The fortified wine has gone from sidekick to star.

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dolin dry vermouth de chambery
Photography by Peter Ardito
| Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

Vermouth is back, baby. Well,  it's less that vermouth ever went  away (the stuff has deep roots,  stretching back to 16th-century  Germany) and more that it's  the liquid Lizzo—most folks are  only just getting around to its  greatness. Once sidelined as a bit  player in martinis and Manhattans,  vermouth has become a marquee  name thanks to the rise of low-ABV drinking and aperitif-style  cocktails like the Aperol spritz.

 "Vermouth is the ultimate beverage," says Gilles Lapalus, who  cowrote The Book of Vermouth  with Shaun Byrne. "You can  use it in cocktails to bring down  the alcohol level and push up  the aromatics, or on its own as an aperitif or digestif. And we don't  talk enough about the medicinal  virtues of the botanicals in  vermouth—it's like tea with spirit."  

Actually, vermouth is more  like vino than spirit. It starts with  a fortified wine base (traditionally  white for dry vermouth, red  for sweet) and is aromatized with  spices, seeds, herbs, barks, and  other natural flavorings. It's that  customizable blend of botanicals  that gives vermouth great variety  and versatility—enjoy it neat,  over ice with a twist, or spritzed  with soda water like the Italians do. "If you want to get a little fancy,  you could do what I did last summer:  I had a glut of strawberries in my  garden, so I put some into a bottle  of Maidenii Sweet Vermouth and  left it there for a week," says Byrne,  who also wrote All Day Cocktails:  Low (and No) Alcohol Magic. "I took the strawberries out and  drank the vermouth with tonic  water and a splash of verjus [a  pressed juice of unripened grapes].  It was summer in a cup."  

Like wine, vermouth is great with  food; opt for extra-dry varieties to balance salty bar snacks, and sweet  ones to match chocolaty desserts  after dinner, says Lapalus. The  martini mainstay is also great for  cooking—dry vermouth can easily  substitute for white wine in most  recipes. But best of all, vermouth's  low-proof qualities (it taps out  around 18 percent alcohol) mean  you can have all the fun without  the hangover. Cheers to that!

3 To Try

Get versed in vermouth with bottle selections from Shaun Byrne and Gilles Lapalus.

1. The French Beginner

Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery

dolin dry vermouth de chambery
Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

This is a great entry-level  dry vermouth with delicate  botanical influence  and a subtle salty finish.  It's perfect for martinis.

2. The Aussie All-Rounder

Maidenii Classic Vermouth

maidenii classic vermouth
Credit: Photo Courtesy Maidenii

Based with Syrah grapes,  this Melbourne-made  variety is a medium-dry,  all-purpose vermouth,  so it's suitable for  both sweet and dry  vermouth cocktails.

3. The Italian Classic

Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino

cocchi storico vermouth di torino
Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

Cocchi has been making  vermouth since the  1800s and, boy, are they  good at it. This sweet  vermouth uses Moscato  grapes and is rich and  well-balanced. Pro tip? Dash  it in a dark-spirit cocktail.