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Sweet Sweet Vermouth

January 15, 2010

Sweet vermouth is a critical ingredient of my limited home liquor cabinet.

Officially it’s an aromatized wine.  Which essentially means a bunch of herbs and flavorings have been added to it in addition to brandy, which helps to preserve the wine a bit and raises its alcohol content.

The conventional wisdom is that once opened vermouths should be consumed within a few weeks, even if kept in the refrigerator.  This is no small task especially considering vermouth is often used by the tablespoon, or even less.

I was curious about this conventional wisdom, so I put it to the test.

In the Fussy household, where we optimize everything for price to value ratios, the sweet vermouth we stock is Martini & Rossi Rosso.

Here is what F. Paul Pacult has to say about it in his book Kindred Spirits:

Cola/tawny hue, with rich gold edges—it seriously resembles a cream sherry; the sexy, sensuous nose highlights sweet ginger, almost like ginger ale and tonic water; it sings on the palate and is absolutely delicious; I would have this supple, sweet, winey, almost sherry-like beauty on-the-rocks and not as a mixer; to the touch, it’s velvety, but not in the least thick or syrupy; it’s all citrus and grapes on the tongue and in the stately aftertaste; really luscious; superb value; bravo.
4* Highly Recommended $

We had a bottle that was mostly empty, and a fresh bottle to replenish the stock.  The old bottle had been stored in a kitchen cabinet away from light and direct radiant heat for well over a month.

I poured both bottles into identical tasting glasses, and sat down looking forward to seeing just how much the old vermouth had degraded.  Boy, was I disappointed.  The difference between the two was barely perceptible.

As someone who continually orders wine by the glass, I am woefully well aware of what happens to wine when it is allowed to sit out too long.  It loses all of its fruit and its character.  The air makes a glass of expired Pinot Noir indistinguishable from a glass of expired Chianti.  The wine just gets dull.

And that was not the case with this vermouth at all.

That is not to say that a more delicate dry vermouth, or even a different brand of sweet vermouth, will be this hearty.  I can’t say for sure, but I look forward to conducting the same experiment with my bottle of dry vermouth in the refrigerator once it’s down to its last ounce.  Although the data from that experiment will be of little use considering that my brand of dry vermouth is no longer available for sale, and I am down to my last two bottles.

But this is exciting news for me.  Now I will be less sheepish about using a bottle of sweet vermouth that may be a bit long in the tooth for a nice drink.

The most elegant drink involving sweet vermouth is the Manhattan.  But that cocktail deserves a dedicated post of its own. Still, I feel I should offer you some kind of recipe as a reward for making it this far in the post.

Cocktails are tricky in winter.  My tastes generally gravitate to the warmer brown spirits for the season.  Yet there are a couple of gin drinks that still feel appropriate.  One is pink gin, which I wrote about back in October.  The other is called Gin and It.  In this case “It” is short for Italian, which used to be the modifier placed on bottle of vermouth that were sweet.  Dry vermouth was labeled as French.

Gin and It is the easiest drink to make ever.
Get a bucket glass.
Pour in equal amounts of Tanqueray London dry gin and Martini & Rossi Rosso.

Swish the glass to stir them together.

There is no ice.  Although I suppose you could add some, but I wouldn’t recommend the practice.  It’s really much better than it sounds.  And produces a complex and interesting gin-based cocktail that you can curl up with in front of the fireplace.

Have a great weekend.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2010 9:41 am

    For several years now, 30 days in January= no drinking for me. It’s a great way to detox from the holidays. Can’t wait until February1 for my next Manhattan and to try a Gin and It. Love your posts- read all of ’em. Happy weekend!

  2. mama ass permalink
    January 15, 2010 10:13 am

    Thanks! I’ve always been confused about vermouth.

  3. January 16, 2010 4:01 pm

    I’ve never really noticed that big of a difference in vermouth flavor either. For some reason I’m not really that into vermouth in cocktails, but I use it pretty frequently in cooking. A tablespoon here and there in various soups, stews, etc, really just rounds the flavor out.

    I’ve also been liking sherry – yum, a cute little glass while cooking in my apron really makes me feel like a 50s housewife.

  4. Richie from Nisky permalink
    June 9, 2010 11:05 am

    Try Carpano Antica vermouth. It’s claim is that it closely follows the original 1786 Italian formula. It is not as sweet as Martini & Rossi and its botanical flavor really shines. I used to make ‘perfect’ Manhattans because they were less sweet, but I find I can use Carpano Antica and get the same (or better) results. Hard to find, and about $32 for a liter bottle.

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