Beyond martinis, vermouth can shine

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2010 - 3:00 PM

How can you love vermouth? In countless ways.

Vermouth: It's not just for martinis anymore. Actually, it never was. Beyond its signature use with gin or vodka, olive or a twist, shaken or stirred, this fortified wine can be enjoyed countless ways -- even on its own.

"I love the [Dolin Vermouth] Chambery Rouge on the rocks with a fat orange twist," said Toby Maloney, who oversees the beverage program at Minneapolis' Bradstreet Crafthouse. "It tastes great in the summer and the winter."

Mixmasters such as Maloney have become the high-end chefs of the beverage world by bringing an ingredient-driven mind-set to their profession. That makes vermouth -- white wine aromatized with herbs, roots and barks and fortified with brandy -- a particular favorite. (Dry vermouths are typically French; sweet vermouth is usually Italian.) "Vermouth is all about the botanicals," said Maloney. "It's a great way to add depth and complexity to cocktails."

Over the past century-plus, cocktail-meisters figured out that vermouth really plays well with others, whether it be rye (Manhattan), gin (Gibson) or Scotch (Rob Roy).

But vermouth had been around in various forms for centuries before getting its commercial launch in 1786 in Turin, Italy, where Antonio Benedetto Carpano named it after the German word for wormwood (a prime ingredient in absinthe, as well). Over the years, chamomile, cardamom, cinnamon and other spices that don't begin with "c" were added.

The signature version emerged in the 1820s in Chambery, France, where the nearby Alpine meadows produced herbs and aromatics that proved especially distinctive. In 1932, the Dolin Vermouth Chambery earned France's only Appellation d' Origine for vermouth.

Eric Seed of Edina came across this enticing concoction while gathering brands for his Haus Alpenz importing business (his fabulous array of products can be seen at www.alpenz.com/portfolio.htm).

It was love at first sniff/swallow. "The style of vermouth de Chambery is unique for its light and fresh profile with a clean finish," Seed said. "It's delicious and less sweet than other choices, such that you can do old-school proportions, 1 : 1, with the liquor in martinis or Manhattans."

Maloney is a believer. "The Dolin products are wonderful because they don't stomp all over delicate spirits," he said, "but they still add character to drinks with big, bold spirits."

Vermouth generally is thought of as a liqueur, but it should be treated like wine, Maloney said: "It should be refrigerated if opened, and then gone through in the same amount of time as a bottle of chardonnay.

Vermouth is also a wonderful substitute for white wine in cooking -- which makes sense for something that tastes so doggone good.

Bill Ward • bill.ward@startribune.com Read Ward on Wine at startribune.com/blogs/wine.

  • WINE OF THE WEEK

    Dolin Vermouth de Chambery Rouge

    The experience: A sweet-ish, hearty nose leads to subtle complexity and fresh purity on the palate. It's lighter than expected; the alcohol is about the same as in a "big" California zinfandel or syrah.

    The setting: See story above for sundry uses, and/or consult a good mixed-drink guide.

    The back story: The base wine needs to be neutral and light, so most of the grapes come from the Armagnac region, where the eponymous brandies have the same requirement. The "Rouge" comes from the herbs, not the wine, which is clear. Dolin also makes Blanc and Dry vermouths.

    The tab: $15, available at Chicago Lake, France 44, Thomas Liquors, Sapor, Cru, Duplex and the Strip Club.

    BILL WARD
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