Vermouth, a fortified wine, comes in sweet and dry versions. Dry vermouth is white and sweet vermouth (also called Italian vermouth) is red. Both types of vermouth are aromatized with herbs and spices. Vermouth is used in Martinis, Manhattans, Rob Roys, and other classic cocktails.
What Is Sweet Vermouth?
Sweet vermouth was first made in Italy in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. The Carpano brand is one of the best-known vermouth brands today, and they make both sweet and dry vermouth.
This wine is sweet but not sticky or syrupy like sweet liqueurs. It contains up to 15 percent sugar depending on the brand. Some sugary vermouth brands have vanilla aroma mixed with floral notes.
Most sweet vermouths are red, but you'll occasionally find a blanc or Bianco vermouth that's white or clear.
Vermouth, the word, comes from the German word for wormwood –“wermut.” Wormwood is better known as the ingredient in absinthe, but it’s also used, safely, by some vermouth makers, particularly in dry vermouth.
A few decades after Carpano made the first sweet (dulce) vermouth, France’s Joseph Noilly created the first dry vermouth. Noilly is also a vermouth brand today. Vermouth technically originated in the French Savoy and Italian Piedmont sections of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the 18th Century.
Vermouth was originally used for medicinal purposes, but it soon became an aperitif due to its taste and stimulating qualities. An aperitif comes from aperire in Latin, which means "to open." Aperitifs open up the palate for meals and have bittersweet properties that spark your appetite and produce gastric juices.
Vermouths are aromatized with botanicals that give them flavor and color. (There are lesser-known aperitif wines called americanos and quinquinas.)
Vermouth is also a fortified wine. Fortified means the alcohol content has been raised due to the addition of grape brandy or another spirit during production. Most vermouths have a mistelle or white wine base.
When alcohol is added to the juice after crushing grapes instead of fermenting them, it’s called mistelle. Using the mistelle option gives the wine a sweeter, fresh fruit-type aroma and taste to the product. The fructose isn’t converted to alcohol during production resulting in the fruity, sweet base.
Most red or dark vermouths (and other aperitif wines )use the mistelle process. The aperitif’s color is a result of additional ingredients and not the wine
How It’s Made
Wine is aromatized with botanicals and then fortified with brandy or another distilled spirit. The art of making vermouth is complicated, and producers of this wine safeguard their recipes and methods. The botanicals used to make vermouth vary, and may include coriander, saffron, juniper or wormwood.
Vermouth is typically 15 to 18 percent alcohol.
What Makes Sweet Vermouth Unique?
According to the Carpano website, sweet, or dulce, vermouth has more than 130 grams of sugar per liter. Semi-sweet, or semi-dulce vermouth, has between 90 and 130 grams of sugar per liter.
Sweet vermouths can be used for:
Make sure the vermouth you use is fresh by putting a small piece of masking tape on it with the date you opened it. Most vermouths taste best within three months of opening. Check the label for more information.
If your vermouth is a little old and doesn’t taste as great as it did when you first bought it, you can still use it for cooking. The flavor won’t harm your food and will still add some flavor to it.
A few dishes you can make with sugary vermouth as an ingredient include Duck with Oranges and Cloves, Baked Chicken, and Baked Ham with Rosemary. You can even prepare Shrimp Tagliatelle with Roasted Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes with a cream sauce made with this fortified wine.
There are several styles of sweet or red vermouths, and the formulas within each style vary by brand. Some popular styles include di Torino, Alla Vaniglia and Chambéry Blanc.
Vermouth di Torino
Red or sweet vermouths made in the Torino style include the Carpano Classic and its imitators. When a drink recipe lists sweet or Italian vermouth as one of the ingredients, use a di Torino vermouth.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular red vermouth brands in this style.
Mancino Rosso Amaranto
Is often used as an aperitif or spritz. The recipe used to make this vermouth contains orange, vanilla, Italian juniper and uses a total of 38 botanicals. The palate has hints of rhubarb.
Although it is a sweet di Torino vermouth, it does have a slight hint of bitterness and a low alcoholic strength by volume (ABV).
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
is made with a family recipe established in 1891.It has a rich flavor featuring notes of orange and red fruit. A versatile mixer, you can use it in a Manhattan, Negroni or Martinez, but it is also excellent on ice.
This vermouth has a Moscato base and has a trace of bitterness under the vibrant flavor. It is made outside Torino, in the Asti region of Italy.
Imported from Italy, Cinzano Rosso opens with the aromas of bitters and grapes and has citrus and quinine flavors. It finishes with refreshing pink grapefruit and orange. The most recent review for Cinzano Rosso in Wine Enthusiast Magazine ranks this $8 a bottle brand as a Best Buy and gives it a 92 rating.
Martini and Rossi Rosso
Martini and Rossi Rosso, another inexpensive Vermouth di Torino, retails for between $6.39 and $18.00. This fortified wine uses sage, allspice, coriander, and more than 30 herbs to give it a sweet and spicy taste. Martini and Rossi Rosso is fortified with brandy, and has a 15 percent ABV.
You can store it on a shelf in your kitchen for up to a year. (No refrigeration necessary.)
Vermouth Alla Vaniglia
Vermouth Alla Vaniglia is a traditional vermouth style with vanilla flavoring or bitters. It is an altered version of Vermouth di Torino in the Turinese custom. The vanilla enables the vermouth to work well with the bold and occasional caramel flavors in straight rye whiskey or bourbon.
Carpano Antica Formula
Carpano Antica Formula is moderately-priced and a favorite Vermouth Alla Vaniglia among bartenders. It has a silky mouthfeel, and the flavor is sweet without being overwhelming. It gives a fine balance to old-school cocktails like Rob Roys or Manhattans and newer drinks like Negronis. It even tastes good on the rocks.
Chambéry Blanc and Similar Vermouths
This sweet, clear vermouth was popularized by Dolin, a vermouth and spirit producer located in Chambéry, France.
Clear or blanc vermouth features more herbs and fewer spices than red vermouth. Italian Bianco vermouths are similar to Chambéry Blanc.
Dolin Blanc Vermouth
Dolin Blanc Vermouth combines the sweetness of red vermouth and the best attributes of dry vermouth. It originated in Chambéry in the late 19th century. Dolin Blanc Vermouth contains elderflower or fruit notes. It lacks the warm cloves or cinnamons of many red vermouths.
Routin Vermouth Blanc
Routin Vermouth Blanc rates a 94 from Wine Enthusiasts Magazine. Its herbal aroma and light body combine with notes of mildly sweet pear for a middle-of-the-road French blanc.
Carpano Bianco Vermouth
Italian Bianco is more vanilla-forward than a French Blanc. Carpano Bianco Vermouth is made from Trebbiano, Chardonnay, and Cortese grapes and has the same dried herbal notes as the brand's dry vermouth, with just a hint of vanilla. This vermouth plays well with gin or vodka.
Sweet vermouths are less expensive than most other types of wine, but the cheapest brands may be better, or equal to, some higher-priced brands.
A look at prices for sweet vermouths on wine merchant K and L’s website shows that most brands sell for between $6.39 and $30. A few high-end vermouths sell for up to $199, with one di Torino vermouth produced in Piedmont, Italy topping the list.
Regardless of your budget, you’ll find one or more sweet vermouths in your price range. They are widely available in any wine store, online, or in a well-stocked supermarket.
(Other Sweet Vermouth Reviews)
Reviews of sweet vermouths by bartenders and wine experts give the following brands high grades:
Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino
Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino, affordable vermouth, is used by some bartenders because it is made from rich, bright Nebbiolo Italian grapes. Speciale Rubino is made by popular winemakers Martini and Rossi.Punt e Mes
One bartender comments that the vermouth combines well with Martini Bitters because it is made with three types of herbaceous, bitter plants. The vermouth also rests in oak casks during production to give it time to evolve. The vermouth is excellent alone or in an Americano, and has strawberry and black pepper notes.
Carpano's Punt e Mes
Carpano's Punt e Mes is an aperitif made with sugar and local mountain herbs. It comes from the Piedmont region, and the name means "Point and a half" in the local dialect. Some reviewers think this vermouth is too bitter, but others comment that the bitterness is balanced with Gentian root, and burnt sugar or caramel.
Punt e Mes
Punt e Mes helps whiskey flavors shine through in a Manhattan and balances out a Negroni with its sophisticated taste. This vermouth is considered a Vermouth Chinato, which is a traditional style containing gentian and cinchona.
Dubonnet Rouge has a raisin-y taste, like Port wine, when you drink it on the rocks, according to one independent wine reviewer. It blends well with gin, and in a Fat Buddha cocktail, which is made with rum, Benedictine and Cointreau.
Dubonnet is also available in a white (blanc) version. The blanc Dubonnet has a green label. Dubonnet vermouth originated in 1846 as a tool to mask the taste of quinine given to the French Foreign Legion in North Africa.
Dubonnet is sometimes referred to as a fortified wine, but not a true sweet vermouth, by some experts, but other reviewers include it in their lists of sweet vermouths.
Many popular cocktails are made with your choice of sweet or dry vermouth, a combination of both vermouths, or sugary vermouth.
If you like sweet drinks, you’ll probably enjoy a Manhattan, Negroni or other cocktail made with sweet vermouths more a dry vermouth drink. Dry vermouth drinks include Vodka Martinis, Dirty Martinis, and Gibsons.
Check out these basic vermouth recipes to sample the various sweet vermouths.
A Diplomat combines 1.5 ounces of both sweet and dry vermouth and 1/8 ounce of Grand Marnier or maraschino liqueur, along with two dashes of orange bitters. Stir the ingredients in ice and use a strainer to pour it in a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange or lemon.
A Basic Vermouth combines two ounces of sweet or dry vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters. Stir the vermouth and bitters with ice until the ingredients are chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lemon or orange.
A Perfect Manhattan is made with .75 ounce sweet and .75 ounce dry vermouth, orange bitter, Angostura bitters, two ounces rye, and a brandied cherry as a garnish.
The Negroni showcases sugary vermouths by combining it with gin and Campari. Stir one ounce each of gin, Campari and sugary vermouth, then strain into a rocks glass. Add ice and a grapefruit or orange twist.
How It Compares
When it comes to sweet fortified wines, including vermouth, the best one depends on your tastes. Some brands have a hint of vanilla, while others are fruity or spicy. Some have a bitter undertone to balance the wine out with other ingredients when preparing a cocktail. Both sweet and dry vermouth can be used for cocktails or cooking.
The most popular brands tend to receive high ratings from wine magazines and consumers, so opt for affordable brands even if you have a bigger budget. After you’ve tried all the best-selling brands, then you can experiment with higher-priced sweet vermouths.
What We Think
Sweet vermouths have their place in cocktails or even enjoyed alone, on the rocks. If you’ve never tried one of these fortified wines, there are many inexpensive brands you can sample. We recommend trying any sweet Cinzano, Martini, and Rossi or Carpano vermouth for your first Rob Roy or Manhattan.
Coupons and Deals
We didn’t find any coupons for sweet vermouths, but BevMo and other big-name wine merchants occasionally have sales on vermouth brands.