As one of the oldest alcoholic concoctions known to man, aromatized wines date all the way back to when Hippocrates would add ingredients to wine to make “medicine”. There are thousands of different and multiple sub-categories so we will only scratch the surface today. Our goal in this installment is to provide you with a basic understanding of what the different categories of aromatized wines are, how they are made, and to provide you with two excellent cocktails to try on your own. Let’s get started!
CATEGORY 1: Vermouth
Types: Traditional a.k.a. red/rosso/rouge/Italian/sweet; Blanc a.k.a. white or blanco; Dry a.k.a. French
Vermouth is infused with botanicals and gets its name from one of those ingredients, wormwood (Wermut is the German word for wormwood). Although the ingredients used are unique to each producer, common ingredients include quinine, coriander, citrus peel, juniper and cardamom, just to name a few.
The traditional style vermouth (red or Italian) typically has a red hue, but the wine used is white, so the color comes from the additives. In addition to being sweetened and flavored, a neutral spirit is added to help protect against spoilage (by boosting the alcohol content). The infamous Manhattan cocktail would have never been created without this style of vermouth.
Blanc (white) vermouth was first produced by the Dolin family in Chambéry, France and dates back to the 1800’s. Flavored with alpine plants, it has a brilliantly clear color with a complex nose. In cocktails it offers a subtle viscosity to the mouth feel and a subdued nuttiness to the flavor. Although Dolin has been the industry standard for quite some time, there are many producers emerging.
The third type of vermouth, dry vermouth, is as the name promises: a dry flavor profile with little-to-no added sweetener. Originally produced by Joseph Noilly of Marseillan in the South of France in the year 1800, dry vermouth was a welcomed addition to the category. Just like its predecessor, it held helped to create one of the world’s most famous cocktails, the Martini. The original recipe for a martini calls for orange bitters. It's a fun fact most people don't know and makes an amazing drink.
CATEGORY 2: Quinquina a.k.a. Quina/Kina
Types: Rouge a.k.a. Rosso; Blanc a.k.a. Bianco/white
Quinquina is aromatized wine flavored with quinine. Yes, the same stuff they use in tonic to prevent malaria. The name can be traced back to the Peruvian Chinchona tree, the bark contains quinine. Although Quinquina utilizes quinine, it’s only one of the many ingredients you’ll find in them so you can expect the flavor to often be mellowed. However, there are no specific designations for coloring and/or sweetening agents within the category. As a result, products vary on a wide scale.
The rouge style is customarily aged in oak barrels to create its red/brown tone. They typically offer beautiful ripe berry flavors with a well-balanced spice and a hint of brushwood and licorice. Unlike vermouth, rouge quinquina producers will sometimes use red grapes for their base which will also affect the color.
Blanc quinquina often offers a beautiful full-bodied experience with a very wide variety of flavors from umami to lemon. You’ll find more anise flavor in the blanc style as there is no aging involved in the process. Finding the right blanc is like finding the right pair of jeans, you simply must try a bunch on. With such a plethora of styles, flavors and brands you have to get out there and sip some. During your journey, give these cocktails a try utilizing aromatized wines.
2oz rye whiskey
1.25oz sweet vermouth
1dash aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe
The Culross Cocktail
1oz Kuleana Huihui
1oz Lillet blanc
1oz apricot liqueur
.5oz lemon juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe