Meg Rulli, a student of all things wine, and me, a botanical beverage enthusiast, got together on instagram live recently during quarantine to chat vermouth and to formulate our very own springtime quarantine vermouth recipe. Here's an overview of our first chat:
What is vermouth:
Aromatized, fortified wine, named for Wormwood, a bittering agent.
Styles are Sweet, Dry, Blanc. Sweet also called Red or Italian is our focus today.
Base is a neutral high acid white wine, vermouth may or may not have barrel finish, sweetened with sugar that may be caramelized for color and flavor.
Common flavor profiles: caramel, cotton candy, vanilla, earthy, baking spices, dried fruit, oak, bitters.
Manhattan riffs: Rye, Bourbon, Gin, Cognac, or Rum.
Negroni riffs: Gin, Whisky, Tequila
Spritz with sparkling wine or soda water
Simply over ice with orange
French: simpler, paired spirit is the focus. If it were a celebrity it would be Drew Barrymore.
Italian: voluptuous, sensuous. Celebrity embodiment: Sophia Loren.
Spanish: surprising, aggressive spicing, bitter, witchy. Celebrity embodiment: Stevie Nicks
Dolin Rouge. France. 16%. Lush, integrated, light spice, caramel
Priorat Natur. Spain. 16%. Oxidation and aged for color and complexity, light spice, mouthwatering acidity. Sippable on its own.
Cocchi Torino. Italy. 16 %. Lush, more wintery and spicy.
Atxa Tinto. Spain. 15%. Satisfactory but not our favorite so it was removed from the rest of the conversation.
Mata Tinto. Spain. 15%. Quite spicy, lush, and wintery with substantial bitterness.
Dolin Rouge with Bourbon: doesn't challenge the whiskey, takes a supporting role
Priorat Natur with Riverain Gin: Two light styles supporting each other for a summer cocktail.
Cocchi Torino with Riverain Gin, Bourbon and Cognac: Cocchi is an excellent companion for many different spirits, holding its own in conversation and adding dimension but ultimately letting the spirit shine.
Mata with Cold Tree Gin and Cognac: Highly textured Vermouth matches strength to spirits with lots of personality and bod
After tasting through the different vermouths we discussed what we'd like to see in our own vermouth style. Heading into the warmer months we wanted a vermouth that was on the lighter spice style with a brighter flavor. Our model was somewhere between Dolin Rouge and Priorat Natur.
I formulated a recipe for a lighter crisper style of sweet vermouth with some fun local botanicals incorporated. Meg chose the wine, an Italian Pinot Grigio which has high acidity as well as sharing origin with Italian vermouths. We each took a different sweetener, Meg had turbinado sugar, I had amber caramel. We made them into syrup to add character, richness, and to be a vehicle for the botanicals* we would use.
Bitters: wormwood, gentian, cinchona bark. A variety of bitters to hit lots of areas on the palate.
Citrus: Dried Orange and lemon for nasal oiliness, Douglas fir tips for light grapefruit
Honey/floral notes: chamomile, thyme, cottonwood buds, orris root
Subtle spices: clove, cinnamon, bay sprigs
Wood notes: Cognac to fortify, quick aging oak wand toward the end
We tasted our vermouths after about a week and decided that although the flavor was bright and summery, we'd like more lush texture and complexity. I wanted a bit more acidity to define the flavors and was missing the oxidation and oak aging of the older vermouths. Our tweak was to add a few pinches of citric acid (already present in wine), bump up the spice and musk notes with clove and thyme to create more lushness, and use some black raisins which simulate oxidation and caramelization. To finish it, a "Time and Oak" aging wand for 4 to 24 hours, depending on the "freshness" of the wand.
*see below for botanical sources
3/4 c Caramelized sugar (sugar cooked with water to a deep amber color)
1/4 c hot water to dissolve above sugar to syrup (careful, hot caramel will steam and sputter)
750 ml high acid white wine like Pinot Grigio (or perhaps a high altitude dry riesling)
1/2 t dried orange zest
1/2 t dried lemon zest
1/8 t gentian (leave out if you’d prefer less earthy/bitter)
1 t wormwood
1/8 t cinchona bark
1 t chamomile flowers
6 each whole cloves
2 inch stick cinnamon
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 each fresh Douglas fir tips (only if in season)
1 sprig bay leaf’s spring growth (1 leaf if matured)
3 each cottonwood buds (winter harvest, or dried as Balm of Gilead)
1/4 t orris root
1 T black raisins
2 pinches citric acid
1/2 c Cognac
Infuse for 7 days in a large glass jar in a dark cool place. Strain out botanicals through cheesecloth and a sieve.
Age with a Time and oak wand for 4-24 hours, less if the wand is new, more if the wand has been used.
Taste, adjust sweetness, acid, or botanicals if desired. Bottle and refrigerate up to 3 months or until the flavor changes.
Leave us a comment or tag us in your social media post to let us know if you tried it for yourself!