More than English Wine: Exploring Vermouth

Gin has seen a surge in popularity over recent years, a trend which doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. It is therefore surprising to me that the wine world’s equivalent, vermouth, has not taken off with anywhere near such enthusiasm. Whilst not exactly like gin, vermouth is an aromatised fortified wine, using botanicals to add layers of flavour in a similar way to its spirited cousin. An often overlooked component of classic cocktails such as Martinis, Negronis and Manhattans, it was originally used for medicinal purposes in China as early as 1,500 BC. Taking its name from wermut (German for wormwood), a key botanical, it later became popularised as an apéritif in the mid-eighteenth century in Turin. 

Just as gin is incredibly varied, we found that English vermouth is equally so, depending on winemaker influence and the botanicals used. From the delicate, elegant In The Loop vermouths, to the spicy Albury, herbaceous Bolney and citrusy Astley, it has been fascinating to explore each producer’s take on this style of wine.

In this article, we take a closer look at some of our favourite vermouths produced from English grapes and, whilst not exclusively created by English Wine producers, this is certainly an exciting extension to our English Wine repertoire. Given their versatility and the potential to be turned into a longer drink, we found them all to be exceptional value for money and a great stocking filler for the festive season.

With a little help from the extremely talented Josh and Rory at The Next Episode in Ruddington, we have created cocktails that show off the characteristics of each vermouth. However, it has to be said that most of the wines that we explored were absolutely delicious on their own over ice, or simply with a splash of tonic. They will certainly be making an appearance from our Christmas drinks cabinet.

In The Loop No. 18 Chardonnay

In The Loop was established last August by Gnina Balchin, the former Assistant Vineyard Manager at Albourne Estate. Her vermouth is produced from English grapes across the South Downs, and a carefully considered blend of just six botanicals makes this the lightest and most elegant of the vermouths that we tasted. Cultivated in Gnina’s greenhouse or locally foraged, the botanicals help to accentuate the English character of the wine and the floral notes work beautifully with the naturally citrus-forward character of Chardonnay. Everything about this drink is classy, from the packaging to the juice – I think we are slightly in love with it.

Serving Glass: Tall, thin highball (approx 300ml volume)
Garnish: Sprig of rosemary & a lemon curl
Fill the glass with ice cubes
Pour in 75ml of In the Loop No. 18 Chardonnay vermouth
Top up with Sparkling Chamomile Cordial

To make the Sparkling Chamomile Cordial: 
Brew 1 chamomile tea bag in a mug of hot water, steeping until fairly strong (approx 5 mins)
Take 1/4 of the amount in caster sugar and dissolve, reheating if needed. Put into a seltzer gun or soda stream to make fizzy

Albury Vermouth Bianco

We found the Albury vermouths to be the spiciest in style, which at this time of year is just perfect. Produced with neighbouring Silent Pool Distillery, the Albury Bianco is made from distilled Sauvignon Blanc grapes blended with Pinot Noir. The complexity was striking, with layers of distinct flavour developing on the palate. For me, this is the perfect vermouth to drink on its own over ice, with the slightly sweeter character balancing out the bitterness of wormwood, and bringing together all of those deliciously warming spices. However, the standout botanical for us was mint, so we wanted to express this with a twist on a Julep.

Glass: Julep cup (copper or glass)
Garnish: Sprig of mint
Muddle the following ingredients with crushed ice in a shaker:
20ml East London Liquor Co Rye
50ml Albury Bianco vermouth
7.5ml House of Broughton ginger syrup
5 mint leaves
2 lime wedges
Strain & pour over crushed ice, garnished with a mint sprig

Astley Vermouth

Astley Vineyard has seen a resurgence over the past few years under the Haywood family. Focussing on producing quality still, sparkling and sweet wines from Madeleine Angevine, Siegerrebe, Bacchus and Kerner, winemaker, Chris, is putting a modern stamp on the traditional varieties with wines such as this vermouth, his Orange Kerner and a sparkling Sec. The vermouth is distinctly citrus in style, with a herbaceous undertone. We went with a simple play on a Bee’s Knees to really make this character shine.

Glass: Martini
Garnish: Sage leaf
Give the following ingredients a very short wet shake (5-6 shakes) in order to get some dilution:
50ml Astley vermouth
25ml Brockmans Gin
25ml pineapple juice
1.5 bar spoons (7.5ml) honey
10ml lemon juice
1 sage leaf
Strain into a dry shaker (no ice) and give it a longer shake to foam the pineapple juice. Pour into a Martini glass with no ice.

Albourne ’40’ Vermouth

Headed up by Alison Nightingale, Albourne Vineyard was the first Sussex producer to create a vermouth. We delved into further detail in our article in April 2018, when we noted the diverse blend of botanicals in the wine. Certainly the most complex vermouth in our tasting, the Albourne ‘40’ utilises, as its name suggests, no less than 40 botanicals. Off-dry in style, the touch of sweetness helps to lift the spicy, aromatic nose. We thought this sweetness would work well with our take on a Boulevardier.

Glass: Coupe or Saucer
Garnish: Large ice cube, squeezed orange wedge
Stir the following ingredients over ice:
20ml Cotswolds Peated Cask Single Malt
45ml Albourne ‘40’ vermouth
3 good dashes Bitter Union aromatic bitters
10ml Leopold Bros Aperitivo
Strain into glass over large ice cube

In the Loop No. 3 Pinot Noir

The second of our vermouths from In The Loop, the ‘No. 3’ offers a distinctly different fruit and floral profile to their white vermouth made from Chardonnay, whilst maintaining their trademark elegance. As expected, the Pinot Noir adds a suggestion of red fruit, along with the heather and rose petal floral notes. We decided to keep it simple here, bringing out those floral notes and lifting the palate with some bubbles.

Glass: Flute
Garnish: Hold the foliage
Muddle 1 whole strawberry with 1 bar spoon (5ml) of Hibiscus Syrup & a single drop of rosewater.
Pour into the bottom of the flute
Top up with Fitz Pink
To make the Hibiscus Syrup
Make a mug of strong hibiscus tea. Pour into a pan & add 2 parts sugar to 1 part liquid. Stir to dissolve the sugar, reheating if required.

Bolney Estate Rosso

Bolney is now a three-generation family business in Sussex, with the wines carefully curated by winemaker, Sam Linter. Back in 2018, Sam told us that their vermouth was borne of sustainability as much as curiosity to try new things, utilising the juice from grapes that cannot be used for their still or sparkling wines. The Bolney vermouth has a delicious marmalade bitterness, set off by the savoury herbaceous notes of botanicals from their own hedgerows, plus sloe and eucalyptus flavours. We went full festive with this one and the dark, bitter character of the Bolney Rosso works particularly well with the Christmassy flavours.

Glass: Collins
Garnish: Orange wedge, studded with cloves
Stir the following ingredients over ice:
40ml Bolney Rosso vermouth
25ml Brightwell Rush English Brandy
20ml Christmas Pudding Syrup
50ml freshly squeezed orange juice
Strain into a collins glass over ice.

To make the Christmas Pudding Syrup:
Make a Demerara sugar syrup with 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Break up and stir in a whole individual Christmas pudding. Leave to infuse overnight, before straining.

Albury Vermouth Rosso

Similar to the Albury Bianco, their Rosso is one of the spicier vermouths in our line-up, full of rich, exotic nutmeg, anise, coffee and rooibos flavours, bound together with caramelised honey. This combination worked exceptionally well in our twist on an Amaretto Sour, with the spicy, bitter vermouth mingling with the nutty Amaretto, balanced by the sourness of the lemon juice.

Glass: Rocks
Garnish: Lebkuchen
Dry shake (no ice) the following ingredients, then wet shake over ice:
20ml Lazzaroni Amaretto
30ml Albury Rosso vermouth
25ml lemon juice
12.5ml simple syrup
1 egg white
Strain into glass

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