I’ve always loved aromatized wines. Sweet vermouths being at the top of the list. I buy new ones when ever I see them and try to wrap my brain around describing them. Tackling a wine is no problem and I’m never at a loss for words, but vermouth’s aesthetic is tough to crack and as a liquid fine art object I’ve never found something so hard to fit into words. Maybe that is why no one tries?
As I’ve started to drink all the available brands, I have found that every single one has merits and so far I haven’t truly disliked a single sweet vermouth. I have noticed that randomly, certain brands create stuck, simplistic flavors in particular cocktails but there is very little way to predict what is going to happen besides trying many options. I used to want more intensity than I ever found in a sweet vermouth and also more bitter, but this was before I realized that that particular aesthetic was the role of the Americano which is the Campari, Aperol, Cynar, Cocchi, or Vergano product. I’ve successfully made thrilling Americanos that I’ve called vermouths, but having wormwood does not define the category.
Vermouth versus the Americano is all about the aesthetic. The name vermouth as a product category has lost its original meaning of simply being a wormwood aromatized wine to being something else and maybe with no wormwood at all. Vermouths have a relatively neutral or elder flowery moscat-like wine base. Their botanicals are so integrated nothing can be picked out or it is a flaw (many are flawed but who knows if it is a variance within a single batch). The sugars and acidity are all within certain tolerances and the bitter qualities do not protrude through the other flavors like in the Americano. In the americano, on the other hand, more or less anything goes. Americanos often have pornographic proportions of flavor and exotic bitterness is the main show. The ranges of sugar and alcohol can be as loud as the flavors. To be honest, sometimes I’d take an Americano over a vermouth and I’d probably demote Vya’s “sweet vermouth” down to an Americano. (Quady shouldn’t be offended because Americanos for some reason seem to fetch more money anyway.)
Describing the flavors is difficult and only sometimes do you have a moment of clarity where it all makes sense. At certain moments of tasting any of them I’m reminded of curry spices and then in other moments that makes no sense. One thing to look for is the length of the finish like on a fine dessert wine, but again its hard to determine because all of them are pretty long.
Noilly Prat seems to have a bitter finish which I quite like and all that comes to mind from its flavors are dark shades of grey.
Boissiere seems brighter than the Noilly Prat and less bitter on the finish. The Boissiere is also far lighter in color than many which may not mean too much because all are adulterated with caramel.
Vya is very expressive on the nose and not really integrated. At first on the nose, I’m almost reminded of cola, then after revisiting the Vya, I pick out cinnamon and nutmeg with out enough tie ins to integrate them. But then when I taste the Vya again, orange peels and fruit dominate everything. Orange peel is not listed in the blend, but Quady does proudly list his wine bases as Orange Muscat, Colombard, and Valdepenas which contribute the fruit. I don’t really know anything about the Orange Muscat variety relative to Moscato d’Asti, but I wager it gets the name from its orangey character which dominates this vermouth. The intensity of the fruit protrusion is comparable to the elderflower-like character of some dry vermouths and the concord grape like character of some grossly fruity aromatized products like Wincarnis “tonic wine”. I haven’t measured the sugar of anything yet but one thing that almost feels noticeable is dryness on the finish of Vya which has a lower pH than Noilly Prat and Boissiere.
Cribari has something on the nose that I know elementally but can’t name. It is almost musty smelling then rolls into a chocolaty aromas then something like coffee but also a complete lack of fruit on the nose. When tasting the Cribari with all the others, it stands up well and is interesting, though its the least known and cheapest sweet vermouth I’ve ever come across. I feel like there is a scotchy, smoky, pinotage-like note I’m not able to pin down but after revisiting the vermouth I was totally reminded of a bad old cooked down coffee experience I had earlier in the afternoon. The strange nostalgic but not quite pleasurable flavors were that roadside truck stop shade of coffee. The pH is by far the lowest and being from New York and probably composed of New York grapes, I can see why it has a high acidity (super cool climate grapes preserve acidity). I don’t understand how the vermouth gets this strange anti fresh taste. Is the wine base to blame and is it going to change batch to batch? Were the grapes from a such a cool climate they had to add fermentable sugar and that augmented the flavor? who knows. If I had a way to move some of the product like in a dessert or an entree pairing, I’d love to see if its consistency changed.
Noilly Prat pH 3.39
Boissiere pH 3.46
Vya pH 3.21
Cribari pH 3.05
****hopefully I can update this as I sit down and taste more
so I tasted another one
As I was leaving work my boss surprised me with a bottle of carpano antica that he scored while in NYC. I didn’t get to try it in any drinks yet, but drank a couple ounces and took some notes.
The nose had a faded anise character with evident vanilla and a subtle orange peel kind of character. The nose to me, seemed to be not that complex and had stuck aromas that come into focus and don’t really leave. A coworker thought she smelt a nutmeg/mace like character that was most satisfactory. Over all, I thought it smelt rather stodgy.
On the palate you definitely get a vanilla character that you never see in other vermouths except Noilly Ambre. There is a raisinated date-like fruit character that is kind of fun. I think other vermouths would benefit from fruit character more fun than orange peel. The Antica is definitely a few shades more bitter than other vermouths in a quinine/wormwood kind of way. It is kind of buried in there but the Antica feels like it uses a rougher more grappa like and fun fortifying spirit.
Over all, I’d say that Carpano Antica is not very complex. It is not exactly over the top integrated and enigmatic like some of the others. You can recognize clear as day so many of its elements, but what Antica does have is incredible direction and the balance of its loud flavors are a huge amount of fun. I definitely wouldn’t demote the Antica to an Americano
Over all delicious. I would love it try it in some cocktails but I wouldn’t trade in my Stock, Cinzano, Boisiere, or even Cribari.