Simple in composition but complex in character, the Negroni is a popular early stop on just about every drinker’s journey of cocktail discovery. It’s the perfect drink for honing home bartending skills, and an easy formula to remember. Stir equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari over ice, and you’re pretty much good to go.
Although modern variations of the classic Italian cocktail abound, there’s plenty of scope for experimentation using the traditional formula. Campari is all but synonymous with the Negroni, but the growing range of bitter, red aperitifs available on U.S. soil is quietly challenging that status quo. The choice of gin makes a big difference, too. The classic London Dry style, and bottles such as Beefeater, lend bold juniper spice to the cocktail. Lighter New Western Dry gins, like Aviation, serve something more floral and delicate. Both are wonderful in their own right.
The third and final consideration is vermouth, which is perhaps the least explored avenue of at-home Negroni experimentation. Sweet vermouth naturally bridges the profiles of Campari and gin. It shares the fruity, bitter notes of the aperitif, and the botanical qualities of gin.
With so many styles of the fortified sweet wine on offer, it’s a tricky field to navigate. That’s why VinePair took on the task of tasting dozens of Negronis made with vermouths from Italy, Spain, France, and beyond to find the picks of the bunch.
Here are seven of the best vermouths for mixing Negronis, tasted and ranked.
This Spanish vermouth is characterized by unmistakable rose petal aromas and an intense herbaceous palate. That profile rings true when mixed in the cocktail, with attractive floral aromas that lure you into the glass, followed by gripping sips and a lingering bitter finish. Average price: $26.
Dry Muscat and port provide the base blend for this sweet vermouth from California’s Quady Winery. The addition of 17 botanicals infuses the fortified wine with pronounced dried fruit and baking spice notes. As a Negroni ingredient, the vermouth takes the cocktail on a slightly decadent departure from its classic profile, but it’s a must-try for colder winter months. Average price: $22.
A sweet vermouth showcasing something of a sense of place, this bottle is produced at the Antica Distilleria Quaglia in Italy’s Piedmont region. Local specialty Moscato d’Asti provides the bulk of the base wine, while many of the herbs for its botanical bill are grown in the distillery’s fields in the hills of Asti. Bright and herbaceous with wonderfully balanced bitter notes, this vermouth serves a light and refreshing Negroni that’s ideal for aperitivo hour. Average price: $30 (1 liter).
France’s Distillerie des Alpes preserves the history of Alpine vermouth production by using traditional native grape varieties and two dozen local botanicals. The depth of its profile and range of aromas and flavors seem custom- designed for mixing Negronis. Rather than competing with its fellow ingredients, the vermouth blends seamlessly into the drink, serving an approachable cocktail with an attractive vanilla note. Average price: $21.
1757 is the small-batch premium offering from the Cinzano brand. First released in 2014, the name pays homage to the year Cinzano debuted, and its recipe is said to be inspired by the original creations of its founding fathers. This vermouth is much like the Negroni itself: lively and full of flavor, though not lacking in nuance. Its bold character only adds to the drink’s depth and richness. Average price: $24 (1 liter).
Although not used in the botanical bill, it is the sweet scent of vanilla that distinguishes this magnificent vermouth. Mixed in the Negroni, it performs the dual tasks of boosting Campari’s orange pith notes, while allowing the juniper of the gin to shine brighter than any other vermouth manages. Each sip kicks off with refreshing fruit, followed by vanilla and baking spice notes, and a final brooding bitter crescendo that makes it last an age. Average price: $20.
There’s depth and rich character to this vermouth, but it’s also lithe and agile. The nose delivers a burst of botanicals, while the palate darts around from cocoa beans to vanilla to roasted nuts. Introduce gin and Campari and a velvet, luxurious Negroni awaits. This iteration hits all the notes that define the cocktail — sweet, fruity, bitter, complex — but somehow plays them louder than any other vermouth. This is exactly how a Negroni should taste. Average price: $33.
Published: November 19, 2020