Vermouth, fortified wine aromatised with botanicals, is increasingly appearing as a separate category on wine lists – great news for anyone looking for a pre-dinner drink with a difference. For most of my life vermouth meant Noilly Prat for cooking or Cinzano Rosso in cocktails (such as negroni).
Recently other traditional producers have arrived in Australia and new ones have come on-line. Vermouth can be red, white or rosé and is broadly categorised as sweet/red/Italian-style (sweet, brown); classic/white (slightly sweet, sometimes coloured); and dry (dry, pale).
Every producer uses different botanicals so flavours vary greatly and you really need to taste to find out what you like. The good news is, it Is low alcohol compared to spirits (around 18%) and you’re only drinking a nip or two with a mixer or over ice – so it’s easy to experiment.
The name comes from ‘wermut’, German for wormwood, one of the most commonly used botanicals – and while not all aromatised wines are strictly considered vermouth, that’s where you’ll likely find them on the wine list.
Here are five to try and where you’ll find them in Sydney
1. Dolin Dry, France
France is best known for dry white vermouth and this bone-dry version made since 1821 with local herbs in Chambéry in the French Alps (the only AOC appellation for vermouth) is elegant and smooth.
Try it at Ester and 3 Weeds, Rozelle.
2. Carpano Antica Formula, Italy
Italy’s best-known vermouths are red and this one has been made in northern Italy since 1786 – the name means ‘ancient recipe’. It’s softer and more rounded than any others I’ve tried, and not very sweet. It makes the best sbagliato negroni cocktail.
Try it at Ormeggio at The Spit and Cho Cho San.
3. Maidenii Dry, Australia
Named after Maiden’s wattle and produced on a base of Victorian viognier with botanicals that include 12 Australian natives, this one really packs a punch – but pour it over ice, sip it slowly and it’ll win you over as it did me.
Try it at Bennelong and Fix St James.
4. Lillet Rosé, France
Not always considered a vermouth as it’s macerated with fruit, not herbs – this delicious pale pink, slightly sweet aromatised wine is light, floral and oh so easy to drink – a great introduction. Try it at Momofuku Seiōbo or The Commoner (Melbourne).
5. Kina l’Aero d’Or, Switzerland
Some say quinquina (fortified wines aromatised with cinchona bark – from which quinine is made) is a separate category … this one also contains wormwood (for which vermouth is named) so that’s good enough for me. It’s golden hued, bitter-sweet, full-flavoured and refreshing.
Try it at Cottage Point Inn or Missy French.
* Roberta Muir runs the Sydney Seafood School at the Sydney Fish Market and publishes the website Food Wine Travel, where she shares her favourite food, wine and travel discoveries. You can sign up here to receive her regular email of her top 5 favourite things.
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