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Fountain of vermouth 

Everyone's heard of vermouth, but how many of us regularly imbibe it? For a variety of reasons, I fear not many. But let's change that. For years vermouth and other aromatized wines have tended to play in the cocktail outfield. Forever overshadowed and relegated to dust-covered shelves in many bottle shops, these interesting elixirs have quietly marched on through the years. But without their soft flavors and subtle bodies, a Martini would be flat as hell, and a Manhattan would outright suck. Let's break it down.

An "aromatized" wine has been fortified by adding a distilled spirit (usually brandy of some sort), raising the alcohol and rounding out the flavor and mouthfeel of a generally lean and acidic base. Then these robust wines are seasoned with fruits, herbs, barks, and other natural goodness. Broadly speaking, these botanical beauties are meant to be enjoyed as aperitifs or appetite stimulators. Vermouth is the most popular, and comes in three types, in order of sweetness: dry, sweet, and white.

So what makes them great for cocktails? Besides the cool history of the great houses like Carpano or Dolin, these complex treats have many different applications. Add a little dry vermouth to a glass of ice and top with soda water and lemon for a delicious spritzer. I like to use a half measure of dry or sweet to temper high octane brandies or whiskies for a smoother dram. White/Blanc vermouths are great in iced teas with mint and citrus. They're all great in fortifying sauces when cooking. Vermouths are inexpensive, too, so your experimentation won't break the bank.

Some vermouth pointers:

While generally reasonable and often garbed in outdated packaging, dirt cheap is a bad thing!

Stick to reputable houses like Dolin, Noilly Prat, Cinzano, and Carpano.

Keep them in the fridge after opening. Remember, they're still wines and will oxidize over time.

Don't go more than a couple of months maximum on a bottle.

Go dust off a bottle and get fortified!

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