When I started making cocktails at home, I knew that I needed to stock my bar with two types of vermouth: dry and sweet. The brightness of dry vermouth gives structure to martinis, while sweet vermouth’s spicy, vanilla-y bittersweetness mellows out boozy Manhattans and Negronis.
There is, however, a world of vermouth beyond the sweet/dry binary. In fact, most vermouths don’t fit neatly into one category—they come in colors from blush pink to honey gold. Some are spicier, some are more floral, some are nearly as bitter as amari. And what I’m reaching for now is vermouth bianco.
All vermouths are made from a base of wine fortified with neutral alcohol and infused with various herbs, roots, citruses, and barks. Vermouth bianco, also known as vermouth blanc depending on its country of origin, falls somewhere between sweet and dry vermouth in terms of sweetness. Biancos vary widely since each brand has its own proprietary blend of botanicals.
Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery, produced in the French Alps since 1821, is a delicate, easy sipper, lightly floral and crystal clear. Just over the border in Italy, Contratto produces a citrusy, herbaceous vermouth bianco with a pale yellow hue and distinctly bitter finish thanks to wormwood and gentian root. Amber-colored Bordiga Vermouth Bianco, another Piemontese offering, is the spiciest and sweetest of the trio, with nutmeg and coriander tempered by chamomile. All three I would buy for their dramatically ornate labels alone.
Hovering at 16 to 18 percent ABV, vermouth bianco is my ideal aperitivo—bitter enough to get my taste buds interested but not boozy enough to obliterate my palate. I sip it topped off with soda or on the rocks with a twist, olive, or sprig of whatever herb I have on hand. On autumn weekends, when it’s neither too hot nor too cold, vermouth bianco is the ultimate in-between drink.