For a two-ingredient cocktail, there are a surprising number of variables to consider when mixing a Martini. Do you prefer gin or vodka? Would you like to modify it with orange bitters or olive brine? Should the drink be shaken or stirred? How would you like to garnish — with an olive or lemon twist?
Perhaps the most important factor of all is the ratio of spirit to dry (white) vermouth. Order your Martini “wet,” and you’ll receive a drink that matches equal parts vermouth to spirit. Opt for a “dry” Martini, and you’ll sample something closer to the serve Winston Churchill enjoyed. (For the former British prime minister, the perfect Martini famously involved pouring a glass of ice cold gin while “glancing at a bottle of vermouth” across the room.)
Dry vermouth is an aromatic fortified wine, infused with herbs, roots, bark, and flowers, and strengthened by a neutral grape spirit. Not only does the quantity of vermouth affect your Martini, the brand you pour also plays an important part in determining the character of your cocktail.
From classically dry French brands, to old-school Italian bianco vermouths with a hint of residual sugar, to intensely aromatic small-batch artisanal offerings, the category is rich with diversity.
VinePair recently organized a blind tasting to discover the best of the bunch. Our tasters sampled each bottle on its own, then mixed it with an industry-favored London Dry gin according to a classic recipe.
Everyone agreed that when choosing which vermouth to mix in your Martini, you have to consider the profile of your desired cocktail. Some vermouths play the part of supporting actor, elevating the flavor of gin, while others added an extra dimension to the mix.
Here are the seven best dry vermouths for your Martini.
FOR WHEN YOU WANT THE GIN TO SHINE
Like a lightly aromatic floral white wine on the nose, but much more restrained on the palate, Dolin acts as a versatile supporting actor for your Martini. Dirty or clean, with or without bitters, “you can basically do anything” with this vermouth, one taster said. “There’s a reason all my bartender friends pour Dolin,” commented another. Average price: $17.
Made in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Vya Extra Dry infuses blended white wine with a selection of dried herbs and flowers. The herbaceous nose is followed by crisp, clean flavors, similar to Dolin. This is an excellent domestic option for when you want the gin to take center stage in your Martini. Average Price: $23.
FOR A COMPLEX WET MARTINI
Arriving in what looks like a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil bottle, Ransom Dry Vermouth smells like an aromatic, floral-driven sweet wine, with hints of spice and must. On the palate it’s more savory, like a white port or a manzanilla sherry. This vermouth pours a golden Chardonnay color and, when mixed with gin, blends juniper and pine with orange blossom and floral notes. Ideal for a 50:50 Martini. Average price: $20. (375 ml)
Long Island winery Channing Daughters produces a range of limited-run dry vermouths. With names like “Variation One, Batch #3,” the lineup is slightly confusing, but, out of all the dry iterations, Variation One stands out as the most balanced and best quality. There’s a persisting menthol character, seasoned with spiced, floral, and baked fruit aromas. On the palate, it tastes crisp and exceedingly dry. Average price: $28 (500 ml).
FOR A MARTINI THAT TASTES LIKE A VODKA TONIC
Featuring white wine, sugar, brandy, and up to 50 botanicals, Contratto has a strong bittersweet flavor profile akin to tonic water. Serve with a citrus-forward gin with dialed-back juniper (Japanese, perhaps?) for a clean-tasting Martini, reminiscent of a complex vodka tonic. Complete it with a lemon twist. Average price: $28.
FOR A CLASSIC AIRPORT MARTINI
If you’ve ever ordered a Martini in a hotel or airport bar, there’s a strong chance it was mixed with Martini & Rossi Extra Dry. Not all our tasters enjoyed the “candied, grapey” notes when sampled on its own; but when mixed with a juniper-driven gin the verdict was unanimous: This is a classic-tasting dry Martini. Average price: $10.
FOR THOSE WHO LOVE DIRTY MARTINIS
Carpano is aromatic and floral with bright citrus notes. The residual sugar in its bianco-style vermouth makes it a robust match for olive brine in a dirty Martini. Alternatively, pair it with a pickled cocktail onion in a classic Gibson. Average price: $22 (1 L).