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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.
#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)
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.
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.
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)
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.”
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)
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
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.
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
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