The Best Sweet Vermouth Roundup – 25 Bottles Tasted, 1 Winner
I swore off doing a monster roundup like this last time I did a big vermouth writeup — with 16 dry vermouths taste-tested and reviewed. Well, here am I again, facing a phalanx of sweet vermouth bottles that is even larger: 25 in total.
Like dry vermouth, sweet vermouth was historically defined and categorized by its inclusion of wormwood in the recipe. That definition has become clouded over the years, and many modern vermouths do not contain real wormwood in them. This is complicated further by the existence of other aromatized wines which fall into other categories such as quinquina and americano, which are defined by their bittering agents. With over a dozen categories of aromatized wines, this can get quite dizzyingly complex. If you really want to take a deep dive into this, I highly recommend checking out the site vermouth101.com — but for the purpose of this roundup, we’re casting a fairly wide net into anything that can reasonably be used as as a sweet vermouth-like ingredient in cocktails, or consumed solo.
With all that said, the most iconic expression of sweet vermouth is Vermouth di Torino, which implies that it is made in Italy’s Turin region, but which (as vermouth101 will tell you) is rarely the case. These vermouths are at least made in Italy, though as with dry vermouth, sweet vermouth is now produced all over the world. In the reviews below, if a vermouth is not produced in Italy, its country/region of origin is noted.
Sweet vermouth is generally more versatile than dry vermouth, namely because it is and widely enjoyed on its own (usually on the rocks) as an aperitif. If you visit Spain, you’ll find that sweet vermouth on the rocks is a national obsession on the level with gin and tonic, with all manner of artisanal vermouths available to sip with your tapas. Of course, sweet vermouth is a key ingredient in many essential cocktails, including the Manhattan, the boulevardier, and the negroni, and any respectable home bar needs to have a bottle on hand at all times. (Note: Keep it in the fridge.)
For this roundup, I tasted all of the below vermouths on their own — chilled, but without ice — and in a Manhattan. Where appropriate, I mixed some of the vermouths into other cocktails, which you’ll see in the specific writeups. Learning from the dry vermouth roundup, I chose to give each vermouth a single grade based on its overall quality and versatility, reflecting the total character and experience of the product. (The top products were all tasted blind in a final round to confirm the ratings.) I also organized the list to rank the products from best to worst — though, in all honesty — none of these wines were at all “bad.”
So, without further ado, it’s time to get our vermouth on!
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino – A ruddy shade of brown. A beautiful, bittersweet vermouth that blends citrus peel, anise, and classic gentian notes into a rounded, pleasing whole. Notes of chocolate and a punch of strawberry build on the immersive, almost soulful finish — which melds its almost pruny sweetness perfectly with its bittering, spicier elements. It pairs almost absurdly beautifully with whiskey, and I found it to be a solid foil in a Negroni, too. What can’t this vermouth do? Get it. 16% abv. A+ / $15 (375ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth – Perhaps the most iconic of sweet vermouth brands, and rightfully so. This is a classic expression of vermouth, quite citrusy up front, along with notes of cola, tea leaf, and rhubarb. The licorice-whip bitterness grows more assertive as it develops in the glass, with a lightly pruny element helping to sweeten up the finish. Classic and on point in a Manhattan. 16.5% abv. A / $18 (375ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]
Alessio Vermouth di Torino – Described as a “very typical” style of the “pre-cocktail” era, made with an extreme attention to historical detail. Intense, mahogany brown. Bracingly bittersweet with an immediate rush of cherry, cola, and coffee bean, this amaro-like vermouth has a stronger wine character that becomes increasingly evident as it builds toward the finish. Expressive and pungent, it’s clearly an amaro-like sibling that drinks beautifully on its own — albeit with an overly citrus-heavy back end. It’s really quite beautiful with whiskey, which coaxes out stronger, sultry chocolate notes. 17% abv. A / $25
Cocchi Dopo Teatro Vermouth Amaro – Brick red, and known as an “evening vermouth” presumably because of its amaro-like character. Distinctly more bitter than its sibling, di Torino, thanks to a “double infusion of cinchona,” which technically makes this a Chinato style vermouth. It’s best on its own as a lower abv version of a classic amaro liqueur, though it’s plumped up with fruity notes of fresh berries and plums that make it a delight to sip on. Tighter on the finish, the bitterness tends to overpower spirits in a cocktail, Manhattan or otherwise. 16% abv. A / $20 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Vya Vermouth Aperitif Sweet – California’s Quady Winery makes this cola-brown vermouth, which deserves to come out of the shadow of the company’s more well-known dry vermouths. Rich and enveloping, it’s loaded with notes of caramel sauce, coffee bean, and dark chocolate, with hints of cloves and a kick of licorice. The bitterness is gentle but well-integrated, lingering on the back end subtly, just out of direct view against its plum-heavy conclusion. It brightens up further in a cocktail, where tea leaf notes emerge. 16% abv. A / $20 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Rubino Vermouth di Torino – Brick red in color, this is a versatile, elegant, and well-crafted offering from front to back. Quite sweet up front, with notes of cherries, orange peel, and a big dark chocolate element. It’s gently bittersweet as the finish builds, but it never lets go of the sweeter side — making for a lovely solo sipper. Unlike some vermouths of this caliber, Rubino pairs well with spirits, those chocolate and expressive fruit notes never overwhelming — or getting lost. 18% abv. A- / $25
Gonzalez Byass Vermouth La Copa Rojo – A well-aged Spanish vermouth, cola brown in color. Old wine on the nose, but with an engaging character that offers notes of spice, tea leaf, and cola. Nutty sherry notes build on the expressive and rich palate, with a coffee character mingling alongside some notes of oxidized wine. More nutmeg than cinnamon on the finish. Definitely better on its own; this one gets lost in a cocktail. 15.5% abv. A- / $25 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Dolin Vermouth de Chambery Rouge – French, the color of weak tea. A more demure style of vermouth, with a black cherry-like sourness that’s complemented by notes of rhubarb and a touch of coffee bean. Ruddy and a bit muddy on the finish, with a very mild bitterness to it. It’s clearly better in cocktails; with whiskey, Dolin brings out a distinct chocolate note that’s hard not to love in a Manhattan. 16% abv. A- / $10 (375ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Vermouth Lacuesta Edicion Limitada – Spanish, cola brown in color — and cola in flavor profile, too. A gentle wine note gives the vermouth a significant acidity and a pleasing sweetness — again, a tawny Port character presenting itself. The light alcohol level gives this a really pleasant gentleness when sipped solo, with notes of allspice and nutmeg emerging on the finish. I was surprised by how well this mixed in cocktails, too, coaxing out some bold cherry notes. 15% abv. A- / $35
Alessio Vermouth Chinato – Chinato uses cinchona bark as a bittering agent — both red and yellow varieties in this expression, which is made from a recipe dating to the 1870s. The use of cola nut in the recipe is intended to give this vermouth a drier character than Alessio’s Vermouth di Torino. Opaque mahogany in color, it looks like an amaro and tastes like one, too — with bold cherry, currant, and cola notes bursting on the palate from the start. A bracing bitterness soon takes hold, though it’s actually less overwhelming than in some of the expressions in this roundup, ending on a gently jammy note. It also makes for an interesting — though rather pruny — Manhattan. 16.5% abv. A- / $28
Gallo Sweet Vermouth – Made in California, a light cola brown color. About as straightforward as it gets, Gallo’s sweet vermouth has a pleasant sweetness that suggests notes of cherries and dried strawberries, backed up with a gentle layer of bittering elements. Give it some time and a chocolate note pops, complementing the fruit nicely. Works great with whiskey, too. Nothing complicated, but it’s an insanely great value. Maybe pour it into an upscale bottle and see what your snooty friends have to say about it. 16% abv. A- / $6
Martini & Rossi Vermouth Rosso – The ubiquitous Martini & Rossi is a nice garnet red, tinged with a bit of rust. And it’s a credible and versatile vermouth that is fine on its own — more sweet than bitter, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, citrus peel, and a moderated gentian character. The finish is pretty, but clean and short. It doesn’t entirely elevate a Manhattan, but it does no harm, either. 15% abv. B+ / $9 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]
1757 Vermouth di Torino Rosso – Cola/coffee brown. Quite straightforward up front, with a rather fresh, herb-heavy attack that is balanced by tart cherries and, as the finish builds, an ample bitterness. It’s hard to pick out anything overly distinct here, and 1757 feels like a pretty traditional, uncomplicated bottling. It’s a solid — if wholly orthodox — choice for cocktailing, too. 16% abv. B+ / $30 (1 liter) [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Yzaguirre Vermouth Reserva – (Not a typo.) Spanish, intensely dark brown in color. Very wine-heavy, with lots of oxidation, giving it a brooding, Port-like character. A pinch of orange peel brightens up the experience over time, but only a bit, with some strawberry notes emerging as the vermouth warms up a bit. I was surprised to see how well this worked in cocktails, those orange notes pairing nicely with whiskey. 18% abv. B+ / $25 (1 liter)
Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth – French, cola brown in color. Noilly Prat is well known for its dry vermouth, which was reformulated in 2009. Light in style with a considerable citrus quality, Noilly Prat leans heavily on orange peel, cinnamon, and a spritz of sweeter juice, giving it a significant sweetness that counteracts its somewhat winey underbelly. It doesn’t have the muscle to stand up to whiskey, but in lighter cocktails it’s agreeable. 16% abv. B+ / $11 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]
VerVino Variation Six Batch #2 Sweet Vermouth – Made by Channing Daughters Winery in New York. Bright violet-purple. This one comes across more like a mulled wine than a vermouth, with a modest bitterness folded in. Lots of raisins, cloves, and a toasted almond note are engaging but unusual, with hints of ginger and cardamom giving the finish a Christmassy feel. Oddly, none of those botanicals are in the mix here, which includes things like apples, sage, pumpkin, and squash. A different holiday was intended, I guess. It’s OK with whiskey, but doesn’t feel like that’s the intent. 19% abv. B / $25 (1.5 liters)
Lionello Stock Vermouth Rosso – Produced in the Czech Republic (from Italian wine). Coffee brown in color. There’s an immediate and unusual citrus element here that reminds me of Amer Picon, while the nose is otherwise fairly straightforward, albeit with a significant earthiness. Oxidized wine notes, almost like a tawny Port, lead the way on the palate, with bitterness creeping up as the finish builds. Otherwise it’s lightly sweet, with a plum and cherry character that works well with whiskey. 16% abv. B / $8
Lillet Rouge – Not formally a vermouth but a French quinquina, but because Lillet is so often used as a vermouth substitute, I’m including it here. A light shade of crimson, its color is indistinguishable from a standard red wine. Very mild and wine-forward all around, with a gentle vegetal note counterbalancing a spray of green herbs, including thyme and sage. It’s lightly astringent and a bit beefy but otherwise fairly harmless. With that said, it’s quite a surprise how well this pairs with spirits, both white and dark, lending a gentle herbaceousness to your cocktail. 17% abv. B / $20 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Drapo Vermouth Rosso – Very light, almost a rose gold in color. There’s a sweet wine character at the fore that hints at both Sauternes and heavily sweetened iced tea — and that bright sweetness fades only mildly after a bitter punch shows its face. I get tropical notes of pineapple and mango in the mix here that I never encountered previously, and while it’s OK with whiskey, it works best with white spirits. 16% abv. B / $17 (500ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Mancino Vermouth Rosso Amaranto – Intensely brown in color, nearly opaque. A very unusual vermouth, loaded with sweet berry notes and lots of vanilla. Quite sweet on the tongue, with a barely-detectable bitterness up front, it offers a strange incense note that reminds me of my childhood taekwondo class. As the finish develops, more of a bitter element emerges, but it takes its time, and its invariably informed through dried berry fruit. Solid with whiskey, but very sweet, so consider boosting the proportion of bitters in a Manhattan. 16% abv. B / $30 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Allessio Vino Chinato – This is made in the style of a Barolo Chinato — which is essentially a hyper-localized version of Vermouth Chinato — but it uses less expensive Nebbiolo d’Alba grapes that are aromatized with cinchona bark, not wormwood. Bright crimson/maroon, with a dusky ochre tint. Quite fruity up front, there’s a bold cherry element that comes off as more than a bit medicinal, with an enduring sour-bitter character that develops toward the finish. Somewhat unbalanced, and a non-starter as a cocktail ingredient. 16% abv. B / $26
Boissiere Sweet Vermouth – A mahogany brown. Nutty but otherwise indistinct on the nose. The palate immediately comes across as rather oxidized and a bit harsh, with a strong note of old wine and a sort of saddle leather character in the mix. Rather musty and mushroomy on the finish. Better in cocktails, though it lends a hefty gumminess to the body that isn’t ideal. 18% abv. B- / $11 (1 liter)
VerVino Variation Three Batch #4 Vermouth – This is an unorthodox vermouth made with rose wine. The pink-hued, New York-born vermouth straddles the line between sweet and dry, never quite committing to either side. With botanicals that include beets, arugula, black birch, fennel, and blueberries, it hits the tongue a bit sideways, the expectations of a respite of fruit never really materializing. It surprisingly works a lot better in cocktails, but I recommend keeping the proportions on the light side. 18.45% abv. B- / $30 (500ml)
Lo-Fi Aperitifs Sweet Vermouth – Napa, California-based Lo-Fi’s sweet vermouth is made with a base of white wine, which normally would cause me to exclude it from this roundup, but since Lo-Fi doesn’t make a red wine-based vermouth, I figured we should include it. It’s something of an odd duck, a floral element sitting heavy on the nose alongside a significant anise kick that feels out of place. That licorice punch remains bold on the palate, with oddball herbal notes lingering on the back end. It’s got a fairly delicate flavor profile but that works to its benefit with whiskey, which helps to even things out. 16.5% abv. B- / $22
Little City Sweet Vermouth – New York-born, a solid tea brown. As I noted in my original review, there’s a punch of cherry cough syrup here that is simply unmistakable and, while not off-putting, it’s overwhelmingly sweet — at least until a finish reminscent of carrots and dried herbs comes along. A harsh non-starter in a Manhattan. 16.5% abv. C+ / $22 (375ml)
I’m curious how you can have a vermouth that doesn’t use wormwood. Why wouldn’t that just be aromatized wine like Dubonnet and Lillet?
To my understanding: In Europe, vermouth must only legally use herbs from the artemisia genus, which is a huge swath of plants that includes wormwood along with a few hundred other herbs. Since wormwood was illegal in many countries for decades, substitutions were likely rampant and still are today. I also doubt there is really anything by way of enforcement in any of this.
Thanks for this! I look forward to reading the dry list, as well.
I have a bottle of a Total Wine label called “Distilleria Vincenzi Vermouth Rosso Di Torino”. It is a product of Italy. Label says NUOVE DISTILLERIE VINCENZI SRL, imported By NCCGA of CT.
Any idea which vermouth maker is behind this one?
It’s good, but I’m new to vermouth, so … I don’t have much to compare.
“Lo-Fi’s sweet vermouth is made with a base of white wine, which normally would cause me to exclude it from this roundup”
While that may have been true at one point (sweet vermouth being from a base of red wine), it’s my understanding that the majority of those listed here are from a white wine / mistelle base, with the reddish-brown color resulting from caramelized sugar.
That’s a great observation — though many of the higher-end vermouths are indeed made from red wine — and I should also note that Lo-Fi’s sweet vermouth is not red/brown in color, either.
Grassotti Vermouth Di Torino Rosso is my go-to for Manhattans. Nice alternative to Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
Wondering if Noilly Pratt Rouge has any calcium added or in something that Noilly Pratt Rouge uses.
Yes, calcium. Could some ingredient ‘make’ calcium’?