Vermouth Is Back In Fashion – For A Delicious Aperitif, Try Dolin From The French Alps

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Vermouth may be the bartender’s best friend for mixing drinks, but it is also delicious to drink on its own with its flavours full of herbs and spices. And, for once, forget the giants from Italy and try Dolin instead, a small-scale vermouth from Chambéry in the French Alps.

Vermouth is a so-called “flavoured wine”. The flavours come from plants and spices macerated in white wine. Sugar is added, and the wine is fortified with spirits to achieve an alcohol content of between 15 and 22%.

The first vermouth was made in Turin in northern Italy in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. Today, vermouth is made in many countries, but the most famous ones come from Italy and France.

There is dry and sweet vermouth. No vermouth, however, is completely dry. Sugar is added to all of them. These are the European designations for style and sugar content:

1. Extra dry (sugar content of less than 30 grams per litre)

2. Dry (sugar content of less than 50 g/l)

3. Blanc/Bianco/White (sweet vermouth with a sugar content of at least 130 g/l)

4. Rouge/Rosso/Red (sweet vermouth with a minimum sugar content of at least 130 g/l)

The best-selling vermouths are the sweet ones. Italy, with Martini and Cinzano leading the way, is best known for its sweet vermouths, while Noilly Prat, a French brand, is famous for its dry and extra dry.

In good quality vermouth, you should always be able to discern a slight bitterness from the herbs. An essential ingredient is, of course, wormwood; the name vermouth is derived from the German word for wormwood, wermut. Vermouth makers keep the exact recipe a secret. In general, 20–30 different plants and spices macerate in the white wine to give flavour. It could be cinnamon, cloves, orange and lemon peel, coriander, hyssop, basil, gentian, chamomile, ginger…

Getting the right aromatic character is the whole secret. You must have a mixture that gives the wine a herbal and slightly bitter taste that balances the sweetness. The wormwood and also other plants used are considered good for digestion and stimulate the appetite. It is not a coincidence that vermouth is such a good aperitif.

Giants such as Martini & Rossi and Cinzano dominate the vermouth market. But there is room for the small-scale enterprise. Dolin is based in Chambéry in Savoie in the French Alps. The mountains are just around the corner, and here on the slopes verdant slopes, many plants grow that add flavour to the Dolin vermouth.

Dolin made its first vermouth in 1821. The founder’s name was Joseph Chavasse. The company was named Dolin in 1843 when Joseph’s daughter married Louis-Ferdinand Dolin. Upon his death in 1869, his widow Marie continued to develop the company, and then his daughter Marie-Rosalie took over, together with her brother Ferdinand. After the First World War, the Sevez family, friends of the Dolins, took over the company and it is still in their possession today.

Dolin’s vermouth was a success in the Paris cafés in the 1800s. It won prizes, even a medal at the World Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, thanks to Marie-Rosalie’s initiative. The United States was and remains an important exporting country. During the Prohibition period, Dolin even offered non-alcoholic vermouth.

Tasting the Dolin vermouths

Dolin Dry Vermouth

The colour is light, the nose discreet and elegant with an unmistakable herbal character. It feels pleasantly dry in the taste with a touch of bitter citrus and menthol. Superb to drink on its own, maybe with a slice of lemon. A very elegant vermouth. The alcohol content is 17.5%.

Dolin Blanc Vermouth

Dolin made its first white vermouth in 1881. It is herbal on the nose with lemon and fresh almonds. On the palate, there is citrus and elderberry. It has an excellent herbal character and a slight bitterness at the end to balance the sweetness. The plant mixture includes hibiscus, basil, cinnamon, wormwood, gentian and some more. The alcohol content is 17.5%.

Dolin Rouge Vermouth

This was the first vermouth that Joseph Chavasse made. The recipe remains the same. It is easily the best red vermouth I have tasted. The colour is a beautiful copper red. The fruit is ripe and a bit jammy, but combined with the slightly bitter medicinal herbs, it is balanced. There’s a delicious spiciness at the end. The alcohol content is 16%. Drink it cold with ice.

Cocktails with vermouth

Chambéry Cassis: Dry or white vermouth is poured over a splash of crème de cassis. Top up with club soda.

Martini: The classic recipe is half gin and half dry vermouth (or in whichever portions you prefer). Garnish if you want, or not.

Negroni: One-third each of red vermouth, gin and Campari.

Americano: Mix Campari, red vermouth, and lemon juice and top up with sparkling water.

Bamboo: Equal parts dry vermouth and dry sherry and a dash of Angostura bitter.

The easiest one: Dry vermouth with ice and a slice of lemon or as a long drink mixed with your favourite tonic water.

—Britt Karlsson

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