It’s the Christmas break for many of our readers. Naturally you will be spending quality time with Driven To Write now that you have some free moments. What can we recommend you enjoy responsibly?
I have gained access to editor Simon A. Kearne’s “filing cabinet” and have been sampling some of the adult beverages therein.
Lillet is known for its blanc version (a favourite of James Bond). The less well-known Lillet rouge can be understood as a thinking-person’s Dubonnet. If you’ve tried to get to know Dubonnet you will realise why it goes so well with gin: it kills the taste entirely. On its own, Dubonnet is too fruity and too sweet, so I never buy it.
Lillet Rouge is fruity enough, bitter enough and tannic enough to be satisfying on its own or, best, mixed with soda water. It isn’t a vermouth, note, but a tonic wine. It contains quinine and no wormwood. Some recommend mixing it with ginger ale. You can try this but it is a waste of a rather expensive drink, in my view. If you have to mix something with ginger ale use Dubonnet or, better, supernarket red vermouth.
On the vermouth side, Belsazar red is robust enough to serve as an aperatif on its own or as a mixer. I recommend adding soda water which lowers the a.b.v to 8% if you mix 1:1. That way you can enjoy the citrus, cinnamon and artemisia notes and it softens the sweetness (and lowers the viscosity). You might consider drinking it neat as an alternative to port. Chilled, note
Carpano (makers of Antica Formula and Punt e Mes) have a red vermouth. It is less costly than Belsazar and sells in slighty vulgar litre bottles. It is however, very suited to mixing with tonic water, soda or ginger ale. You can also mix it with fino sherry (a capful for a small glass) and ice to make an Adonis.
Moving to white vermouth, we can recommend Carpano Bianco and Carpano Dry. The Bianco is sweet like a desert wine, with vanilla, orange and rose notes and lingering bitterness to offset the sugar. It is best served over ice and can be an aperatif or desert wine. Carpano dry challenges Dolin for its balance of flavour and residual sweetness. Like Dolin, Carpano dry is distinctly vermouthy so one is never left wondering why one didn’t buy a sweet white for half the price. Carpano Bianco and Dry can be described as fridge door staples. While being a good cut above supermarket vermouths, they are affordable enough not be seen as special occasion drinks like Belsazar red or Lillet Rouge.