Summer Drinks For Relaxing With DTW

Summer is a time for sitting about somewhere new. If you are sitting about on holidays you need two things: something to read (Driven to Write) and something to drink.

From left: Antica Formula, Dubonnet, Punt e Mes, Luis Paez Fino, St Raphael, Lillet, Curatolo Arini marsala

And a chair. Three things then. Driven to write has a host of articles for you to trawl through and there will be another one due in a few hours. As you are sitting about you are not driving so you can enjoy a tipple. We can recommend a few things.

First among the summer beverages is vermouth which has been rather overlooked in recent decades. This drink comes in three styles (mostly) which are, perhaps, suited to different times of the day.

Vermouth is essentially a flavoured and fortified wine. The product is the same year after year, unlike wine which supposedly changes from harvest to harvest and also as the bottle ages. So, if you want variety in your vermouth, you need to change brands or else mix the vermouth with other drinks.

Belsazar vermouth rose: a fourth style!

To drink vermouth you can have it chilled and neat or with a splash of soda and some ice. White vermouth (sweet) and bianco (dry) are based on white wine with botanical flavourings that vary from brand to brand. This is best drunk chilled on its own, that is chilled without ice (with exceptions). Red vermouth is typically sweeter than either the white or dry and can tolerate mixing with soda water (not mineral water) and tonic water. It’s also based on white wine – the colour is probably some form of caramel.

The most well-known vermouth is probably Martini & Rossi which is available almost everywhere. I’ve tried the Martini Red which is a lighter style, lower in sugar and heavier on the cinnamon and rosemary. After Martini & Rossi the selection gets trickier as the other vermouths are not that well distributed.

The great vermouth collapse of the 80s led to Martini & Rossi dominating the supermarket shelves and most of the others being relegated to wine shops or almost vanishing (Dubonnet, St Raphael). And even then most wine shops will only carry one type. I’ve had to go to five places to find these drinks.

I’ve tried Antica made by Carpano, Belsazar, Ferdinands, Punt e Mes and Lillet white. One of our lucky correspondents here has had the pleasure of sampling Dolin. That brand (with its lovely labels) is not available anywhere within 350 km of my home address so I can’t comment on that.

Lillet white is refreshing, fruity and not too sweet. You can drink it like wine but make sure you drink a smaller volume as the alcohol content is higher than white wine. Carpano’s Antica Formula is allegedly the king of Vermouths, with production beginning in 1786. Mixologists swear by it for making cocktails like the Negroni. Whether neat or mixed with tonic, I found it sweet and rather flat, this despite it being made in small batches (the bottles are numbered)**. I expected more complexity. I also tried it with a low-sugar tonic and it worked rather better then. It is impossible to buy soda water in Jutland so I haven’t tested Antica with that.

Rather more interesting and cheaper, is Punt e Mes (also made by Carpano). This is bitter and sweet and goes very well with  a good tonic water (try Franklin and Sons light tonic). Punt e Mes has quinine which accounts for the Mes part of the name: one and a half in Italian dialect, or one part sweet to a half bitter. This is so good I bought a second bottle.

Vermouth is not entirely in decline. Some new brands have appeared which I have yet to try but which pique my interest. From Germany is Belsazar (of which I tasted one version). For this one, its producers went to extra lengths to use a better quality of base wine (gewurtztraminer from the Kaiserstuhl area for the white). I have tried the Belsazar Rose, which as its name suggests, is based on rosé wine. Unlike some of the others, you can taste the wine base. It is good drunk neat, chilled and in a small glass. You get good value for money in terms of the quality.

Ferdinand’s saar dry vermouth: source

Also from Germany is Ferdinand’s vermouth. Unusually, this one is released as a vintage and sold in small, pricey half litre bottles. The distiller and the winemaker both get credits. Much to my disappointment it tastes a lot like the much cheaper Chip Dry Port by Taylor and it’s not dry at all. I wouldn’t mix it with anything – it’s citrus, acidic, sweet with only a faint hint of botanicals. Very curious.

Mancini comes in five versions. The Rosse Amaranto might be like St Raphael amber.

Are we forgetting Dubonnet? The Queen Mother supposedly liked to mix it with gin. I found it very much dominated by berry flavours and it effectively drowned the (inexpensive) cognac I mixed it with experimentally. It probably is best mixed with spirits and not costly stuff either.

If you’re interested you can blow your mind by looking at this website, Vermouth 101, which has more brands on its pages.

The main lesson I get from this is that while vintage wines such as those reviewed by Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker get a lot of coverage, this does not reflect the variety of drinks also available. Presumably the fact that wine is variable means it can be reviewed year after year after year and still be news. The very attributes that made fortified wines and vermouths good for shipping and staying drinkable after the bottle opened are also bad for press coverage. So, once you’ve written about a vermouth that’s it until the producer launches a new version or changes the formula.

However, there are more than enough vermouths out there for one person to try and, like foods, really ought to be a part of a varied drinking diet.

**another reviewer called it “satisfying, with rich vanilla taste with notes of spice and dried fruit”. I thought it too sweet, like a treacly PX sherry which you can buy for a fraction of the price.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “Summer Drinks For Relaxing With DTW”

  1. Noilly-Prat has been a regular fixture in our house for some time. But I got to discover Dolin (dry) recently thanks to Richard (thank you sir, forever grateful), and served on ice with a slice of lemon and a twist it makes for a very fine summer drink indeed.

    Spain also has a fine tradition of late afternoon/early evening vermouth drinking – one which has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence in recent years. And although I didn’t get to go to one of the many ‘vermuterias’ in Barcelona, I made a point of ordering whatever was on offer in village bars and restaurant, ranging from the perfectly pleasant Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva (on ice, slice of orange) to more artisanal stuff.

    1. That sounds just excellent. I’ll be hunting Dolin in the coming days. Last night we cracked open a Lillet: it’s almost like a desert wine with a grapefruity undertone. I am not sure it’s an aperatif, more a drink-on-its own.
      The Spanish vermouth culture is something I have to try plus more sherry.

    2. A recipe for fish sauce called for NP and so I bought some. That was perhaps three years ago and it is daft that I never considered it for this article as it is a vermouthy-aperatify as Lillet (which is much sweeter than I remember it from 2016). The NP dry might be more my cup of soup.
      Today I tried Martini & Rossi’s dry – maybe NP dry is not dissimilar.

  2. My non-alcoholic favourites for the reportedly warm season (it’s decidedly autumnal in the city by the rivers Alster & Elbe) are a homemade lemon ginger rosemary-flavoured lemonade and espresso tonic.

  3. When I was in France last month, I got a bottle of Lillet white (and one of Suze, for the record) to prepare white negronis – both products aren’t sold in Brazil. I’m gonna try Lillet white as a standalone, as you mention, Richard.

    I’m not a vermouth connoisseur, so my tips for summer drinks are a rose wine (the inexpensive Chateau La Boissière, from Rhône, or anything from Bandol) or a good witbier (Blue Moon is my favourite). A glass of mint julep would do well, too.

    1. How was the Suze? It’s not on sale in Denmark. I tried Martini secco today: it’s quite like a dry sherry and works very much better as an aperatif than some of the vermouth I have tried.
      Look out for Lillet red: I wonder is it like Martini red or even like Punt e Mes? They charge more for it, I note.

  4. Thank you. Next time, i will have to test Dolin too.
    In France, my favoutite summer drink is a Cremant (cheaper than Champagne) mixed with Guignolet. Guignolet is made of cherries without atificial flavour, and it is cheap and made of good products, that is what i like. And it is sweat without too much alcohol.

    In France, i really love the high quality of simple products as bread, sausages, fruits, spices and wine. And i love the supermarkets in France, especially the sector with red wine.

    1. That drink sounds a little like a thing I know as a “geisha”. It’s rather good. Actually inexpensive secco makes a good mixer for many drinks. It can be used with Campari and Aperol, for example, plus stout.
      It’s been a long time since I was in a French supermarket. What you say about them applies to Italy. I’m in Austria now and am bowled over by the quality of the produce. They even have flour specially for spatzle. The milk amazed me: super fresh and full fat.

    2. Just came back to Brazil after two months in Lyon. The two things I miss the most: the French girls and the French supermarkets, in no particular order.

    3. While Crémant is cheaper and less famous than Champagne, it has to be said that it can still be a good drink in its own right, and not just for mixing. On the place where we had our wedding, they offered us a very good, organic Crémant d’Alsace, and we didn’t miss Champagne at all.
      I agree about what’s said here about supermarkets, especially in Italy. What I like there are the very small ones you find in tiny villages. Somehow they manage to cram an amazing variety of products ito a few square metres, and usually you have a lot of fresh local products like bread, cheese or sausages and ham. And they always seem to have time to carve up and package the stuff carefully and still have a chat with all the customers.

  5. Richard: my sister lives in Tirol and her favourite supermarket is Hofer. Since she and my brother-in-law are vegans, take this note with a grain of (organic, fair-trade) salt.

    When I visited them, I too was amazed with the supermarkets’ offerings, and I got a bottle of a good champagne (Jacques Lorent) for 15 euro at Hofer.

  6. Austrian supermarkets are excellent too and the alcoholic products are cheaper than in Germany. I am an addict of the Casali Cocounut-rum-choclat-balls – they are available nearly everywhere in Austria – and of the very smooth Prinz-Schnaps (try the older ones with the oak-barrel colour).
    A paradise for alcoholic products (and cheap fuel and tobacco) is Samnaun. That is always my place for a rest on my way to the Garda-lake. Take the small old road to Samnaun, not the wider new one. It is an experience of its own…

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