Could we find a bottle that would do double duty for cooking and cocktails?
Published Nov. 1, 2017. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 4: Chicken in a Pot
Our recipes often call for dry white wine. Its crisp acidity and lightly fruity flavor add depth to everything from pan sauces and pasta to risotto and steamed mussels. The problem? Standard wine bottles are 750 milliliters, and our recipes rarely call for more than 1 cup (roughly 235 milliliters) of wine. That leaves us with most of a bottle to finish in a matter of days. Dry vermouth, which can be substituted for white wine in equal amounts in recipes, is a convenient alternative. Like Marsala and sherry, vermouth is wine that’s been fortified with a high-proof alcohol (often brandy), which raises its alcohol content and allows to it be stored in the refrigerator for weeks or even months after opening. Although vermouth fell out of favor with Americans during the Mad Men era of bone-dry martinis, its availability and popularity are on the rise. Small manufacturers have popped up in San Francisco and Brooklyn, and bars are responding by featuring vermouth in cocktails. In the past few years, products from European manufacturers such as Noilly Prat and Dolin—which had previously been hard to find in the United States—have become widely available.
Now that we have more options, which bottle should we be buying? We found eight dry vermouths, priced from $6.99 to $24.99 for 750-milliliter or 1-liter bottles, that are available nationally. Our lineup included vermouths produced in Italy, France, and California, with 15 to 18 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). We first sampled them plain, served chilled. Then, to see how they fared in a cooked application, we used them in place of white wine in simple Parmesan risotto.
First, a little demystifying. In addition to being fortified, dry vermouth is infused with botanicals. That exotic-sounding term is a catchall for any ingredient sourced from a plant, including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, herbs, and spices. Those botanicals can be added in a variety of ways: to the base wine, to the high-alcohol spirit, after the alcohol is added to the wine, or at multiple steps in the process. Vermouth is sometimes aged in barrels, which is intended to impart an oaky, vanilla-y quality and can allow harsh flavors or sharp tannins to mellow. But none of that is required. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which supervises alcohol production in the United States, simply stipulates that vermouth must be made from grape wine with alcohol added and have the “taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to vermouth.”
When we evaluated the dry vermouths, they fell into two broad groups. Some were intensely flavored, with lots of warm spice and “funky,” almost “medicinal” hits of “...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.