Vermouth. Without it, James Bond would never have had a Martini and a Manhattan would be simply whiskey and bitters. Essentially white wine fortified with a neutral grape brandy spirit and infused with herbs and spices, vermouth comes in two main styles: red, which is sweet, and white, which is dry.
WHAT TO BUY:
Noilly Prat Dry, $5 for 375 ml This bold, in-your-face white vermouth was reformulated using the original 1813 recipe. Perfect for Martinis.
Vya Extra Dry, $13 for 375 ml Andrew Quady makes this citrusy white vermouth in Madera, California, using Colombard and Orange Muscat grapes.
Martini & Rossi Rosso, $5 for 375 ml Where would the classic Manhattan cocktail be without this popular brand of sweet vermouth?
Carpano Antica Formula, $32 for 1 liter This exceptional Italian sweet vermouth is velvety smooth with notes of dried cherries and orange.
Dolin Rouge, $14 for 750 ml A top choice of serious bartenders, this red vermouth from France was recently made available in the United States.
HOW TO SERVE:
Once an essential ingredient in over half the cocktails known prior to World War I, the old-school aperitif and bartending staple is now back and better than ever. Here are a few delicious ways to enjoy vermouth.
On the Rocks
Pour a few healthy glugs of white or red vermouth over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a lemon or orange twist. Sip before dinner.
For an old-fashioned Martini, mix 50 percent spirit with 50 percent vermouth. For an uptown Manhattan, use Carpano Antica Formula (see above).
The Next Wave
Vermouth takes the lead in the Cherry Lane, a cocktail created by bartender Brian Bartels of Joseph Leonard restaurant in New York's West Village: Combine 11/2 ounces sweet vermouth, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, and 1 tablespoon juice from brandied cherries* in a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a Martini glass; add 2 brandied cherries.* Top off the cocktail with 1 ounce of sparkling rosé wine and finish with a lemon twist.
*Brandied cherries, such as Les Parisiennes, are available at specialty foods stores and from markys.com.