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Sweet vermouth is a type of sweet, fortified wine often sold next to dessert wines in wine and spirit shops. The original mixtures for sweet vermouth were all red in color, with the paler varieties typically having a very dry flavor. Today, sweet vermouth may be red or white, and comes in a wide variety of brands and styles. Choosing one kind of sweet vermouth may seem daunting at first, but once you’ve narrowed it down, you should only have to purchase one or two bottles to decide on a favorite. Before you commit your budget to any one brand, it is important to read and understand the vermouth labels.
High-quality red or white wine serves as the base for most styles of sweet vermouth. Near the end of the fermentation process, vintners fortify the wine with brandy or another grape-derived spirit. Sugar syrup is also added, driving the sugar content up to about 14% in most sweet vermouths.
Dry vermouth originated primarily in France, while Italy is credited with creating the best sweet vermouth. Take this information into account and read the bottle labels carefully. Avoid those that have been shipped from France, gravitating toward bottles from Italy. Italian vermouth labels usually have either rosso or bianco printed on the front. Rosso vermouth is usually red and just slightly sweet with a bitter undertone. Bianco vermouth is much sweeter and is often paired with desserts when served during a meal.
Some wine and spirit shops may also sell slightly rare vintages of rose-colored sweet vermouth. Usually labeled rostato on the front, this kind of vermouth is said to be the sweetest of the three colors. It is reportedly a mixture of the best parts of rosso and bianco vermouths, combining the sometimes cloying sweetness of white vermouth with the mildly bitter flavor of red vermouth. If you’re looking for a very balanced beverage that you can sip from a chilled glass, rosato may be your best bet.
After you’ve checked the labels and chosen a color or two, the only thing left to do is purchase a bottle of each and try them. This doesn’t mean you have to pay for a full-sized bottle of something you may not like, however. Search the side isles and the shelves behind the store registers, usually, these areas are stocked with much smaller bottles of sweet vermouth and other spirits. Snap up a 6 inch (about 12 cm) tall bottle of each of your options, chill, pour, sip and decide. You may enjoy all of your choices, or none of them. This is largely a matter of personal taste.
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