Drink the vermouth neat to try it. If you don't like it, it's not going to make a nice Martini – remember there’s nowhere to hide in this drink! There are thousands of vermouths on the market and more are being brought out or ‘rediscovered’ all the time.
To give some examples of what top bars use, The Connaught Hotel make their own mix of vermouths. Ian Hart from Sacred specially formulated Sacred Dry to Alessandro Palazzi’s specification, which he uses at Duke’s and has no sugar. Sacred Amber is also an interpretation of the legendary Kina Lillet.
We understand that vermouth is such a large and bewildering category that we would recommend starting off with Dolin Dry as your Dry vermouth and Cocchi Storico di Torino for your Sweet vermouth. These are really solid vermouths that don’t attempt to break the mould and widely available. We think it’s best to find the gins you like to make Martinis with first, then experiment with different vermouths later on in your Martini journey.
There is also the concept of the 'perfect' Martini, which is to mix both a dry and sweet vermouth together in 50% parts, and then use that within your Martini. Mixing vermouths is something that a lot of bars do to differentiate and also cater for more palates.
Finally, some people have the 'Desert', ‘Naked’ or 'Churchill’ Martini, which don't use any vermouth whatsoever and just the dilution from ice. This stretches the definition of a Martini, as at the very least it should have a spirit and aromatised or fortified wine of some sort if not gin or vermouth specifically.
Advanced Martini drinkers often use other aromatised or fortified wines other than vermouth. For example, a Martini made with Fino Sherry or White Port and is absolutely divine. Even when using other aromatised wines, it’s often the case you will still need to use a bit of vermouth to keep the right mouthfeel in the Martini. Though we’d expect if you’re at this stage of your Martini journey, you’ll know what you’re doing!
Vermouth: Technical Facts
As vermouth is still being discovered, here are a few important facts to know about it:
- Vermouths have to be 75% minimum wine, use one or more of 3 types of wormwood and be between 14.5 and 22% ABV.
- Vermouth di Torino (Turin) is an AOC, with more stringent requirements. Chambéry (i.e. Dolin) is the only other Vermouth AOC.
- Chinato (in Italy) or Quinquina wines (in France) use quinine from cinchona bark, not wormwood but are very similar to vermouth.
- Americano means the vermouth uses both wormwood and gentian.
- Colour does not matter (most vermouth is made from white wine, even ‘red’ vermouths), but sugar content (in grams sugar per litre) does matter in classifying:
- Extra Dry (Super Sec / Extra Secco): up to 30g
- Dry (Sec / Secco): 30-50g
- Semi-Dry (Demi-Sec / Semisecco): 50-90g
- Semi-Sweet (Demi-Doux / Semi-Dolce): 90-130g
- Sweet (Doux / Dolce): 130g+
- Sometimes you’ll see different terms relating to vermouth. Here are the most common terms and what they mean:
- "Italian" typically means Sweet vermouth.
- "French" typically means Dry vermouth.
- White (Bianco / Blanc): unspecified sugar, typically Sweet.
- Rosé (Rosato): unspecified sugar, typically Semi-Sweet to Sweet.
- Amber (Ambrato / Ambre): unspecified sugar, typically Semi-Sweet.