Vermouth is one of those things that doesn’t get enough attention. An often overlooked, and grossly underutilized spirit in modern drink-making, vermouth got its start in 16th century Germany as a wine fortified with wormwood, called Wermut, from which the spirit’s name is derived, however, it wasn’t until the mid-17th century in England when the vermouth moniker took hold. Though this is how we’ve come to know fortified wines, it is believed that wines fortified with herbs and roots began in China as early as 1250-1000 BC. This is a spirit with history.
My traditional go-to for the longest time has been the Italian Martini & Rossi, but I’d always heard good things about a little French vermouth called Noilly Prat (pronunciation link). Based on an 1813 recipe, the vermouth is created exclusively using white grape varieties grown in the Marseillan area of southern France and has remained unchanged since the drink’s inception. The exact recipe is a closely-guarded secret, but the variety of botanicals used in the mix include cloves, nutmeg, bitter orange peel, camomile, centaury, and coriander. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, we’re discussing the original dry vermouth recipe, not the red or amber varieties.
Noilly Prat dry has a pale yellowish tinge to it, not unlike an average white wine. It scent is sweet and reminiscent of elderflowers. It carries the same flavor, with a light body and a lingering finish wherein the orange peel is discernible. The most memorable thing about this vermouth’s flavor is just how unoffensive it is. Forget a go-to vermouth for mixing – this might just become my go-to vermouth for sipping.
As a man who enjoys a good dry martini, either with gin or vodka, I can say confidently that if you use any vermouth other than Noilly Prat, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The kind of flavor it adds to the drink is truly remarkable. That goes double for a Manhattan, where the quality of the vermouth is even more important. Wait… Am I really talking about the quality of vermouth? I guess this gig just got serious.
Here’s the thing: If you want to go out and spend five bucks on a cheap bottle of vermouth that will get the job done, go for it. It’s not going to taste bad in your martini (unless you use cheap vodka or gin). However, if you can front the dough (roughly $13.00) for a bottle of Noilly Prat, your taste buds will thank you.