Carpano, who also make Punt e Mes and a regular Red Vermouth this comes in an impressive litre bottle and is a based on a recipe from 1786.

Own: Nose of vanilla, orange peel and a certain saltiness. Quite complex, with a herbal bitter end and notes of: fresh straw, bread, chocolate and vanilla.
Manhattan: Very hearty flavours, extremely well-balanced, with a lovely sweetness and a little hint of herbs. Absolutely superb!
Negroni: An intense Negroni, rich and herbally rather bitter. If you like your Negroni full of flavour and not too sweet, this may be worth a try.

Antica Formula is available for around £31 (1 litre) from TheWhiskyExchange

#9 Cinzano (15%ABV)
Owned by the Campari Group, Cinzano Vermouth was first produced in 1757. It includes a variety of herbal ingredients, including: nutmeg, coriander, juniper, orange peel, cloves and vermouth.
Own: Similar to the Martini Rosso, but with more floral and vanilla notes; it was also more bitter. Once more, this was better than expected.
Manhattan: Quite pleasant; some herbal notes, but could do with a touch more flavour.
Negroni: Off-balance, with clashing flavours. Not that great.

#10 Dolin Rouge (16%ABV)
Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, Chambery vermouth has Geographical Indication (GI) status, like Plymouth Gin, Champagne and the Cornish Pasty.

Own: The nose was akin to an ancient bookshop, with a slightly salty wine element. The taste reminds me of the sea, with savoury elements and a balanced sweetness.
Manhattan: This cocktail had a strong, sweet cherry flavour (even though the drink was served without garnish), followed by herbal notes in the middle, but wasn’t too complex. Still, it was very nice and had a jammy/berry finish.
Negroni: Fresh, with the herbal notes really coming through. The Dolin lightly rounds off the edges of the Campari, but not enough for the drink to loses its character; very good.

#11 Forteni Rosso (14.4%ABV)
I don’t know too much about this vermouth, but it was purchased in Carrefour for seven euros.

Own: A faint jelly/confectionery element on the nose, like Jelly Tots or cola bottles. A rather underwhelming taste, with an artificial sweetness and an unpleasant metallic note. One panelist summed it up with the following: “clumsy, but not a disaster”.
Manhattan: A rather dull cocktail that needs a lot more flavour.
Negroni: Rather poor, with clumsy flavours; illustrates how important the vermouth is in a Negroni.

Forteni is available from Carrefour  €7 (70cl)

#12 Fillipetti Classico
This is the Rolls Royce of the Fillipetti range, based on the Classical style of vermouth, this sets itself apart from the majority of products out there.

Own: A subtle nose, with faint hints of herb and spice. The taste is great if not a touch bitter, overall it is pretty well balanced though with sweetness following the bitter. Some hints of Menthol and Anise. Excellent and very moreish.
Manhattan: Has a certain sharpness, but is still very nice; less sweet than some of the others, but more flavourful. Very good indeed.
Negroni: From one of our panelists: “Its sweetness was a good foil to the Campari with a rich, almost port-like wine flavour. Unexpectedly, however, it lent a delicious butterscotch note to the drink. Although some of the subtleties of this particular vermouth might be obliterated by Campari’s gutsy bitterness, its herbal flavour was noticeable right at the end, after the bitter kick had subsided.”

#13 Dubonet
.
Own: Much, much lighter and more pleasant than I had imagined; it just goes to show how much difference a fresh bottle makes.

Dubonet is available from Waitrose and Tesco for around £9 (70cl)

#14 Home-made
For this, I used the recipe which can be found here.

Own: A nose of sweet herbs, orange and green moss. Sweet initially, followed by some more bitter herbal notes and a slightly biscuity finish. Too sweet.
Manhattan: Vermouth blends well with the rye whisky, making an exceptionally smooth drink with a warming herbal after taste with a touch of sweetness and a hint of citrus.
Negroni: Sweetness of vermouth balances out the bitterness of Campari quite well but the vemrouth culd do with a bit more flavour-strength.

#15 Lillet Rouge (17%ABV)
Tasting Notes Coming Soon

#16 Marolo Vino Chinato
Marolo was started in 1977 by Paolo Marolo, with the aim of taking a rustic, local product and transforming it into a distilled art. The Chinato is made at the Santa Teresa Distillery using two “Bain Marie” (water bath) stills, one filled with white pomace and the other with red. The product is infused with cinchona bark and a variety of other rinds and herbs, such as gentian, cinnamon, rhubarb, clove and coriander. Finally, the Chinato is aged in acacia and oak barrels before bottling. Marolo also make a range of aged and non-aged Grappa.

Own: A very dark red, in a similar way to red vermouth, but this has an even deeper colour. Hints of cinnamon and thyme initially, with some sweetness; this is followed by a more bitter edge. Overall, the drink was complex and herbal, with a similar lasting finish to tonic water.
Negroni: This was a superb shade of dark crimson and a wonderfully smooth drink. The flavour of the gin came through first, then the deep, herbal warmth from the Chinato, before the final bitter finish from the Campari; at the very end there was a sweet lift that neatly rounds off the drink.
Manhattan: This was less sweet than most Manhattans, so would be a good option if you prefer your cocktails on the dry side. There were dry, herbal notes throughout, with a very long, warm finish. If you’d like the drink a little sweeter, I would suggest adding a Maraschino Cherry. Really rather good.

#17 Vya Sweet (17%ABV)
Vya Sweet is made with a base of Muscat wine and is infused with herbs and spices. It’s made in the Quady Winery in California, USA.

Own: A fresh nose, with woody elements and a faint hint of coconut. Very fresh and herbal with a slight oiliness (that isn’t unpleasant); also, once more, a hint of fresh coconut flesh.
Manhattan: Coming Soon
Negroni: Coming soon

#18 Noilly Prat Rouge (16%ABV)
Made in Southern France, using white wine as its base. Some of these wines are aged in oak casks and then infused with herbs and spices. This is sadly no longer available in the UK, its main market is the USA, it is a real shame but the lovely ladies at Bacardi-Martini and their PR company sorted em out with a bottle. My profound thanks to them, the tasting just wouldn’t have been compelte without this.

Own: Slightly malty, soft and sweet. Herbal and well-rounded. Some of the panel expected more from this, but just as many really enjoyed it.
Manhattan: Rather pleasant, fruity herbal notes with a little musky woodiness and some fresh green leaves. It worked well with this but even better with  Jim Beam Yellow.
Negroni: Fruity and sweet, with a bitter finish. Complex, with a flavour crescendo. Rather good.

In Conclusion
The first thing that we noticed is that red vermouth was much nicer to drink on its own than dry vermouth and, as an ingredient, it is both more versatile and there was a greater variety within the category as a whole. The second thing to note is that whichever red vermouth you choose to use makes a big difference when mixing either a Manhattan and Negroni.

Best Aperitif: Fillipetti Classico & Antica Formula

Best Manhattan: Antica Formula

Best Negroni: Byrhh & Punt e Mes

Best All-rounder: Martini Rosso

High Recommendations:

Dolin Rouge & Noilly Rogue

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Dry Vermouth Tasting – With SW4 Gin

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Anyone that has been following my series on Martini Gadgets will realise I have a passion for this mixture of gin and vermouth. As gin has become increasingly popular, a wide array of gin tastings have taken place, held in London, Manchester and Oxford, to name but a few. But what about the vermouth? When a cocktail only has two ingredients, even the lesser partner is a crucial component.

Vermouth is an automatized wine. The flavour is determined by “appropriate derived substances” (e.g. seeds, herbs, spices, roots) and there is no prescribed combination of these, with the one exception that a Vermouth must contain an Artemisia (such as wormwood). Vermouth can be sweetened, but only with caramelized sugar, sucrose or grape must.

Typically there are three main types of vermouth:
Red: A sweet style that is coloured with either caramel or herbs. Often drunk as an aperitif or in cocktails such as the Manhattan and Martinez (both potential ancestors of the Martini).
White: A sweet style based on white wine.
Dry: A dry style, also based on white wine and synonymous with the modern Martini.

Two more styles seem to be growing increasingly popular: Rose Vermouth and Orange/Ambre Vermouth.

All of the vermouths in our tasting were tried on their own and then we tried our top ten in a Dry Martini.

Dry Martini Details
SW4 Gin
5:1 Ratio
Stirred
No Garnish

#1) Martini Extra Dry (Italy) (15%)

A very familiar product to most and synonymous with its namesake cocktail.

Own: On the nose, there is a little pistachio and wet slate. This is quite dry; probably one of the driest we tried. It was quite simple and rather tart.

Martini: Pretty good, a classic drink. It’s a popular brand, readily available and makes a decent drink. This is an excellent fall-back when it’s difficult to get hold of some of the more obscure varieties.

Martini Extra Dry is available from most supermarkets and off-licences for around £8 (75cl).

#2) Noilly Prat Dry (France) (18%)

Own: A very fruity nose with a hint of nail polish. Great scents of honey and blossom, and the slightest hint of salt. One panelist likened the nose to that of a good muscat. Noilly Prat has depth of flavours and is quite complex. There is some jamminess, akin to an apricot preserve, and there is a pleasant warmth at the end. Very popular with the panelists.

Martini: A truly classic Martini and exactly what I would expect when ordering a Dry Martini. Excellent balance between gin and vermouth, with just enough herbal flavours to complement the gin without overpowering it. Cool, clean and crisp.

Available from Waitrose around £10 for 75cl.

#3) Filipetti Extra Dry Vermouth (Italy) (14.8%)

Perlino also make a Blanco and a sweet vermouth, as well as Martelletti, a Classico Vermouth.

Own: Dry; exactly what you’d expect from dry vermouth. Some floral aspects like a good muscat. Well balanced with hints of honey and cinnamon. Very pleasant.

Martini: In the proportions of 5:1, this made the wettest Martini of those that we tried. The dry and slightly fruity flavours have a strong presence in the cocktail and, if you like only a whisp of Vermouth flavour in your Martini, this is worth a look.

#4) Dolin Chamberry Dry Vermouth (France) (17.5%)

Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, this has a wine content of 75-80%, which is notably higher than some of its competitors. Dolin also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth.

Own: A musky, tropical nose with notes of passionfruit and guava. Soft flavours, well-rounded, simple and neat. This would make an excellent aperitif and has a lovely aftertaste. A couple of panelists likened it to a dry sherry. Another popular vermouth amongst our panel.

Martini: Exceptionally clean, with a slightly warm texture. Strong, but not overpowering flavours of Juniper and Angelica, a balanced bitterness and a touch of cinnamon. The vermouth compliments SW4 well.

Available from Waitrose around £8 for 75cl.

#5) Stock (Italy) (16%)

Made by the Stock Spirit Company, whose biggest markets are in Italy and Slovenia, Stock is made with Italian Table Wine and Italian Brandy and is infused with more than 50 herbs & spices. They also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth, in addition to a very tasty Maraschino.

This has a superb, fresh leafy green flavour and was a favourite of one of the panel. It made a very flavourful Martini whilst still maintaining the underlying characteristics of a Dry Martini.


#6) Cinzano (Italy) (15%)

Founded in 1757 in Turin, Cinzano is owned by Gruppo Campari. Cinzano has a Classic range, comprising of a Dry, Red, White and Rosé varieties, and a Mediterranean range: Limetto and Orancio, which are vermouths with twists of orange and lemon (somewhat akin to the old Martini Limon).

Own: A fruity nose, akin to a house white wine, with some peach notes. It tastes like sweet grape juice and is not very dry, as vermouths go. The taste is much better than the smell, but the panel was left unimpressed.

Martini: Quite a basic Martini; pretty good, but lacks the depth and crispness of some of the others.

Available from Waitrose around £5 for 75cl.

#7) Vya (USA) (17%)

Made in Madera, California, Vya was made in response to an increasing number of premium gins making their way into the market; the idea being that, if you’re spending $30 on a gin, does it make sense to then mix it with a $6 vermouth? They also make a sweet variety of their premium vermouth.

Own: Vya had a nose reminiscent of fresh vegetation: cabbage or pea pods. The panel disagreed on their opinion of the taste: some enjoyed its definitive flavours, which were fresh and bright with hints of cloves and liquorice, whereas others found it exceptionally bitter and overpowering.

Martini: Cool and flavoursome with hint of cinnamon and spice, followed by a lightly bitter edge at the end. Complex and slips down the throat very easily, moving toward the intense flavours of the home-made vermouth.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £16 for 75cl.

#8) Top Shelf (UK)

This is based on a flavouring syrup produced by home-brew specialist Still Spirits. They suggest mixing it with either vodka or wine, so we decided to try both versions.

i) Wine-based (14.7%) – This had a nose of moth balls; slightly sherberty. Very sour, very dry, a bit like cordial. Watching the physical recoil of people as they tasted it was very interesting. As a result, this is not recommended, although it should be noted that mixing the syrup with a better quality wine would probably improve the results.

ii) Vodka-based (Sipsmith) (16%) – With a nose of moth balls and lavender perfume, this reminded one of the panel of their great aunt. The taste is much better than the wine version, being sweet with hints of creamy vanilla, although some of this obviously came from the vodka. Not so dry and closer to a Sweet Bianco than a Dry vermouth, this was nonetheless quite palatable and had an interesting a hint of Christmas spice.

Top Shelf Dry Vermouth Flavourings is available here for £2.29 for 50ml (One 50ml bottle makes up to 1.125 litres of Dry Vermouth.)

#10) Berlino (UK) (13%)

Berlino is produced and bottled by Continental Wine and Food (CWF), who are based in Huddersfield. Although it looks a lot like vermouth, it is in fact billed as “Extra Dry Aperitif”, made from the “finest quality concentrated grape juice, herbs and spices.”

Own: There were various cries of disgust at the smell of this; “wet dog” and “drains” were among two of the more polite comments. It had very little flavour and was rather watery, but did have a sharp, bitter finish. This was the least popular of the varieties we tried. At £3.20 a bottle it may look like a cheap alternative, but it would be a false economy.

Belrino is available from Tesco for around £3.20 for 70cl.

Mr Hartley waits, in anticipation, for the tasting to start.

#11) Home-made (UK)

Based on a recipe from the Plymouth Martini Book, which can be found here, this vermouth was designed specifically for Plymouth Gin, but we were intrigued as to how it would fare with SW4.

Own: Fresh, with a slightly meaty nose, one panelist likened it to hotdogs (in a most positive way). Another comment stated that it was reminiscent of a German Christmas market, with mulled wine, stollen and bratwurst. The taste was rather savoury and quite heavy on cloves, with some hints of anise and angelica too. Without a doubt, it had very intense flavours, but was also very good. If you’ve never tried making your own vermouth, I highly recommend it.

Martini: Very popular with the panel, this was jam-packed with flavour. This vermouth may not produce your typical, very clean, very crisp Martini, but it is an excellent drink nonetheless and, if you like a wetter, more flavourful Martini, then this is definitely worth trying. Cloves and Christmas spice come through, but complement the gin well.

#12) Lillet Blanc (17%)

Own: A very light and subtle nose of white grape, grass and dried flowers. Sweeter than expected, this was less complex and thinner than the Jean de Lillet, but, served cold, it is an excellent aperitif and an all-round good product.

Martini: A soft Martini that was less herbal than normal. Simple flavours, less bite and some subtle citrus. Smooth and delicate, and rounds off the gin nicely.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £15 for 75cl.

#13) Jean de Lillet

Own: Strong, savoury nose; fresh and very appetising. The taste is quite sweet, with overtones of honey, blossom, apple, pear and peach. It’s a little buttery and reminiscent of a quality Sauternes. This was really very, very good and there would be little danger of it oxidising before the bottle was finished. It had a finish of apricot stones, apple and almond.

Martini: A rich and flavourful Martini, this does make a truly excellent drink, but for my money I’d rather drink it neat. We also tried it in a Vesper as a substitute for Kina Lillet and the drink certainly had a more bitter edge and was pleasant golden yellow, although perhaps not quite sweet enough.

A selection of the Vermouths we tasted

#14) Gancia Bianco (14.8%)

Own: The nose of Gancia Bianco had hints of sloe gin and lemonade. Floral and herbal. The taste is very pleasant and was a very nice surprise: it was a little syrupy, like mead. It also had a finish of lemon pith, which counteracts the sweetness well.

Martini: A very flavourful Martini and not too sweet. I’d never really thought of using Bianco vermouth in many cocktails, but in a Martini it worked well; nice for a change.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £12 for 75cl.

#15) Martini Gold (Italy) (18%)

Own: Very floral on the nose, with hints of tea, lavender and Bergamot. The taste is quite smooth and sweet, but has an underlying bitterness akin to Campari or Suze. Quite a long finish, with the saffron coming through. Very much a departure from their traditional range, but a product with potential.

Martini: On the face of it, this is a pretty standard martini – cool and crisp – but there is definitely a more bitter finish than usual, with herbs and spice and the hint of saffron, which works well with the bitter elements. It’s like you’ve made a martini half with vermouth, half with a bitter apertif.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £21 for 75cl.


In Conclusion
From our tasting, it is clear that the vermouth you choose for your Martinis can have a big impact on the drink and so it’s a decision worth some consideration. It’s also clear that vermouth is something that is more versatile than I had previously thought: its merits extend beyond its use in Martinis and that, by over-looking Bianco/White vermouth, I’ve been missing out; definitely something to look into.

THE RESULTS

Best Aperitif: Dolin
Best Martini: Noilly Prat, Home-made
Best All-rounder: Fillipetti

Special Recommendation: Jean de Lillet

A special thanks to Pernod Ricard, Bacardi-Martini, Lillet, Marblehead, Speciality Brands, Vya, Perlino, Stock Spirits Interntional, Imbue and Graphic Bar for their support in this tasting.

Thanks also to SW4 Gin for providing the Gin for our Martinis.

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