LIVE

Spain’s aperitif renaissance finally hits the U.S.

By Marti Buckley
March 09, 2021
Advertisement

On Sunday afternoons in Spain, everyone is drinking the same thing. In every town square across the country, bartenders pour a dark red liquid over ice, drop in a manzanilla olive and an orange slice, and la hora del vermut officially begins. While modern vermouth was born in Turin, Italy, in the 18th century, Spain is where this fortified wine has come into its own. Italian vermouth made a splash in Barcelona in the late 1800s, and studious Spaniards wasted no time in turning their own white wine into vermut.

Vermouth eventually became so popular that it garnered its own slot in the Spanish mealtime schedule: la hora del vermut, or vermouth time. Spaniards are nothing if not experts at drawing out the pleasure of a meal, and popping into a bar for a sweet red vermouth (or three) was the perfect excuse to extend the prologue to their traditional Sunday lunch. Although the drink fell out of favor in the second half of the 20th century, over the past decade, Spanish vermouth has come back with a boom.

Spanish Vermouth
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

No longer a copy of its Italian and French predecessors, Spanish vermouth has evolved to have its own distinct style. French producers (best known for white vermouth) make red vermouths with especially prominent botanicals and a touch of oak from barrel aging. Italian reds, meanwhile, remain classic and traditional with their heavier spice, thicker mouthfeel, and bitter finish. Spanish red vermouths lean sweeter, with more pronounced fruit, and they also show an incredible level of innovation. Single-grape vermouths, vermouths made from esoteric local wines, rosé vermouths, vermouths made according to the lunar calendar—Spain produces over 150 different artisanal vermouths today.

Lucky for us, vermouth time is easy to re- create, with more Spanish vermouths available stateside than ever before. Vermouth invites slow sipping, asking you to carve out a bit of time to stop, relax, and converse—the real secret ingredient to la hora del vermut.

Six Modern and Classic Spanish Vermouths to Seek Out

Spanish Vermouth
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Lustau Vermut Rojo ($22)

Sherry is a fantastic base for vermouth, and Bodegas Lustau combines dry amontillado and sweet Pedro Ximénez sherries to make Vermut Rojo. The sherries develop for 10 years in the solera system, and you can taste that age in this elixir; its bitter finish is tempered with orange peel notes.

Martínez Lacuesta Reserva ($25)

The brothers Martínez Lacuesta developed their vermouth formula in the 1930s and have been producing it in the Rioja town of Haro ever since. White wine is macerated with 24 plants and spices and then aged in French oak. The resulting vermouth is lightly sweet, with a toasted, oaky character.

Casa Mariol Vermut Negre ($25)

Mariol helped bring the vermouth tradition back onto hipster radars in Catalonia. Macabeo grapes are the base of the Vermut Negre, or black vermouth, which gets its color from unripe green walnuts and its herbaceous cinnamon and licorice flavor from over 150 botanicals.

Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva ($25)

Founded in 1884, the bodega in El Morell, Tarragona, was one of the pioneers of Spanish vermouth and maintains traditional methods and recipes. The mahogany- colored Reserva sits in oak barrels for a year, mellowing into a smooth vermouth with fruit notes—it's the most Italian-esque of the list.

St. Petroni Vermú Vermello ($19)

St. Petroni counts itself among vermouth's new generation, touting terroir above all. Most of the base of this impressive, apricot-scented, fresh vermouth is Albariño from Galicia, and the aromatic mix of botanicals includes bay leaf, rosemary, and lemon verbena, abundant in the nearby hills.

González Byass Vermouth La Copa Rojo ($25)

This venerable sherry producer based its warmly spicy, rich vermouth on a recipe from the bodega's archives dating to 1906. Clove, savory, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices over a base of oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherries create its complex range of flavors.

The Marianito Preparado

More an idea than a recipe, marianito is a word that describes a smallish sweet vermouth served over ice. When you order a marianito in Spain, it is often served preparado: garnished with an olive and orange and enhanced with a few drops of this and that. To make your own marianito preparado, follow these steps:

1. Place a few ice cubes (the bigger, the better) in a glass.

2. Pour sweet red vermouth (between 4 and 6 ounces) over ice.

3. Add a dash of Campari, a dash of gin, and a dash of Angostura bitters. But here's where you can freestyle, if you feel like it—use orange bitters instead, or any amaro-style drink, such as Amer Picon, Cynar, or Fernet- Branca.

4. Pierce a green olive and half an orange slice (or peel) with a toothpick, and place it in the drink, giving it a stir.