Two parts dry sparkling wine, one part red vermouth, served on copious ice, an orange slice and green olive – when prepared with good quality Spanish or Italian vermouth, like Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva from Catalonia, or the more readily available Carpano Antica Formula from northern Italy – it’s our best answer for what you should be drinking in place of the dodgy stuff calling itself rosé that is beginning to pile up in cases and bottles by the cash registers of package stores along the shoreline.
It’s been more than a decade of summers since rosé emerged as the espadrilles of the wine world, a faddish drink for the beach and casual garden get-togethers – a wine that is in most cases inexpensive, unserious, refreshing, and has the added benefit of rarely rewarding overspending.
For two hours by boat down the Connecticut River and along the shoreline from Essex to Mystic Seaport on a 1920s-era wooden “commuter” boat, I brought along a few bottles of vermouth to try, along with green Picholine olives, thin-sliced serrano ham, and homemade empanadas.
For a sparkling wine, I brought a dry, modest and fairly ubiquitous Italian prosecco, Desiderio Jeio Brut, that I chose for its price ($15.99) and crisp acidity for a prosecco. I could happily have brought instead an American sparkler like Gruet Blanc de Blancs Sauvage ($19.99) or a French crémant.
We tried three vermouths, all meant for drinking simply on ice: Bèrto Ross da Travaj ($19 1L) a Piedmontese red vermouth imported by Kermit Lynch, Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva ($24.99 1L) a red vermouth aged in oak from the oldest maker in Catalonia, and Carpano Antica Formula (37.99 1L) a cult favorite revival of a late 18th-century Italian red vermouth style.
I could have easily also brought instead Lustau Vermut Rojo ($25.99) or Casa Mariol Vermut Negre ($21.99) or any of a half-dozen other vermouths — particularly Spanish vermouths — appearing on shelves of wine shops and package stores. It’s really a matter of taste and availability — just don’t try to slide by with a neglected bottle of vermouth stashed in the cupboard (an open bottle is good for a couple of months refrigerated) or purchased for mixing Manhattans — Tribuno, Martini and Rossi, or Noilly Prat — all fine enough, but not for sipping or a star turn in sparkling drink.
Yzaguirre (it’s pronounced just how it looks) was the standout favorite, with a nose of figgy pudding, almost velvety in the mouth with raisins, dry ginger, and modest bitter quinine and gentian. Poured over ice and topped with Desiderio Jeio Brut, a Catalan Spritz is everything wine should be with bites of toasted almonds, and cured ham, but often isn’t — almost savory, balancing sweet and sour, and easy to drink.
Once you get past its somewhat irresistible nose of toffee, Carpano Antica Formula is remarkably light in flavor, herbal, with a cane-sugar-like sweetness, and a restrained bitter bite of gentian. As a spritzer it was our second favorite.
Bèrto Ross da Travaj is an entirely other creature, almost a fernet, with a nose of artemisia and mint, and a viscous palate of allspice and pronounced lingering gentian bitterness.