If your go-to cocktail is a Manhattan, then you’re probably familiar with one of its key ingredients, sweet vermouth. Or maybe you hopped on the negroni train a few years ago, when the sweet vermouth-spiked cocktail was one of the most popular drinks around (despite being 100 years old). But don’t mistake this cocktail mainstay for a one-dimensional ingredient. The heady stuff is also worthy of being enjoyed on its own, and even comes in handy in the kitchen.
Here’s everything you need to know about this versatile ingredient, from where to store it to how to consume it.
What is sweet vermouth?
“All vermouths are fortified wines,” Delish’s assistant food editor Justin Sullivan explained. “Almost all vermouths are made with white wine. What makes [most sweet vermouths] red is the addition of aromatics, sugars and other ingredients.” It’s then spiked with a spirit—hence the “fortified” part of “fortified wine”—which is “usually a neutral grape spirit, like brandy, to up the alcohol content,” Sullivan continued.
How is sweet vermouth different from dry vermouth?
Dry vermouths originated in France, are typically clear or pale yellow in color and tend to be lighter and more floral in aroma and flavor. They also have a sugar content less than four percent. In contrast, sweet vermouths hail from Italy and are typically dark red with warmer flavors. They have a sugar content of up to 15 percent.
“[They] lean into warmer spices and use fruit to add a dark color,” Sullivan added of sweet vermouth, noting that it’s sometimes called red or rosso vermouth.
What does sweet vermouth taste like? And how do I pick one?
“Because there isn't a standardized way of making vermouth, everyone uses different aromatics, herbs, fruits, and flavorings [to make it],” Sullivan said. “They run the gamut both in sweetness and flavor.”
To find a vermouth you like, he recommends diving right in—just start sipping, and see what you like! To get you started, we have a list of our recs down below.
Can you drink sweet vermouth straight? How about in a cocktail?
“That's the most pure way to do it—just over ice or with a bit of soda,” Sullivan said. But if you’re gung-ho on going the cocktail route (and hey, it’s a good choice!), consider two popular sweet vermouth-centric drinks, the negroni and the Manhattan.
For a negroni—which is equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth—Sullivan advises choosing a sweet vermouth “that has a more herbaceous vibe. It'll mix well with the bitter sweet Campari and the very herbaceous, juniper-heavy gin.”
Meanwhile, for Manhattans (a mix of rye whiskey or bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters), Sullivan suggests drinkers “use something a little bit sweeter to mirror the sweet vanilla notes of the rye whiskey."
Want to branch out? Sullivan’s favorite cocktail is the Americano, which is basically a negroni minus the gin. “It's just sweet vermouth, Campari, and soda,” he said. “It's a really easy-to-drink cocktail that I think can really show off your vermouth.”
What foods should I pair with sweet vermouth?
Whether you’re drinking it straight or in a cocktail, sweet vermouths are considered aperitifs, “which are meant to start up your appetite,” Sullivan said. This makes them a perfect pairing for classic appetizers like a next-level olive spread or a traditional cheese board. “Doing a vermouth service with cheese is absolutely amazing,” Sullivan said.
Can I cook with sweet vermouth?
You absolutely can! Just keep in mind the sugar content (it’ll make whatever you’re cooking sweeter) and potentially intense flavors (which can be great in the right dish).
We dig the stuff in tomato sauce made with a base of sautéd onions, garlic, and tomato paste. Usually, one might use table wine to deglaze the pan, but try using sweet vermouth instead, which lends aromatic depth and an herbal kick.
The same deglazing trick can be applied to pan-roasted pork chops or skin-on chicken thighs. “You have all that delicious fond on the bottom,” Sullivan said, referring to the flavorful bits of cooked food that adhere to the bottom of a pan during cooking. “Slice some garlic and shallots, sauté them with a little bit of fat, and then deglaze that with a bit of sweet vermouth,” he suggests. “Reduce that down and make a beautiful sweet vermouth sauce.” From there, you can add in some raisins for added sweetness.
"It's great for things that are a little bit more neutral like fish, chicken, and pork, [so you] can impart the flavors of the vermouth into the protein,” Sullivan said.
If you’re hankering for something sweet, sweet vermouth is a natural fit for dessert. Sullivan likes to reduce it on the stovetop until it reaches a thick, sauce-like consistency. “Add a little bit more sugar, and continue reducing,” he said. You can poach a whole pear in the sweet sauce, or drizzle atop a juicy, in-season grilled peach.
How should I store it?
After opening a bottle of sweet vermouth, keep it in your fridge! Just like other wines, it can go bad once opened. Uncorked and in the fridge, it’ll last for two months. Unopened bottles, however, will stay good on the shelf for three to four years.Wondering which sweet vermouths you should start with? We’ve collected a list of our Delish editors' favorites, as well as some of the most popular brands you’ll be able to find at your liquor store.
Go to almost any liquor store and you'll likely find Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth. People love it for its smooth flavor and consistency, which is perfect for making classic cocktails. The flavor is sherry-like, with a finish of citrus and grape.
This is Sullivan's favorite. "[It's] very aromatic, vanilla-like, some ginger, some cardamom, a little bit of rhubarb, a little acidic. A really great, less intense sweet vermouth," he said.
Another of Sullivan picks, Partner's sweet vermouth lands on the sweeter side. It's made with cherries that "really make it a very sweet vermouth," he said. "It would be a great base for a reduction to pour over ice cream."
This sweet vermouth super affordable, but doesn't skimp on great flavor. Its bitterness is balanced by rich fruit flavors and plays well with other ingredients, which makes it a perfect addition to any Manhattan.
Though on the pricier side (it's $22 for only a 375 ml bottle), this sweet vermouth is worth it. Reviewers love this stuff for its versatility—it's excellent in a wide range of cocktails and adds sweetness without being cloying. "You won't have regrets using this in your cocktail," one reviewer raves.
Just as good in cocktails as it is for cooking, this sweet vermouth is the definition of versatility. The price is right, too, at under $12.50 a bottle. Flavor-wise, it's made with 29 different herbs and spices (including oranges from Spain, cloves from Madagascar, and cinnamon from Sri Lanka), making it expressive on the nose and on the palate.
If deeper, darker flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and cherries are what you want in a vermouth, this intense Cocchi one is for you. Perfect in a Manhattan, it's also lovely over a hunk of ice before a big, heavy meal.
Keep things simple with this vermouth, which requires little more than a block of ice and an orange peel to shine. With notes of citrus, smoky wood, and nuts, it's balanced and dry on the tongue.