Just a decade ago, “sherry vermouth” could have easily been dismissed as a copy editing error—a missing conjunction, perhaps? But in the intervening years, sherry producers have taken to reviving a tradition that is actually older than one might think.
Some background: From the late 1800s through the mid-20th century, the Sherry Triangle’s bodegas used sherry as a base for a range of aromatized products, from vermouth to quinquina wines (Jerez Quinado), to compete not just with homegrown Catalonian vermouth, but the already well-established vermouth di Torino and the myriad quinine-based aperitif wines that France was (and still is) busy churning out. This subset of sherry production continued apace until the 1960s, when these products (and sherry itself) began their slow decline. Fast-forward to today, and Vermut de Jerez is not only amid a revival, but it’s beginning to look as variable and diverse as the wines that it is based upon.
While many producers rely on historic recipes or approximations of them (Valdespino, Barbadillo), some have taken to riffing. Lustau, for instance, makes three vermouth expressions; its rosado is based on palomino fino and moscatel grapes, with a touch of tintilla de rota (a rare local red grape) to achieve its pink hue. González Byass recently released its La Copa Extra Seco, which is an answer to the dry vermouths of Chambéry or Marseille. This expression, however, achieves a profile that’s wholly unique, combining the yeasty, saline flavors of biologically aged, non-oxidative sherry—that is, fino or manzanilla—with aromatics and the slightly higher alcoholic backbone that defines vermouth.
The latest entry into the canon, Barbadillo’s Atamán, finds a middle way, threading between the sweet vermouth bottlings that are more closely aligned with the region’s past and the inimitable biologically aged sherry profile that González Byass is trying to channel with its extra dry. Barbadillo hails from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the sherry town responsible for manzanilla, which Atamán uses as its base. It’s a leaner, slightly more bitter, and drier take on sweet vermouth.
It and its brethren are carving out an identity for a Spanish vermouth that feels distinct from the French and the Italians, but still draws on a long history of production and base wines that are in a category all their own. So, while the Catalonians may continue to lay claim to the culture of vermouth consumption in Spain, it may be the Andalucians that end up supplying it.
Five Essential Sherry Vermouths
González Byass La Copa Extra Seco
This yeasty, saline, delicately herbal Blanco bottling from González Byass relies on the same six botanicals—among them cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and savory—that go into its sweet Rojo expression. The botanicals spend different intervals over the course of a year in three-year-old fino sherry, which is fortified before maceration to 17.5 percent ABV. The only sweetness comes by way of concentrated grape must, but it’s an extremely modest 28 grams per liter. This bottling makes a salty, complex 50/50 Martini or Bamboo, but it’s so refined as a standalone product that it’s hard to want to mix with it—or frankly, even put it on ice. It drinks like wine.
- Price: $26
- ABV: 17%
Lustau Vermut Blanco
This expression from the Lustau vermouth lineup is the one you’re most likely to encounter in cocktails. It’s made from a base of both fino and moscatel sherries, which are macerated with nine herbs and botanicals, including wormwood, chamomile, gentian, marjoram and orange peel, and bottled at 15 percent ABV with 144 grams of sugar per liter. Thanks in large part to the use of moscatel sherry, it’s floral and rich, with a distinct yeasty, nutty, bitter almond profile that plays well in a variety of Martini variations and riffs on the G&T, like Leanne Favre’s New Crush.
- Price: $23
- ABV: 15%
Barbadillo Atamán Vermut
This two-centuries-old bodega in Sanlúcar de Barrameda used found bottles of the company’s old quina wine and vermouth stocks as the inspiration for this bottling, which is built on a base of manzanilla and macerated with a mix of quassia, wormwood, rosemary, elderberry and Seville orange, among other botanicals. It’s leaner than your typical sweet vermouth, with woodsier notes than its compatriots and a bracing bitter finish. Try it in an Adonis.
- Price: $35
- ABV: 17%
Based on a recipe that this esteemed bodega (which dates to the 1300s) began producing more than 100 years ago, this vermouth shows some of the complexity of great aged oxidative sherry. That’s by design: It’s based on oloroso sourced from some of the bodega’s oldest soleras, blended with moscatel. This vermouth is both rich and bracing, with floral notes (again, thanks to moscatel) backed by warm spice and bitter walnut. It’s excellent on its own, and can level up just about any classic that calls for sweet vermouth (try it in a Jungle Cocktail), but it really shines when taking center stage in drinks like the Old Hickory.
- Price: $29
- ABV: 15%
Fernando de Castilla Vermut
Fernando de Castilla’s vermouth leans explicitly into a more traditional Torino-style profile, with notes of sarsaparilla and warm spice. The bottling calls on a blend of fino and Pedro Ximénez sherries with an average age of eight years and a mix of 27 herbs and botanicals, which spend two to three months macerating in tank. This vermouth has become a hit within Spain, where it is typically served neat or on the rocks, but it slots into a Boulevardier or Manhattan with ease.
- Price: $25
- ABV: 13.5%