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I was talking to a longtime bartender friend recently about the way things were back in the early days of the cocktail renaissance, around the time when we’d first met, almost 20 years ago. In our accustomed, crotchety “In my day we had to walk five miles through the snow, uphill each way” manner, we lamented the dearth of choices behind the bar back then, and how much things had changed. Vermouth came into fine focus in that conversation.

While every category of spirit and aperitif wine has grown and evolved in the past two decades, vermouth has shown a surprising stylistic shift. Supermarket brands have been supplanted by classic styles that show the true depth of vermouth’s heritage. And contemporary producers are increasingly spreading their creative wings, and discovering the potential of this venerable aromatized wine.

In our March/April 2024 issue, we explore the depth of today’s vermouth category. Here is a baker’s dozen of recent additions to the ranks that demonstrate vermouth’s enduring vibrance.

Baldoria Orange Vermouth

The Piemonte region around the Italian city of Turin is essential to any vermouth story. And with producers dating back to the 1700s, the area’s long been considered the center of modern vermouth. But what does “modern” mean anymore? Baldoria, which hails from near Turin, is shaking up the category with its own distinctly contemporary take on vermouth. Baldoria makes dry and rosso vermouths that can easily plug into classic cocktail recipes. But the producer also reaches deep into 21st century flavor territory.

Contemporary expressions include a Dry Umami vermouth that incorporates porcini mushrooms and kombu seaweed into its botanicals, and an Orange vermouth based on traditional skin-contact wines from Georgia. (The Orange vermouth is vintage-dated in Europe, the only vermouth bearing the mark. U.S. regulations prevent the label from mentioning that here.) The Orange vermouth demonstrates what vermouth innovation can mean. Its wine-forward character is dry and cleanly acidic with a soft, supple, spice-accented bitterness. It’s dry enough to use in a distinctive Martini. But really, a vermouth this iconoclastic is built for fresh cocktail adventures. $53.50,

Casa Mariol Vermut Noir

Yes, this Catalonian vermouth bills its darker wine as “black” rather than the familiar rojo, or red. And while its appearance in the glass is more inky than russet (thanks, presumably, to the inclusion of green walnuts in the botanical mix), the vermouth is anything but heavy or austere. A dense, cola-like aroma gives way to a brisk and lively body. A clear, acidic snap and a flush of ripe fruit dry out to a lovely balance of dried figs and spice. The botanical profile is more playful than ponderous. The vermouth strikes a superbly drinkable balance between the wine’s acidity, a spicy structure, and a gentle sweetness. Great with a splash of soda, the noir could also brighten up a Manhattan (especially if you go 50:50 with a robust rye whiskey). Or serve it as a fun base for a simple low-ABV cocktail. $29.96,

Del Professore Rosso di Torino Vermouth

Even with the innovation and experimentation taking place in vermouth, classic styles endure, and with good reason. Traditional Italian vermouths from Turin largely fueled vermouth’s initial growth. The style has captivated generations of bartenders who’ve poured it into oceans of Manhattans and Negronis. Del Professore, which emerged from Italy during the current cocktail boom, demonstrates how much beauty can still be found in traditional styles. Bitter orange and mint come through in the aroma, leading to a bracing and enduring bitterness perfectly balanced with an undercurrent of sweetness. This vermouth is bold enough to stand up to any whiskey in a Manhattan or Rob Roy. It also makes a compelling candidate for mixing show-stopping Boulevardiers. $36.50,

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth

Southern Europe may be vermouth’s most fertile habitat, but Germany’s connection to the aperitif goes back as far as vermouth’s name. This vermouth is produced using a base of Saar Riesling, which gives it a brush of wine-rich boldness in texture and character. The bright and herbaceous aromatics, touched with thyme and citrus peel, unfold in the glass with a crisp minerality and a gently brusque bitterness. Bring its floral notes into full blossom with a splash of soda water. Or mix it with London dry gin in a 50:50 Martini that’ll give you fresh appreciation for what vermouth can bring to the classic cocktail. $25.79,

Flores Vermut Rojo

Sometimes you try a new drink and deem it “interesting,” but in a way that means you’ll probably never reach for the bottle again. Then there’s the good kind of “interesting,” where you’re already pouring a second taste and reminding yourself to show it off to your friends. This vermouth from Uruguay is securely in the second category. Built upon a boisterous base of Tannat (the national grape of Uruguay), the rojo comes across crisp and wine-forward. Its botanicals skew floral and bright, with touches of blackberries and baking spice and a soft, lingering bitterness.

Here’s where I’d usually suggest a cocktail candidate for trying it. The Flores Rojo certainly makes a solid Negroni or Manhattan. But this vermouth is just so endearingly drinkable. It begs to be served simply, with a splash of soda or tonic, proving just how well vermouth can function as the star of the show. $21.99,

Furlani Vermouth

Ready to reconsider everything you think you know about vermouth? This entry from Italian winemaker Matteo Furlani challenges all preconceived notions of what vermouth can be. Based on a traditional recipe from Trentino, and built upon a wine fermented with no temperature control or added yeasts, Furlani Vermouth is no fading flower. Bitter and candied citrus, rhubarb, and mint come flowing out of the glass. Its sturdy yet balanced bitterness leads into a long, lingering finish. This is a great candidate for spritz experimentation, big and bold and elegant enough to celebrate with a burst of bubbles. $29.96,

La Fuerza Vermú Rojo

Argentina rivals Southern Europe in its enthusiasm for all things bold and bitter. Traditional styles and big brands have long dominated the market. But recently, winemakers and their producer partners have turned their attention to vermouth, and are creating wines that reflect the traditional model but have their own distinctly South American style. La Fuerza is a great example of this new approach. It uses wines from Mendoza and more than 30 Argentinian botanicals to create what they’re calling a “vermouth of the Andes.” La Fuerza Vermú Rojo is a great place to start exploring. The base wine is a rich and silky Malbec, accented with lively spice notes and a citrusy character. Mix it simply with soda water and an orange slice. Or pour it over ice with a small measure of gin and a splash of tonic water. $25,

Lo-Fi Aperitifs Sweet Vermouth

California winemakers have long tinkered in the vermouth category, frequently taking the aperitif in new directions. This Napa-based sweet vermouth eschews much of the traditional European style, opting instead for a flavor and character all its own. Golden in color, the vermouth offers aromas of vanilla and candied oranges, spice cake, and anise. In the glass, it comes across softly sweet, with a fun interplay of fruit and florals supported by a soft herbaceous quality, and finishing with touches of cocoa and coconut, citrus and spice. This is a different type of entry on the vermouth shelf, for sure. But the balance and distinctive botanical mix earn it a spot at the bar. $24.99,

Lustau Dry Vermouth

Spanish vermouths—especially those from the historic sherry-producing region of Jerez—are all rich and red, right? Not so fast. While it’s true that Jerez is home to some superbly robust vermouths, producers also tap sherry’s crisper side for making engaging dry vermouths. Made using a base of manzanilla sherry, Lustau’s dry vermouth combines the sherry’s light salinity with a balanced botanical blend. Go sherry-on-sherry vermouth for a Bamboo cocktail with its own regionality. Or use it in a dry Martini that leans in the direction of Spain. $21.94,

Mancino Sakura Vermouth

The craft-cocktail renaissance made many bartenders realize the need for traditional-style vermouths that could hold their own in superlative cocktails, as well as the possibilities that existed in the venerable category. Italian bartender Giancarlo Mancino was an early adopter of the approach, and today Mancino offers an array of vermouth styles. In addition to classic rosso and dry vermouths, Mancino’s ventured in new directions with styles like the aromatic Kopi Coffee vermouth and the limited-edition Sakura vermouth. Representing a convergence of Japanese and Italian culinary approaches, the light-pink Sakura is vividly fragrant with cherry blossoms and violets. The vermouth is carefully threaded with a gentle yet provocative bitterness that gives the whole thing structure. Elegant in a simple highball or adding a floral touch to a Martini, the Sakura vermouth opens new avenues for cocktail exploration. $46.50,

Navazos-Palazzi Vermut Rojo

Some of the most lusciously drinkable vermouths these days are coming from Spain. And this arresting rojo proves that sippable doesn’t mean simplistic. Hailing from Jerez, this oloroso-based vermouth from wine and sherry negociant Equipo Navazos and self-described “provider of geeky spirits” importer PM Spirits is as sultry and elaborate as they come. It features a texture so robust it’s almost chewy and a skillfully stacked set of floral botanicals and spice that rings every aromatic bell. Pour it over ice to taste its flavors slowly unfurl. Or mix it into a mezcal Negroni if you want to blow the roof off the place. $34.96,

Poli Gran Bassano Rosso

Some of the more fascinating vermouths in this roundup put their wine base front and center. For Gran Bassano, that base is formed by Merlot, a French wine grape grown in the Italian region around Bassano for centuries. This emphasis on the wine gives Gran Bassano a fruit-forward fragrance and a lush, vinous texture. The botanical profile is modest and beautifully structured, with a crisp bite of citrus evolving into a slow-morphing bitterness and a gentle nudge of jammy sweetness. This vermouth has the potential to make an absolutely regal Negroni Sbagliato, or a Manhattan layered with extra plushness. $24.99,

Tximista Txakolina Vermouth Rojo

Spain (and, specifically, Basque Country) is historically fond of vermouth. Spain (and, specifically, Basque Country) is also historically fond of Txakolina, the area’s distinctive and supremely drinkable wine. It somehow took until the early 21st century for the two concepts to come together in this engaging, Txakolina-based vermouth. And vermouth fans today need to make up for lost time. Made using predominantly local botanicals macerated in pomace brandy, which is then aged and blended with the wine, Tximista isn’t quite like any other vermouth on the market.

The rojo offers deep, rich aromas of dried fruit and flowers, and has a lean and limber texture in the glass. The wine is the central character in this casting, with herbs and baking spice softly arrayed as accents, and the gentlest of bittersweet nudges in the finish. Some vermouths are made for mixing. This vermouth is made for drinking—in a glass, with some ice, definitely with some snacks and friends, and preferably with a warm, sunny afternoon outside. $26.99,

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