When it comes to your liquor cabinet, what part does vermouth play? Is it a supporting player, dribbled into martinis and mixed drinks? Or does it ever get to star? If you only know the budget brands of vermouth, you should try Carpano Antica for a change, and see what a terrific aperitif a good glass of vermouth can be. Carpano Antica is an Italian vermouth made by the same company that supposedly invented vermouth. So this stuff has a serious pedigree. It is also supposed to taste much like the original vermouth (an esoteric mix of herbs and flavorings) — a drink that can stand on its own.
What does it taste like? Well, it's the most perfect aperitif. It has rich, dark notes of licorice, herbs, figs, cocoa, and sweet cinnamon. It's full-bodied and a little sweet, but spectacularly balanced. It finishes bone dry. There's no lingering, cloying aftertaste, which you do tend to find in lesser red (or sweet) vermouths. In my liquor cabinet (and wine closet, come to think of it) there really are few greater pleasures than a little glass of Carpano.
I first tried this at a restaurant in San Francisco. My husband ordered a glass of it on the rocks. It came with a slice of orange, and sipping it before our meal began turned out to be the highlight of the evening.
Carpano Antica is really perfect as it is, on its own, but I also mix it in Negronis and in a few other mixed drinks, where its cinnamon notes really grace the mix.
Find it: Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth Liter, $25.99 at K&L Wines. Also in local liquor stores.
Do you ever drink Carpano? Do you drink it straight? Or do you mix it up?
(Images: Faith Durand)