Thursday, 27 March 2014

Presenting... Vermouth Wars

It was quite a task that Andrew Scutts, of Boutique bar Show, took on trying to organise a tasting from 4 different vermouth makers from different importers/agencies, all for the industry. And I am glad he did as I know very little about the category (apart from a TV show that visited Noilly Prats last year) and this line up was fascinating.

Just for those as ignorant as me:
wine + alcohol + sugar + botanicals (always wormwood) = VERMOUTH

And my, has the category come on in recent years! This is due to countries out with the traditional France/Italy getting involved in vermouth production, due to the rise of the classic cocktails and one producer claimed making products without the mistakes of the long standing brands!

We tasted these in the order extra dry, dry, amber and red and unfortunately I did not have time to stay for their signature serves; however I am going to group them by brand. Starting with:

MANCINO (Italian)

Presented by the very personable Giancarlo, he started by making much of his time behind the bar (with Salvatore and at The Lanesborough amongst others) and his determination to make a vermouth ‘worthy’ of his martinis. He assures us that his vermouths will last, open, for up to 6 months if correctly stored due to the 9 months taken to prepare each batch.

Secco: 1.87g sugar per bottle, 18 botanicals, trebbiano wine
Nose sweetness like vanilla, some herbal notes
Palate sharp, bitter yet clean as well with the lemon, orange and lemongrass coming through

Bianco Ambrato: 200g sugar per litre
Nose lots of elderflower
Palate where the quinine really comes through, first that high sugar but bitter finish

Rosso Amaranto: 39 botanicals including juniper, rhubarb, vanilla, orange…
Nose very light, delicate
Palate same on the palate, very delicate. I like it by itself but not sure how it would sit in a cocktail

For those with £150 spare there is also the Vecchio, only 60 bottles in the UK, and is an enhanced version of the Rosso with great balance


Each expression has 12 base botanicals then different variants have additional fruits and spices. This is the team also behind Ciroc Vodka and G’Vine Gin, with an emphasis on the vine flower.

Extra Dry: pinot de charentes wine and cognac eau de vie
Nose some earthiness, a bit chlorine?
Palate a bit like Riesling, burnt toffee, some of that chlorine from the nose?

Blanco: 5 botanicals added to the base 12
Nose elderflower but further chlorine, not getting along with these!
Palate elderflower and a healthy dose of liquorice

Rouge: there is some chocolate, maybe prunes, but sweet and still…chlorine

Unconvinced but perhaps these are better in cocktails


An very old company, who have been producing vermouths from Turin for centuries on and off, and have a recipe that went to the kings of the day.

Extra Dry: high quality DOCG wine base, 25 botanicals, master blender ensures consistency of each batch
Nose quite strange, fresh grass, mint?
Palate smoky, almost bacon finish

Nose like liquorice, bit sickly, wears off
Palate balanced sweetness to floral notes, cinnamon, surprise FAVOURITE of the group

Rosso:27 botanicals including orange, sherry, red fruit
Nose wormwood
Palate quite bitter, long finish, ok but not stand out


From Ian and Hilary Hart producing their award-winning gin amongst other products from their living room in Highgate. Very distinctly different from other countries.

Spiced English Vermouth: three choirs English wine and 24 botanicals including plums, cherries and thyme
Nose really blackcurrant jam nose
Palate more blackcurrant, elderflower, well balanced

Rose Hip Cup:
Nose blackcurrant
Palate really quite floral, bitter, not one for me straight but no doubt great negroni twist

A captive audience
Thanks to the Bassoon Bar at The Corinthia for hosting, they did an amazing job getting everyone in and seated!