Ready For This? Vermouth!

The following two sample bottles of vermouth have been sitting in the review queue for months.  My hesitation in bringing them to the front of the line lay in my ignorance of this beverage.  Is it a wine?  Is it an ingredient?  How does one evaluate it without knowing much about it?

Lamenting this indecision, this weekend seemed as good a time as any for some experimentation.  Mixing them with bourbon - the most common use for vermouth here in the US - seemed silly.  With a suggested retail price of $25 apiece, something told me that these would merit a more reverent preparation.  So, first they were chilled and poured naked into glasses.  That first glance was followed by pouring them over ice in tall highball glasses with a seltzer float.

The experience was surprising, highly informative, and very rewarding.  Like it’s brethren, sherry, vermouth shouldn’t be approached as a wine because it’s a different animal altogether. Scratch that - animals (plural) because the red and white couldn't be more different in every respect.  Which made the aforementioned preparations just right to enjoy and learn about these.

To be sure my exuberance wasn't misplaced, I served a Rojo with seltzer over ice as a pre-dinner drink to a skeptical guest.  Two sips in, he was a believer.  At 15% ABV, these are delightful, refreshing, and versatile wine alternatives, but not all vermouths are created equal, so skip the cheap  stuff and look for these.

NV La Copa Vermouth Blanco $25
Dominated by an earthy, toasted hazelnut flavor, and all but devoid of fruit, this 100% palomino vermouth has more in common with fino sherry than any Spanish still wine. Still, it is refreshing and does a remarkable job preparing the palate (and whetting the appetite) for an evening of degustaciĆ³n. Bone dry and a quickly-acquired taste that will make you feel like a cosmopolitan adult. Try over ice with a seltzer float on a hot afternoon. Garnish with an orange slice if you’re feeling randy.

NV La Copa Vermouth Rojo $25
The color of Coca-Cola in the glass is unexpected, but the the surprise turns quickly to infatuation. Mysterious herbal aromas infused around a core of exotic spice conjure images of dark forests and hooded figures gliding silently in and out of fog. Sharing a lot with Italian aperitivos, but a more grown-up and cool weather alternative to Aperol. 75% palomino, 25% Pedro Jimenez, 100% delicious.