There’s no food pairing this week. The only thing more solid than the liquid is the ice-cube. But what an ice cube. I’ve recently invested in a new ice-cube tray. One that makes massive cubes. This one, to be honest. A large cube melts more slowly, it dilutes the drink it’s in less, retaining its character more.
This was made patently clear to me at The Club at The Ivy in my early twenties when the bar team began to order huge chunks of brilliant ice, like the ones you see in the opening sequence of Frozen. Dropped at the front door, two of them would struggle and swear the beast on to the stainless steel back bar on the fourth floor and saw at it and chip away at the severed blocks to make them perfectly spherical. Brilliant. But a complete faff. So I’ve got this new tray to do broadly the same thing.
Just after my new ice-cube tray arrived, I was introduced to Dan from Vault Vermouth. The stars aligned. I’ve been sipping away at Vault’s Bianco and Rosso, in a rocks glass with one majestic cube ever since.
If you’re into wine, you’re into vermouth. You might not know it yet, but you are. Yes it’s a classic cocktail ingredient – think Rosso in Negronis, Bianco in Martinis etc – but that’s only half the story. Vermouths are aromatised wines. Fortified a bit with the addition of some neutral spirit, then bombarded with botanicals like wormwood, citrus peels, angelica root, bitter orange. Consider it the gin of the wine world; a clean, fresh base pepped up with a complex mix of bitter and aromatic characters. Bianco tends to be fresher and drier, Rosso sweeter and more pronounced – but it’s an increasingly diverse category with lots of craft producers joining the ranks of the old-guard big names like Martini and Noilly Prat.
Enter Vault. Tiny quantities of handmade, incredibly beautiful Bianco and Rosso vermouths produced by Dan Joines and his collaborators in London. Dan’s a successful restaurateur and knows a thing or two about what makes a great food and drink experience. He makes vermouth on the side as he knows it’s one of the finest aperitifs known to man.
And that’s what I’m here to tell you. Keep it simple. Try these both if you can, over ice, in a nice rocks glass and just enjoy the depth of flavour and rolling complexity for what it is. You can always knock up a cocktail tomorrow.
So, the tasting notes;
The Bianco is a light, pale straw-coloured bit of business. The nose is highly herbal with chamomile, thyme and lemon verbena. Those are all from the botanicals used. I also got eucalyptus, dried apricot, peach, fig, white pepper spice and pine, which are more subjective. This is a hugely uplifting, bright vermouth, it’s delicious. The palate is dry, concentrated and refreshing. There’s loads of fruit, ranging from lemon peels, that apricot and peach, through to bitter grapefruit on the finish. There’s a little fresh honey character at the end. It’s a superb drink. A perfect aperitif.
The Rosso is the richer, sweeter, very slightly more viscous textured of the pair – which fits the category. It has all the elegance and swagger of the Bianco but with a pale rose petal colour and a fantastic whack of red cherry, fresh rhubarb, cinnamon and dried bark on the nose. It reminds me of cherry cola, in a very good way. The palate is properly lovely; all that red fruit and rosemary and cinnamon. It’s bitter-sweet, with great acidity carrying it along and a gentle tannic grip holding long into the finish.
So, as ever gang, I just want to highlight a great experience that you can have. I think these should be the drink of your summer. Delicious vermouth served simply and modestly over a single ice-cube. It’s latent potential in cocktails or at the very least served long with soda, intentionally ignored. Just enjoying it for what it is.
Both Vault Bianco and Rosso are £29 for a 750ml bottle. Available from www.vaultvermouth.com