Vermouth Basics

Putting Vermouth Where it Belongs


Not a fan of Vermouth? Well, it’s probably because your bottle has been on your bar ever since we were planning on partying like it’s 1999, Truth is, Vermouth, the flavored wine everyone seems to love to hate, is a blend of wine, flavorings and grape spirits in delicate balance. This perishable commodity should be stored in the refrigerator once opened, and used within a few months.

Vermouth is the neglected step-child of the home bar, cast aside except for Martini moments and then disdained for it's unkempt qualities. It's time to take a look at Vermouth, and give this exotic elixir its due!
There’s actually quite a bit to learn about Vermouth, an essential part of any enthusiast’s bar that deserves to be treated with the respect it once had. I'm not advocating for the return of monster pours of Vermouth; most cocktail recipes have trimmed down the quantities of Vermouth used over the years, but used judiciously it is simply indispensible. If you're making a perfect Martini there is no room for error, so try one with a freshly cracked bottle of your favorite vermouth.

The Quick Vermouth Breakdown.

1 - Now a fixture in northwest Italy and southern France, Vermouth as we know it was created around 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Torino, Italy. Antonio was making a wine similar to absinthe, which was flavored with wormwood and called Wermuth in the German of the time. Only the first of many confusing cross border naming conventions to plague poor Vermouth.

2 - Vermouth is simply a fortified wine flavored (or aromatized) with herbs and botanicals.  These flavorings traditionally include wormwood, nutmeg, coriander, juniper, orange peel, cloves, marjoram, cardamom, cinnamon, and chamomile. Vermouth, often sweetened, is fortified with neutral grape spirits to between 15% and 18% alcohol.

3 - There are two general styles of Vermouth, Italian and French, which confusingly enough don’t refer to where they are made but rather to their style, of which there are several more specific sub-styles, which is unnecessarily confusing since these tend to be part of the exclusive domaine of the bartending uber-geek.

4 - The traditional Italian style of Vermouth was both slightly bitter and gently sweet, gaining a garnet hue from the caramelized sugar used to sweeten, as well as to flavor the Vermouth. This is commonly referred to as rosso, or red Vermouth.

5 - The French style on the other hand was drier, without the addition of the caramelized sugar, and therefore retained the pale color of its base wine. Like almost all Vermouth it is based on neutral white wine and relies on sweeter spice notes, like those from nutmeg and orange rind for its core flavor. This style of Vermouth is often referred to as white or Bianco.

Vermouth, being an inspired recipe, is not stuck in these two rigid camps. If you search hard enough you can find a broad range of Vermouth, from bone dry to quite sweet with flavors that range from delicate and floral to bitter and aggressive. Even the base wines can change, with some rather famous examples being made using rose wine and red wine.

Choosing a Vermouth for a cocktail can be maddening work since each brand has their own secret recipe and flavor profile.  To get started buy a fresh bottle or two, taste them, and get cracking on some of your favorite classic cocktails! Each Vermouth will contribute its own distinctive signature, adding an extra element to even the simplest cocktail.

Mentioned in this article


  • anyone think it makes a big difference by brand. I know there are some "artisnal" efforts but from what I see they cost about 5 times the standard brands...also...can you keep this stuff on the shelf or does it have to be refrigerated?

    Sep 21, 2010 at 9:05 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I don't think artisinal brands are necessarily any better. For example, a Negroni made with Martini and Rossi seems to have a better balance, particularly of sweetness, than some other brands. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference, though every bottle of Vermouth should be stored in the fridge once it's been opened.

    Sep 21, 2010 at 10:37 PM

  • Snooth User: abcd efgh
    585862 1

    Hello author...

    "then disdained for it's unkept qualities."

    should be

    "then disdained for its unkempt qualities."

    Sep 22, 2010 at 12:35 AM

  • Snooth User: sspade
    192711 4

    I'm a big fan of vermouths, especially rossos. My preference is for Cinzano, or better yet Stock. A well-made Manhattan is always a good choice and I particularly enjoy red vermouth on the rocks with a twist of lemon as I prepare dinner on the grill. Also, any drink with bitters can provide relief if you've had too much for dinner (keep some on hand for Thanksgiving and Christmas).

    Sep 22, 2010 at 2:16 AM

  • Snooth User: papadoble
    222792 1

    @abcd efgh

    Thank you so much, it is mighty brave and overwhelmingly helpful of you to point out those typographical errors. I wish there were more people like you commenting on the internet.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 2:44 AM

  • Snooth User: jazzing
    184094 1

    Dry vermouth is the most consistant when cooking shrimp scampi or making many recipes calling for white wine. That way your recipe is much more consistent since white wines vary so much.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 4:45 AM

  • If you are fortunate to come across Dolin vermouth, I highly suggest trying it. It is actually tasty enough to be enjoyed on it's own, & completely enhances any cocktail that calls form vermouth!

    Sep 22, 2010 at 7:08 AM

  • Snooth User: Rach4syth
    554163 1

    I agree with "jazzing": if you're cooking and need some white wine in a pinch, vermouth is a great substitute (and a good way to use up the bottle so you can keep a fresh one on hand).

    Sep 22, 2010 at 8:17 AM

  • Snooth User: rodglamont
    539129 44

    My preference is for the french Noilly Prat. It makes the martini. It is also a perfect partner for creating the flavour base of a great risotto. I agree with the refrigeration tip.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 8:36 AM

  • Snooth User: denisstad
    437389 7

    Most of my friends so distain vermouth that their idea of a great martini is a shot of gin or vodka. (I always ask them if they'd prefer it in a shot glass, since it isn't a real martini). My preference is for Noilly Prat. It smoothes out any rough edges perfectly.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 9:20 AM

  • Thanks for the Vermouth tips! I know how to use it, but never really understood what it was!!!! Also kudos on the grammar, a pet peeve of mine too!

    Sep 22, 2010 at 9:31 AM

  • Snooth User: 718Nick
    364506 3

    I am a fan of Vermouth and have been for years. Lately I have gotten into some of the more robust vermouths. Dolin was mentioned above, and that is an excellent vermouth. My favorite has become that with the name provided above - Carpano. Carpano Antica vermouth is very robust and not for the faint of heart or for those who like the much sweeter Cinzano or M&R style rosso's. Using Carpano vermouth in a manhattan or a negroni elevates those drinks to another level. This is also reflected in its price.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 9:50 AM

  • I was under the impression that French vermouth was akin to what we now call "dry" vermouth which is distinct from "white" or "bianco". That moniker appears to be reserved for a third basic style of vermouth. Can anyone set me straight on this??

    Sep 22, 2010 at 10:28 AM

  • As many times happens, you neglect one area where Vermouth even gave name to a pre-meals habit, specially on holidays: vermut (as we write it) has been very popular in Catalonia (NorthEastern Spain) since 1900 or before. We do produce and drink our own types and brands (while Italian and to less extent, French brands are also popular). And the most common type was the "negre" (or Red/Rosso/Rouge), drank on its own or with a bit of soda water. Spain is a wine culture country which, I repeat, is too often neglected regarding wines, and we know a bit about it, beyond the usually overpriced and overvalued French and Italian produce.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 10:36 AM

  • Snooth User: Lillywine
    463512 1

    Love Cinzano with Bombay Sapphire Gin and a lemon twist....yum....pepper taste...both my in laws are Martini and Manhattan drinkers...old school and they ask when they are coming to dinner so I can make them my Martini! It's really a compliment coming from them! Salute!

    Sep 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM

  • Snooth User: benrunyc
    458646 1

    I'm that uber-geek bartender you mentioned. I correct all my customers. It is not sweet vermouth, it is Vermouth Rosso. It is (usually*) not dry vermouth it is Vermouth Blanc (or Bianco). *(except in the case of Martini, which makes three, Rosso, Bianco, and extra dry)

    Check out Lillet and Dubonet as brands for the French Blanc and Rosso

    Check out Cinzano as brands for the Italian Bianco and Rosso. Also, don't forget the Father of Vermouth Rosso, Carpano. Still making a vermouth and it is hands down the best Rosso out there (Carpano Antico).

    Sep 22, 2010 at 12:28 PM

  • You just reminded me of the wonderful Vermouth cassis an aunt used to make occasionally as a special treat when I was not quite drinking age!

    Sep 22, 2010 at 5:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Janie00
    434416 1

    I enjoy Ponti Italian Dry Vermouth chilled with a twist of lime. It's hard to find though.

    Sep 22, 2010 at 6:37 PM

  • Snooth User: argylew
    364482 3

    Bianco vermouth means sweet rather than dry, as far as I can tell; Martini & Rossi makes a good one - great with soda & a twist. I also go for Noilly Prat for dry and Cinzano for sweet as a rule. Vya is expensive, but the sweet version is astounding. Vya dry is still being reformulated.

    Sep 25, 2010 at 3:20 PM

  • Snooth User: billnanne
    445467 2

    Try Vya, sweet or extra dry vermouth. I think it is worth the xtra $ in a Manhattan or gin martini. Hendricks or Junipero (made by Anchor Distilling Co in SF, CA) gin with Vya extra dry is great

    Sep 27, 2010 at 2:05 AM

  • Noilly Prat has abandoned its old formulation for the one it has sold in Europe for some time--good but markedly sweeter than the old (new bottle and everything). Anyone know of a French white vermouth similar to the old familiar Noilly Prat? I have heard that Vya is terrific, but harder to come by.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 6:19 PM

  • Snooth User: dscsf
    106504 21

    Thank you Billnanne! Vya extra dry vermouth is well worth the dollars spent! Having both Hendricks and Junipero, not too mention Bombay Sapphire, I can say that Vya is up to the task. It is extremely flavorful on the rocks with lemon zest! Thanks again.

    Oct 09, 2010 at 1:24 AM

  • Interesting tidbits re: vermouths/fortified wines here
    ...from Greg Best, Holeman & Finch, Atlanta

    Oct 17, 2010 at 7:59 AM

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