After a hard working week, many people like to relax and enjoy a glass of a good alcoholic drink on a Friday night or over the weekend.
From good old vodka to various cocktails, there are many choices, but in the end, personal preferences and the amount of alcohol are crucial.
One of the beverages that I like to enjoy is vermouth. Contrary to popular opinion, vermouth is not a liquor, but an aromatized, fortified wine infused with various herbs and spices.
It is especially popular as an ingredient in cocktails, and you can also use it in various cooking recipes.
But what does vermouth taste like? It is characterized by a combination of primary flavors, varying sweetness levels, herbal and botanical notes, and a delicate balance of acidity and bitterness, but there is much more to say.
Complex Flavor Profile Of Vermouth
I believe that you were already able to conclude that the flavor profile of vermouth is quite unique and complex. This is because it is a harmonious blend of wine flavor, and various herbs and spices.
The wine is a base, and it contributes its own inherent characteristics, such as grape varietal nuances.
However, the real complexity comes from the added botanicals and herbs. The most common one is wormwood, which provides a distinctive bitter note.
Juniper, the same botanical used in the gin, gives vermouth a piney, resinous flavor.
Peels of orange are also commonly used to add a bright, citrusy note to the wine.
Angelica and Orris root can also be a part of vermouth’s complex flavor system. Namely, while Angelica root adds a musky, earthy flavor, the floral flavor of Orris root can be used to balance out the bitterness of wormwood.
The harmonious balance of acidity and bitterness is another trademark of vermouth.
Besides the fact that it provides a refreshing and crisp sensation, moderate acidity also helps to balance the sweetness and bring out the herbal and botanical flavors.
All in all, vermouth’s flavor profile combines sweetness, herbal and botanical notes, bitterness, and a balanced acidity that all work in harmony to produce one of the most unique flavors out there.
Different Types Of Vermouth And Their Flavors
The sweetness level is another important factor when it comes to determining the flavor profile of vermouth. Although the core flavors are the same, the tasting experience differs between dry and sweet vermouth.
You can already conclude from the name itself that dry vermouth exhibits a dried and less sweet taste.
The base of dry vermouth is white wine and therefore it is typically white in color. Compared to other types of vermouth, it has a lower sugar content, making it less sweet.
Although that doesn’t sound so great at first, the lack of sweetness allows herbal and botanical flavors to play a more important role in the overall taste profile.
Because of that, dry vermouth is more fruity, floral, and herby than sweeter varieties, and it also has a somewhat harsh bitter finish that is fairly dry.
This flavor combo doesn’t make it so appealing to enjoy as an aperitif, but it can certainly bring flavor richness to various cocktails and dishes.
As the name suggests, sweet vermouth can offer you much more sweetness than its dry brother.
The base of sweet vermouth is, more often than not, red wine, and it has a fairly full body. Since vermouth is a fortified wine, it is infused with some type of spirit, which is most often brandy.
This makes it richer and full-bodied in flavor, with a distinct and lingering sweetness that your taste buds can easily detect when they first come in contact with the liquid.
Herbals and botanical flavors are also there to play their role, but I have to say that they are not as pronounced because the sweetness is there to dominate.
The final aspect dominating the sweet taste is bitterness. While sweet vermouth contains a subtle bitterness, it is not so pronounced, as is the case with a dry variety.
However, the bitterness is still well-integrated and balanced with the sweetness, contributing to the overall complexity of the taste profile.
Blanc vermouth is a type of vermouth that I would describe as a cross between dry and sweet vermouth. However, it is not as simple when you go into detail.
Namely, blanc vermouth is, like dry vermouth, made from white wine, but it typically falls on the sweeter side of the vermouth spectrum.
But, it is not as sweet as some sweet vermouths, although the exact level depends on the exact brand and recipe.
When it comes to herbal complexity, the herbal notes in Blanc vermouth can vary, but they typically offer a delicate and nuanced character.
The bitterness is typically less pronounced, compared to sweet and dry vermouth. It is subtle, but well-integrated, adding a touch of complexity to the overall flavor profile.
Finally, the acidity, just like in any other type of vermouth, stays well-balanced, and it helps to counterbalance the sweetness and enhance the herbal and botanical flavors.
2 New Styles of Vermouth
Because they are relatively new to the vermouth world, they are not as popular as the previous ones described. However, I will say just a few words about Golden Vermouth and Rosé style and their unique flavor profile.
Who knows when you can get a chance to experience them with your taste buds?
• Golden Vermouth: Due to its rich, amber or golden hue, golden vermouth is also known as amber vermouth.
It falls somewhere between the categories of dry and sweet vermouth, with a balanced sweetness that adds a pleasant roundness and richness to the flavor profile.
The bitterness is typically mild to moderate, and the acidity is quite balanced, helping to provide a refreshing and lively sensation on the palate.
• Rosé style: This specific type of vermouth is characterized by its pink or rosé color, due to the use of various coloring agents or by infusing the vermouth with ingredients that naturally impart a pinkish tint.
The specific thing about it is the fact that its sweetness level can vary. Some versions may lean towards the drier side, similar to dry vermouth, while others may have a touch of sweetness, resembling sweet vermouth.
In general, a Rosé style vermouth typically offers a delicate and nuanced flavor profile. It can feature floral notes, hints of berries, and a range of herbal nuances.
When it comes to bitterness and acidity, some versions may exhibit a mild bitterness, while others have a more pronounced bitterness that complements the other flavor components.
The acidity level can range from moderate to higher, contributing to the overall balance and refreshing character.
Vermouths Role in Popular Cocktails
The true power of vermouth lies in its ability to make your cocktail a true source of unique and refreshing flavors. There are various cocktail recipes, but the three most popular vermouth cocktails are Negroni, Martini, and Manhattan.
Negroni is definitely the most popular cocktail that incorporates vermouth. You can enjoy this Italian classic all year round, but it is a perfect refreshment on hot, summer days.
In terms of flavor, Negroni represents a perfect combo of sweet and bitter flavors. The three main ingredients in Negroni are gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
Gin is a base spirit, and it is there to provide it with the alcohol content it needs, as well as various flavors and undertones, based on the specific type.
Campari, a bright red Italian liqueur, contributes to its distinct bitterness. However, that bitterness is well-balanced by the sweetness of the vermouth.
So, to achieve this perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness, you should always aim for a sweet version of vermouth in your favorite cocktail, because dry vermouth will not do the trick.
If you don’t have Campari, you can also use some of its substitutes, and the best one is definitely Aperol.
The Martini, another classic and iconic cocktail, can not be made without a few drops of vermouth, but this time, it’s the dry version.
Other ingredients can vary, but the most common ones include gin or vodka, as well as some type of garnish, like lime or an olive. Ice is also added to provide a refreshing twist.
Most often, gin is there to play the role of the primary spirit in a classic Martini. It offers a complex flavor profile of juniper berries and various botanicals. However, the exact gin variety can play a huge role in the overall flavor profile of your Martini.
Vermouth is used in smaller amounts to add complexity and balance to the gin, but the amount can vary based on personal preferences.
Some prefer a dry Martini with just a few drops of vermouth, while others prefer a wet Martini with a higher ratio of vermouth.
Finally, there are also lemon peels or an olive, which are used as a garnish. The lemon twist adds a touch of citrus aroma, while the olive provides a savory element.
Finally, here is my personal favorite, Manhattan. A sophisticated cocktail with rich, smooth flavors, the Manhattan cocktail has it all and has been conquering the world for a long time.
The base of the Manhattan cocktail is whiskey. It is traditionally made with rye whiskey, which has a spicier and more robust flavor, but bourbon whiskey can be a great alternative as well if you want a slightly smoother and sweet taste.
But even if you choose rye whiskey, sweet vermouth is there to provide it with just enough sweetness, as well as bitterness to some extent.
The final ingredient comes in the form of bitters, which add depth and complexity and enhance the overall flavor profile of the drink.
And not to forget, there is also the garnish in the form of cherry or citrus peel. The cherry adds a touch of sweetness and visual appeal, while the citrus twist releases its aromatic oils to enhance the cocktail’s fragrance.
However, Manhattan and Negroni are the only types of cocktails where you can use sweet vermouth. If you are interested in some other, less popular but similarly refreshing cocktails where you can add sweet vermouth, check out this video.
Adding Vermouth for Flavor in Cooking Recipes
Vermouth is really a limitless source of options. Aside from the fact that you can enjoy it on its own and make your favorite cocktail thrive, you can also use it to enrich your everyday meals with some extra flavor.
Vermouth doesn’t go bad so easily if you store it the right way, so you can use it for a very long time.
You already know that white wine can be used in so many dishes to add some additional flavors. Now, when you don’t have any, vermouth is also an option. Here, I am mostly referring to dry vermouth because its base is white wine.
You can use it as a flavorful ingredient in sauces, such as reduction sauces for meats and seafood. It will add a good amount of depth and complexity to the dish.
Vermouth can also play a great role as a base for marinades for meat, poultry, or vegetables as it helps to tenderize and infuse the ingredients with its aromatic flavors. You can even marinate frozen chicken by using vermouth.
I have to emphasize that, when using it as a substitute for white wine, you have to know that it has a stronger flavor, so it is best to use a slightly lower amount.
You can also use sweet vermouth for these purposes, but only if you want to achieve that twist of sweetness.
Generally, sweet vermouth is much more suitable for dessert recipes, as sweetness and herbal complexity can add an intriguing dimension to sweet treats.
You can add it to fruit compotes, bake it into cakes or tarts, or even use it as a syrup for drizzling over desserts.
Vermouth Flavor Compared To Other Beverages
Every beverage has its unique flavor profile, but there are a few similar ones worth knowing, especially when you want a good vermouth substitute.
Dry sherry is the closest to dry vermouth.
It is also a fortified wine, and it is unique due to its dry, crisp taste, although the exact flavor profile depends on the exact type or brand.
Types like fino and manzanilla are light-bodied and have dry characteristics. So they are the best ones if you want to mimic the flavor profile of dry vermouth.
Two other types are oloroso and amontillado, but they are darker and richer in body with a more complex flavor, meaning that they are not the perfect choice.
Port wine is another fortified wine that has a very similar flavor profile to vermouth, this time, sweet vermouth.
One of the most popular wines in Portugal, Port wine has a deep ruby color, is made of several different grape varieties, and represents a combination of plums and cherry flavors.
But, most importantly, it contains residual sugars as a result of the addition of a distilled grape spirit during the fermentation process. This gives it a much sweeter flavor so that it is sometimes even called a “dessert wine”.
Because of that sweet flavor, it can mimic vermouth’s flavor profile quite well, and many use it as an alternative to Negroni.
Finally, I have to emphasize that not all types of Port wine are so similar in flavor to vermouth. Ruby port is, but Tawny port, for example, is often drier and less sweet.
Finally, Lillet Blanc is a type of aromatized wine that shares some similarities with vermouth in terms of flavor profile. However, this time it is closest to blanc vermouth.
Both have their unique flavor profiles, but some things like sweetness and herbal, floral notes are the ones that connect them.
Namely, both beverages provide a pleasant sweetness that can add depth and balance to cocktails.
Aside from that, both Blanc vermouth and Lillet Blanc contain a blend of herbs, spices, and other botanicals that contribute to a similar aromatic complexity.
When it comes to differences, Lillet Blanc tends to be less bitter. It also has fruity undertones, which Blanc vermouth lacks.