While I was a bartender at Söntés, the most common request, hands down, when I was making a martini was to hold the vermouth. One person even told me, “Just waive the bottle over the shaker and that’ll be enough.” Any bartender, and most martini drinkers, could tell you that the popularity of vermouth has been declining over the last few decades. This has always made me a wee bit sad, because I’m of the opinion that a martini isn’t really a martini without the vermouth. (And, in the interest of full transparency here, I tend to make my own personal martinis with the proportions reversed: two parts dry vermouth to one part gin or vodka with a good dose of olive juice or a lemon twist. You can call me strange if you want to.)
I can’t really blame people for disliking vermouth, though, when most bars tend to carry the cheapest vermouth for mixing. The stuff frankly tastes like lighter fluid’s second cousin. It’s no wonder that most people don’t want this flavor mixed with Grey Goose or Tanqueray. The long history of fortified, herbed wine has culminated in… this?
Fortunately, no. The American vermouth revival has well and truly begun, and I am here to sing its praises! Aided by the longstanding, never-waning popularity of vermouth in Europe, Americans are once again discovering just how amazing vermouth can be. My first introduction (and it’s popular enough now that it probably serves this same function for many) to the world of fine vermouth was through Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry. The best part about it? You have three choices: sweet, dry, and blanc. Dolin sweet vermouth is a gentle sweet, not at all cloying, with deeper herbal notes after the initial cherry taste. Their dry vermouth has none of the bitter flavor you might think common in vermouth; rather, its herbed high notes and clean finish make it perfect for sipping on its own over ice, or with a lemon peel. My favorite of their line is the blanc, which provides a nice middle ground between the sweet and the dry. Dolin Blanc is an off-dry, aromatic delight with gentle floral notes reminiscent of honeysuckle on the front end and a citrusy finish.
Find that you really do fancy vermouth after all? Then check out some of the American producers of vermouth. For one, there’s Vya, from Madera, California. Another California producer is Sutton Cellars. There are also some great Oregon vermouths: Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth, which the guys at my local wine store simply cannot stop raving about, and the refined Cana’s Feast Chinato d’Erbetti.
So, there are a few suggestions to start you off. And if you’re feeling brave, the next time you order a martini, ask your bartender what vermouth is on the rail. You may want more than just a pass of the bottle over the shaker after all!
P.S. – Wonder what we’re serving at Söntés? Dolin, of course!