Fortify Me

Washington, D.C. wine bar Vinoteca breathes new life into aromatized wines.

More often than not, it’s seen as that ingredient dispensed drop-by-drop (or in the case of an atomizer—spritz-by-spritz) to add just a whisper of aromatics and flavor to Martini. Unfortunately, it’s also often an ingredient mistakenly lumped along with spirits, opened and left to unintentionally deteriorate on the bar shelf.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that Vermouth is mainly used to make a few classic cocktails,” admits Horus Alvarez. “It has been forgotten as an aperitif.” To relegate Vermouth to the respect it once garnered, the bar manager at the Washington, D.C. wine bar Vinoteca hosts a Vermouth Hour each Monday. Guests can sip a variety of Vermouths offered at $6 for a single pour and served with a side glass of soda, including Dolin Dry, Blanc and Rouge, Cocchi Americano and Carpano Antica. Larger groups can order an entire bottle for $25, which is presented with a recommended mixer and garnish. They can also order a choose-your-own flight for $10 with three different Vermouths, a Vermouth-centric cocktail like the Martini, Negroni and Boulevardier, or sip Alvarez’s homemade offering for $9, a cross between blanc and sweet varieties that he refers to as “pink”—not in color, but in sweetness, spiciness and complexity. While Vinoteca guests are sipping and savoring, Alvarez gives an hour-long tutorial on the category.

So let’s talk about Vermouth’s role in drinks like the Martini, whose classic recipe pours equal parts of it and gin (often with a few dashes of orange bitters.) Why do so many imbibers today either eschew the Vermouth entirely, or order their drink with such a small amount that it’s inconsequential to the overall ratio of the tipple? Oftentimes this aversion is due to a past experience with either a poor quality product—or a high quality one that was improperly stored.

“We constantly see places with Vermouth sitting at the end of the rail at room temperature, it eventually goes bad without anyone noticing, and it keeps being used,” notes Alvarez. Though it sets on the back bar with Bourbon, gin and vodka, Vermouth is technically wine that’s been aromatized with herbs and botanicals, and then fortified—its low ABV means it does not have the shelf life of spirits. Always store it in the refrigerator after it’s been opened, he says. “Once bacteria get inside the bottle at room temperature, you’ll end up with turned aromatized wine that tastes like vinegar.”

Beyond the classic sips, Alvarez suggests playing around with interesting combinations. Spicy, complex Cocchi Americano is great mixed with rye and garnished with a thyme sprig, while delicate Dolin Blanc works nicely served with a splash of soda and a grapefruit peel. The Reverse Martini and Reverse Manhattan switch the standard ratios for the usual recipes, ramping up Vermouth’s botanicals.

But Vermouth, which Alvarez ruefully refers to as the “forgotten child,” doesn’t always need to play the role of mixer. “When you find a Vermouth you like, [don’t] be afraid to drink it on the rocks with an orange or lemon twist. Vermouth is really a complex aperitif, and in addition to being an essential component in many classic drinks, it can stand on its own.”


The Alvarez CocktailThe Alvarez

Recipe courtesy of Horus Alvarez, Bar Manager at Vinoteca, Washington, D.C.

This take on the Martinez uses smoky Mezcal and Alvarez’s house made Vermouth. But Carpano Antica is a good substitute.

1.5 oz. Mezcal

1/25 oz. red Vermouth

.25 oz. maraschino liqueur

3 dashes chocolate bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Add all to a shaker. Add ice, and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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