Vermouth Roundup: A Sweet Vermouth Tasting Review

So many sweet vermouths, so little time!

Until a few years ago my sweet vermouth universe consisted of Gallo and Martini & Rossi. And there really ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. Some of my best Manhattans have been with Gallo and Jim Beam sitting under a pine tree while camping, and M & R is terrific in a Negroni.

But variety is the spice of life, and during the last few years I (along with my brother) have enjoyed trying out different sweet vermouths. The good news is none of them are really bad. Yes, some are more flavorful and sophisticated than others, but the worst you can say about the lower rung vermouths is that they lack depth and character — which for some people is just what they want.

The following are my tasting impressions of over a dozen vermouths. Now tasting vermouths in one sitting is a challenge. You really need to taste them neat, in a Negroni and in a Manhattan. That’s a lot of drinks.  So these tasting notes are based on my experiences over the last few years, plus some dedicated tasting sessions mixed in.

Also, none of these were done blind, although I think I could identify many of these Vermouths when tasted neat. In a mixed drink is another matter. Yes there are at times significant differences, but could I tell a Manhattan made from Gallo from one made with Ponti? Probably not. But between one made with Carpano Antica and Gallo — hell yes.

The Manhattans used for tasting were typically made with:

  • Two parts Bulleit Bourbon
  • One part vermouth
  • Three dashes Angostura bitters

The Negronis:

  • One part Campari
  • One part  London dry gin (often Beefeaters or Trader Joe’s Rear Admiral Joseph’s)
  • One part sweet vermouth

Bulleit Bourbon is a nicely flavorful bourbon with a relatively high concentration of rye that can overpower some of the more mild mannered vermouths. For some of these I also tried them in a Manhattan made with Canadian whiskey — which has a more neutral flavor than American bourbons. That’s called out in some of the tasting notes.

In the Negroni more subtle differences could stand out. In a Manhattan I really can’t tell the difference between M & R and Cinzano — but in a Negroni I can.

OK, enough rambling. Here are my impressions…

1. Gallo  ($2.99 750ml Safeway, not pictured)

I grew up with Gallo. It’s the vermouth you can find when you can find no other — at least here in California. And it’s cheap.

Neat

Very sweet and lightly herbal. No bitterness. Approachable, but this is not a vermouth to drink on its own. No depth. No complexity. No bitterness.

Negroni

Harmless and inoffensive. Yes there are better choices, but at least Gallo doesn’t ruin the drink!

Manhattan

Serviceable in a pinch, especially for those that like a sweeter Manhattan with a tame whiskey (like Canadian). With a bolder whiskey the vermouth is lost.

Best For

Those on a budget. Or if you can’t find any other vermouth.  Or you are not a fan of bitter and like a basic sweet Manhattan.

2. Ponti  ($3.99 1ltr Trader Joe’s)

One of two sweet vermouths carried by Trader Joe’s in our area.

Neat

Sweet and marginally more herbal than Gallo. No bitterness. This will offend no one, and excite no one. It’s pretty much a slightly better version of Gallo.

Negroni

Works in a pinch. If you’re picking up your liquor at TJ’s then it is fine.

Manhattan

Like Gallo, it is serviceable. No problems — but no fireworks either.

Best For

You’re shopping a TJ’s and you need some vermouth. A better alternative to Gallo.

Update: Trader Joe’s in our area has stopped carrying Ponti as of summer 2016.

3. D’Aquino Rosso  ($3.99 1ltr Trader Joe’s, not pictured)

The other sweet vermouth carried at our Trader Joe’s.

Neat

Very sweet and pleasant. No bitterness. There is nothing wrong with this vermouth, but Ponti has a bit more flavor. In any case, you probably aren’t buying this stuff to drink on the rocks.

Negroni

Serviceable.

Manhattan

Serviceable.

Best For

You’re shopping a TJ’s and you need some vermouth and they are out of Ponti.

Update: As of 2016 this product appears to have a new label: Sole Vermouth Rosso. This is what Trader Joe’s now carries in our area. Sole is imported by D’Aquino and tastes the same as D’Aquino Rosso, so I think it’s the same product.

4. Martini & Rossi Rosso ($7.99 750ml Safeway)

The world’s most popular sweet vermouth. Tasty and reliable, this vermouth is a straight shooter. No bar should be without a bottle of M & R.

Neat

Moderately herbal and jammy. Very slight bitter finish. This is the quintessential all-arounder sweet vermouth, but not a great choice for drinking on the rocks.

Negroni

My favorite. Yes, I said it. Plain old M & R is my favorite vermouth for a Negroni where it provides a solid foundation without competing with the Campari. I don’t like flowery gin nor overly bold vermouth messing up my Negroni!  M & R hits the right balance for me.

Manhattans

Perfectly good in a Manhattan. Nothing you would rave about, but totally acceptable.

Best For

Best bang for the buck sweet vermouth. Every bar should have a bottle. And makes a terrific, balanced Negroni!

5. Cinzano Rosso ($7.99 750ml BevMo)

The other moderately priced contender, from the makers of Campari.

Neat

Initial cola taste and nicely herbal with a slightly more bitter finish than M & R. Cinzano has just enough personality to be tasty on the rocks or with soda.

Negroni

Quite good in a Negroni, but pushes it slightly off balance. I prefer M & R.

Manhattan

Just fine, just like M & R.

Best For

Everyday on the rocks. That touch of extra character and bitterness over the M & R makes this a better choice for drinking on the rocks or with a splash of soda (hence the near empty bottle in the photo).

6. Vya Vermouth Aperitif ($ 12.99 375ml BevMo)

A relative newcomer from California.

Neat

Initial slight cola flavor followed by an herbal finish of somewhat mysterious makeup — maybe coconut? I find Vya interesting, but not necessarily tasty.

Negroni

Not my favorite. Adds a subtle distinctive flavor that I don’t necessarily appreciate. This is a case where I’d rather have Gallo in my Negroni than a “better” vermouth.

Manhattan

The Bulleit dominated anything distinctive in this vermouth, so in a Manhattan it was serviceable but not special.  Wanting to give it a second chance I tried it with some Canadian and found it did better with a lighter bodied whiskey (if you like its taste).

Best For

Try it neat. If you like it then it would be good on the rocks or in a Manhattan with a lighter bodied whiskey. But for me, I will look elsewhere.

7. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino ($13.00 375ml BevMo)

Top shelf we are here! One of the more popular high end vermouths.

Neat

Luscious and delightfully herbal with notes of cocoa and citrus. Little bitter finish, but enough herbal depth to still be complex and interesting. This is a delicious vermouth that can easily be appreciated on the rocks — even by non-vermouth lovers.

Negroni

Good, but nothing special. The delicate flavors that are so tasty neat are somewhat lost in the Negroni and the lack of bitterness doesn’t help either.  I wouldn’t use this vermouth in a Negroni — not that it is bad, but it can be put to better use in a…

Manhattan

Spectacular! This warm, flavorful vermouth makes for a balanced Manhattan with depth. Really, really good. I mean — really good.

Best For

Sipping on the rocks and in a Manhattan. A great choice if you like a vermouth with depth, but low in bitterness. A perfect choice for Canadian Manhattans.

8. Carpano Antica Formula ($31.99 1ltr BevMo)

This is the vermouth that is currently all the rage, and is generally considered the best sweet vermouth out there. Pricey, but top notch.

Neat

Bold herbal profile with hints of vanilla and licorice. Strong, pleasant bitter finish. This is a big, complex vermouth with lots going on. Might be a little bold for some.

Negroni

While the Cocchi was a little tame in a Negroni, the Carpano is a little unbalanced. The vanilla pokes through the citrus base of the Negroni in a distracting way. It’s not bad, but not my favorite. Again, a Negroni is not the place to use this vermouth. Instead…

Manhattan

Now you’re talking! The forwardness that hurts in a Negroni shines in a Manhattan as long as you have a bold whiskey to stand up to it. It is fantastic in the Bulleit Manhattan: bold, deep and complex. But pair it with a lighter bodied whiskey and the balance is lost. Canadian lovers should reach for Cocchi.

Best For

On the rocks if you like the bold flavors and in a Manhattan when mixed with a suitable whiskey.

Tip: If you like the boldness of a Carpano Antica Manhattan, but balk at the price (or worry about the bottle of Carpano loosing character before you finish it) then try using a cheaper vermouth and adding a splash of Cynar amaro. Delicious!).

9. Carpano Punt E Mes ($26.99 750ml BevMo, not pictured)

Carpano Antica’s rambunctious little brother.

Neat

Pow! Wham! Zowie! This is a flavorful vermouth with a big bitter bite. Delicious on the rocks or with soda if you enjoy herbaciousness with a strong bitter finish — and I do!

Negroni

I’m not sure what you call Gin, Campari and Punt E Mes …. but I wouldn’t call it a Negroni. Not that it’s bad, but the Punt E Mes is like a bull in the china closet fighting the Campari to be top dog (how’s that for a mixed metaphor).

Manhattan

Haven’t tried it yet, but I predict it would be quite good — maybe at 1/2 dose.

Best For

On the rocks, or with soda.

10. Cinzano 1757 ($29.99 1ltr, Zanatto’s Market, not pictured)

Cinzano’s attempt at a premium vermouth.

Neat

A little less sweet than normal Cinzano with a bit more herbaceousness and a sturdy bitter finish. Herbal notes are more floral and less complex than Carpano Antica — and the bitterness seems a bit forced. This is a fine vermouth, but if you are in this price range and want a bold vermouth then Carpano Antica is a better choice.

Negroni

Works fine in a Negroni, but isn’t really any better than M & R. Maybe adds a touch more bitterness — but not worth the premium.

Manhattan

Meh. Does not add the depth and complexity of Carpano Antica nor the deliciousness of Cocchi. If you’re going to spend for a premium vermouth for your Manhattans then I would not spend it on 1757.

Best For

In a Negroni if you want to look fancy. But I won’t be buying any more of this vermouth.

11. Noilly Prat Rouge ($12.00 750ml, Safeway, not pictured)

French sweet vermouth. Our local Safeway started carrying it so I decided to give it a try.

Neat

Sweet, light bodied. Low herbal. No bitterness. Touches of clove and prune. Reminds me a bit of Gallo, but a tad more pleasant.

Negroni

OK, but nothing special. Definitely inferior to good old M & R.

Manhattan

Pedestrian. Did not stand up to the Bulleit. As with other light vermouths might work well for those that prefer a lighter Manhattan made with Canadian.

Best For

Those that like a basic, light bodied Manhattan. Me? I’ll pass.

12. LeJon ($3.97 750ml, CVS, not pictured)

I was in CVS buying a birthday card and, of course, wandered down the liquor aisle. I recognized this label from my youth. It was $1.99 on sale — so I had to pick up a bottle.

Neat

A bit winey and not very vermouthy. No bitterness. Not very herbal. Rather unpleasant.

Negroni

First attempt resulted in no detection of vermouth whatsoever. So I tried doubling the portion, and the Negroni became barely drinkable. But why bother.

Manhattan

I haven’t tried yet. Not sure I’m going to.

Best For

Uh….nothing comes to mind. If you want a cheap vermouth then both Gallo and Ponti are clearly better. This is the only vermouth on this list that I would consider truly bad.

13. Sole Rosso ($3.49 1ltr, Trader Joe’s, not pictured)

Recently our local Trader Joe’s stopped carrying Ponti and D’Aquino, and now carries only this brand. Sole Rosso is labeled as being imported by D’Aquino and it tastes just like the D’Aquino Rosso described above (#3), so I suspect it is the same product. See the D’Aquino tasting notes.

14. Rivata Sweet Vermouth ($6.29 750ml Total Wine & More)

We just got a Total Wine & More in our area and they carry this as a mid tier vermouth. (BTW, Total Wine & More destroys BevMo in terms of prices — bye, bye BevMo).

Neat

Sweet with a touch of cherry cola. Low bitterness. First sip on the rocks is tasty, but then it wears out its welcome.

Negroni

Similar to Cinzano in that it adds a slightly different note to the drink. Acceptable.

Manhattan

Not bad! The hints of cherry cola worked pretty well with Bulleit. Not spectacular, but not bad either.

Best For

You’re shopping at Total Wines and you want an inexpensive change of pace. But really you should reach for M & R or Cinzano instead.

15. Dolin (11.99 750ml Total Wine 7 More)

A French vermouth that confirms my impression of French vermouths: while Italian vermouths strive to make a statement, French vermouths are more reserved and prefer to rest in the background of a cocktail.

Neat

Light and mild, Dolin is not too sweet, not too medicinal, low bitterness. Dolin is nicely restrained which makes it very good on the rocks with a twist of lemon.

Manhattan

If you’re a bourbon Manhattan drinker then Dolin seems pretty run-of-the-mill to me. Bold whiskey benefit from a more substantial vermouth backbone.

On the other hand, if you’re a Canadian (or brandy) Manhattan drinker, then Dolin hits the spot. Pleasant, restrained, tasty, it makes for a nicely balanced Canadian Manhattan — although I would still put Cocchi ahead.

 Negroni

A pass for me. Dolin is a bit tame for a Negroni.  Viva l’Italia!

Best For

Canadian Manhattans with a French slant, and on the rocks with a twist.

Summary and Recommendations

  • Best for a Bulleit Manhattan: Carpano Antica Formula
  • Best for a Canadian or Brandy Manhattan: Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
  • Best for a Negroni: Martini and Rossi Rosso
  • Best on the rocks: Punt E Mes
  • Best on the rocks everyday: Cinzano Rosso
  • Best on the cheap: Ponti Sole Rosso (Trader Joe’s)
  • Best everyday/all-around: Martini and Rossi Rosso

Tip: keep your good quality vermouths in the refrigerator and consume them within a couple of months.

And the fun doesn’t stop here.  If you want to go beyond the world of Vermouth see my review of some popular Italian Amari. And for some great cocktails made with sweet vermouth see From the Manhattan to the Negroni: A Tour of the World’s Finest Cocktails

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10 thoughts on “Vermouth Roundup: A Sweet Vermouth Tasting Review

  1. Pingback: Amari: Life is Bittersweet | Joe's Happy Hour

  2. Pingback: From the Manhattan to the Negroni: A Tour of the World’s Finest Cocktails | Joe's Happy Hour

  3. I just picked up a bottle of M&R (my first Red Vermouth bottle was Gallo) and it’s a revelation. I sipped the last of the Gallo bottle and took a sip of the M&R and it’s like night-and-day. The Gallo tastes like some kind of strange cough syrup I imagine my Great-Grandmother giving to my Grandmother. The M&R tastes like a proper cocktail ingredient. I can’t imagine drinking a glass of the stuff, but it should balance out a Manhattan nicely, and should certainly do better in a Negroni than the Gallo. (I think the Gallo Negronis are too sweet.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good article and you’re 110% correct that M&R red/sweet vermouth is the classic red vermouth. I tend to like my liquors classic, white/dry vermouth from France, red/sweet vermouth from France, Vodka/Wodka from Poland(look it up if you think Russia), Gin from UK/esp. London, Bourbon(self explanatory), etc. etc. Anyway M&R is the classic great red vermouth, for white I go with Noilly Prat or Dolin if I’m feeling flush.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello I would like to know your thoughts on Dolin Rouge for on the rocks, Manhattans and even Vieux Carré?
    I have only used Cocchi ( which I enjoyed… even on the rocks), a bit too sweet for my liking and it’s a bit expensive seeing as it needs to be used quick once open.
    If one were to vaccum seal and of course refrigerate, how long till the average person could expect to notice a change in the flavor after opening a bottle of sweet vermouth?

    Like

    • I found Dolin Rouge to be less sweet than Cocchi. They both have complex herbal flavors but the Dolin seemed less balanced and more assertive in its bitterness. They both work for me in a Manhattan, but on the rocks, or in a Negroni or Americano I prefer the Cocchi and since in my area it’s not too much more expensive it’s an easy choice.

      Like

    • I recently picked up a bottle of Dolin and added tasting notes above. Cocchi is still my top pick for a lighter/milder style of vermouth, although Dolin is a respectable and more affordable option (about $5 a 750ml bottle cheaper in my area). Both would be a great choice for a Vieux Carre. And some might prefer Dolin on the rocks — it being a bit less sweet than Cocchi.

      The rule of thumb I’ve heard for storing vermouth is that they keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

      Like

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