Vermouth Cont’d – The Quality Quandary

When i began mixing cocktails at home, I was in a quandary. One of the principal tenets of my culinary training had been an emphasis on quality ingredients – to make a superb dish, begin with the best raw materials. In other words, no silk purses from second-rate pig ears. I was using good, if not excellent, base spirits – no Mr. Boston in my house – but the vermouth that was available to me, as well as to other at-home mixologists, was industrial grade, suitable for powering lawnmowers or flame throwers. (I  know I’m exaggerating, but not that much.) And the thought of drinking these vermouths as aperitifs – as some in the craft cocktail movement advocated – was totally unfathomable to me. And then I discovered Vya Vermouths.Vya is made by the Quady Winery in Madera, Ca. Winemaker Andrew Quady, feeling the same quandary as myself vis-a-vis industrial vermouth,  set about to create a fortified, aromatized wine that was well-made. Mr. Quady, with some marketing help, bills his wines as “vermouth for the connoisseur”. I would never make that claim for myself even though Vya became one of my vermouth mainstays. Vya Extra Dry starts with a base wine of Colombard and Orange Muscat to which is added lavender, elecampane, galangal, angelica, orris and linden. Vya Sweet starts with a blend of Colombard, Orange Muscat and Valdepenas to which is added cinnamon, white gentian, galangal and nutmeg. And so, for awhile at least,  I was in vermouth nirvana.
Yet, a small problem developed. Like many wines Californian, Vya Vermouths were big – big rich flavors, well-bodied. And perhaps a bit too big for some of my cocktail creations. What to do? In the end, I was saved by the French.
From Savoy, high in the French Alps, comes Dolin Vermouths. Dolin, credited with being the creators of white vermouth, began operations in 1821 and until recently was not available in the States. Dolin comes in three formulations – Dry, Blanc (some sweetness) and Rouge or Sweet. These vermouths are A.O. (Apellation d’Origine) regulated and protected. As such, their production is mandated by law which stipulates what base wines can be used, the requirements that fresh alpine botanicals – and not concentrates – be used, the type of sugar – dark caramelized sugar – employed in production and what grape spirit  fortifies the vermouth. These are well crafted with a certain delicacy and subtlety. Now my problem with Vya has been put to rest and my vermouth repetoire has grown. When a strong vermouth is needed – for a Manhattan with Maker’s Mark, I reach for the Vya. When making a Martini with Hendricks, I turn to Dolin either Blanc or Dry. Either brand works as an aperitif – no swilling lighter fluid here.
Now this is vermouth nirvana.
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4 Responses to “Vermouth Cont’d – The Quality Quandary”

  1. September 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Vya Vermouth is my favorite! Of course, I might be a little biased since I'm from Madera and work with our winemakers out here. But, I never knew vermouth until Vya and now it has a permanent place on my wine rack for those days when one needs a bit more than a glass of wine. Good choice!

    Happy California Wine Month!

    Allyson Robison
    Executive Administrator
    Madera Vintners Association – Madera Wine Trail

    • Glenn
      September 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Allyson!

      I'm a big fan of Quady Winery and have been so ever since I discovered their dessert wines.


  2. Katrin
    September 2, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    I like your suggestion for the Hendricks Martini with the Dry Dolin. What would you suggest for the Dolin Rouge? I recently bought a bottle, and had been planning to use it in Manhattans.

    • September 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

      How about something pink?

      The Perfect Vesper

      1 part Belvedere Vodka

      3 part Beefeater Gin

      1 part Dolin Rouge

      The Vesper was James Bond”s original cocktail.

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