The summer issue

Our summer-packed January issue is out now - featuring our guide to summer rieslings, strawberries and seafood recipes, as well as a look at the best of Bali.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller for just $6 an issue - offer ends 29th January, 2017.

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Australian vermouth

First, it was boutique Australian gin; now vermouth is on the make. Max Allen savours the sweet and the dry.

"Here, taste this," says winemaker Julian Castagna, popping the swing-top from a recycled Grolsch bottle and pouring pale-pink fluid into my wine glass. As I bring it to my nose, Castagna leans back on his kitchen bench in Victoria's high country and gives me his serious look.

I sniff. I sip. It's not wine. Well, it is wine - I can smell the grapes, the vinosity, the ferment. But there are other things in here, too: herbs, spices, a touch of drying astringency on the tongue, a bitterness... And then it hits me: Castagna's making vermouth.

He smiles as he sees my face light up in recognition. "I'm still working on the balance of the ingredients," he says. "But when it's released it'll be the first 100 per cent estate-grown Australian vermouth: the base wine, the botanicals, all grown here at the vineyard."

Castagna is the latest Australian winemaker to jump on the local vermouth bandwagon, joining Regal Rogue, Maidenii and Causes & Cures, all launched in the past couple of years. It's no coincidence boutique vermouths have started appearing at the same time as the boom in Australian boutique gins - what better partner is there for gin than vermouth, and vice versa?

Winemaker Steve Flamsteed, who makes a semi-dry white vermouth and a new semi-dry red (not released in time for our photo) under the Causes & Cures label at Giant Steps winery in the Yarra Valley, explains what goes into making this mysterious drink.

Biodynamically grown grapes (viognier for the white, sangiovese for the red) are hand-picked, whole-bunch pressed and undergo a wild ferment to produce a wine at 14 per cent alcohol. Botanicals such as wormwood (the crucial ingredient, Wermut in German, that gives vermouth its name), orris root, gentian and saffron are macerated in spirit distilled from the base wine. This sweetened, aromatised spirit is then blended with the wine to fortify it and produce vermouth with a strength of 17 per cent alcohol.

Winemaker Gilles Lapalus, of Sutton Grange vineyard near Bendigo, started developing his Maidenii range three years ago, in partnership with bartender Shaun Byrne of Melbourne's Gin Palace. The pair make three Maidenii vermouths, Apéritif, Sweet and Dry, using Sutton Grange shiraz, cabernet and viognier, respectively, as the base wines. Lapalus and Byrne use over 30 botanicals, a third of which are Australian, including strawberry gum, river mint, sea parsley and wattleseed. Each of the styles employs key botanicals to emphasise the flavour profile: kaffir lime leaf, nigella and gentian in the Dry, orange zest and bay leaf in the Apéritif, grapefruit, mace and angelica root in the Sweet. For me, they are the most complex, intriguing and harmoniously blended Australian vermouths on the market.

"It's so much fun to play with flavours like this," says Lapalus.

Regal Rogue founder Mark Ward is also having fun with native ingredients in his Bianco and Rosso vermouths. He says the goal with the Bianco, for example, is to create something citrus-led with sweet florals to follow. "So we complement native botanicals such as finger limes and lemon myrtle with chamomile, elderflower and vanilla for natural sweetness."

Ward is keen to remind people new to vermouth that these drinks are made from wine and should be treated like other fortified wines: the Regal Rogue Bianco, for example, is mostly Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc-sémillon, so it should be kept in the fridge and is best drunk within four weeks of opening.

How best to drink these vermouths? They're all so different, it's worth experimenting to see what works.

I like the super-aromatic, herbal, citrusy Regal Rogue Bianco on its own, over ice, and that's exactly what Ward had in mind when he developed the recipe: "It's designed to be quaffed," he says. "We've flipped the traditional style to bring out the natural aromatics and not overlay it with bitterness."

Maidenii Dry is also good over ice but makes a cracking Martini, and Maidenii Sweet I adore to drink neat: a chilled snifter in a tulip-shaped sherry glass, so I can fully appreciate the seductive, complex aromatics.

Now we need an enterprising soul to produce a local version of Campari and we'll have all the ingredients - with gin and vermouth - for an Australian Negroni.

Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
This summer's best Australian wine label
18.01.2017
Big Poppa's Punching Above
18.01.2017
Tropical Swizzle
13.01.2017
Seymour’s cocktail bar opens in Brisbane
15.12.2016
Toreador #2
14.12.2016
Handpicked Wines opens a cellar door in Sydney
10.12.2016
GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

Jennifer Hawkins Sesion tequila

Tequila is the new black. At least it is for Jennifer Hawkin...

Australian sour beers

Craft brewing in Australia is hitting a sour note, and that’...

Original Sin's Grande Bellezza

A fresh, bright Italian-accented sundowner.

Short restaurant wine lists

Small is the order of the day in restaurants, with tight win...

Mitch Monaghan, Nespresso

We caught up with Nespresso Australia and New Zealand coffee...

Signature Drink: The Baxter Inn’s Charlestown

Grab the mink and the fedora – this Baxter cocktail means bu...

Game up your G&Ts with a Distiller’s Strength Gin

Is this the year of gin going where no botanicals have gone ...

Signature drinks

Thirty of our favourite drinks from Australia's best bars an...

Hot 100 2015 - Drinks

The world is getting hotter and we’re not talking about glob...

Mover, shaker

The best thing you can take to a party, according to cocktai...

How to improve your wine-tasting ability

Drinking wine is more than a matter of taste, writes Max All...

Best Australian red wines for drinking now

Australians are getting a taste for thirst-quenching reds ma...

Best Australian gins

The local gin craze is in full swing. Max Allen taste-tests ...

The art of the cocktail list

In our inaugural Cocktail List of the Year awards, GT cockta...

The Gin Garden's Southside

Looking for a new summer drink? The search is over.

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

×