Booze of the Week: Nordesia Red Vermouth

Nordesia Red Vermouth may initially get you a few weird looks at a party. But those looks will quickly turn worshipful when the buggers actually try the stuff, I’ll warrant.

I blame the Asterley Brothers.

Ever since I snagged that bottle of their English Red Vermouth, I’ve been mildly obsessed with seeking out new (to me) vermouths.

The obsession was further fueled by two charming chaps I met at a party who had brought along a bottle of Spanish vermouth. What a splendid drink to bring to a party, eh?

Stop staring at me like that. It’s disconcerting.

So I snouted and snuffled around the vermouthy category at The Whisky Exchange and turfed up this opaque-bottled charmer, Nordesia Red Vermouth (The Whisky Exchange, £22.25). It comes in a litre bottle (cue further party cred) and is made in Galicia from the Mencia grape.

So let’s crack it open.

Wow, blimey, it’s spicy. Cinnamon is the biggie — heaps of it — but ginger and vanilla too. Along with the cinnamon, the other thing that hits you in force is red berry fruit (sour cherries) overlaid with orange oils. Like Asterley Bros Vermouth, it’s built on a foundation of red wine not white, and you can feel it in the tannins. I enjoy the extra depth, the grab. It also has a fair old dose of well-integrated bitterness. I’d read that Spanish Vermouths tend to be lighter and more accessible than French or Italian, but I wouldn’t say Nordesia Tinto bears that out: it’s certainly not what I’d call light. Set aside a glass of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, this is clearly the more challenging to drink on its own.

That’s not to say it’s challenging in any kind of pejorative sense. It’s a bloody delight.

I’m drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange peel and that’s how I’d recommend you drink it too, if you please. It’s an entirely different beast from your usual Martini-style vermouths, as you’ve probably gathered by now, and extremely well-suited to drinking in this way. I’ve experimented with Nordesia Vermouth in the context of various cocktails and haven’t yet found one in which it shines. In a Negroni, it’s tough to balance; none of the gins I’ve tried it with has harmonised well. It makes a pleasant enough — if rather spikey — Manhattan, but I’d say other vermouths fit that cocktail considerably better.

But that’s fine by me. The joy of having a bottle of red vermouth open is that you can happily pour yourself a glass on a week night — and keep to just a glass. That’s a feat I find near-impossible with a bottle of wine, so conscious am I of the perils of oxidation. With your red vermouth, you can keep it happily enough in the fridge for a week or two and it holds onto its flavour and freshness pretty well. It makes for a simple and self-contained aperitif, no faffing with shakers or fumbling for multiple bottles, and a mid-week-friendly ABV of 15%.

But you and your mates are going to down the bottle in one sitting anyway, aren’t you? You goddamn sophisticated party animals.

Booze of the week: Asterley Bros Estate English Vermouth

Many things are nicer than a bout of labyrinthitis-induced vertigo. Asterley Bros English Vermouth is one such thing. You possibly shouldn’t drink this until your room spins, but far be it from me to dissuade you… It’s bloody good.

What’s worse than a hangover? I’ll tell you: the symptoms of a hangover (the absolute worst kind), lasting for days, without the benefit of actually having been drunk beforehand.

Reader, welcome to the world of labyrinthitis.

Thanks to questionable goings-on in my manky old inner ear, the world has been spinning in a decidedly unpleasant manner lately. Needless to say, the beast alcohol has taken a back seat during this nausea-wracked time. Along with work, the outside world and anything beyond the most rudimentary forms of motion.

Labyrinthitis isn’t all that fun.

Anyhow, this weekend the good ship Parn seems to have steadied. And I’d like to celebrate that fact, if I may, with a generous glassful of the subject of today’s post: Asterley Bros English Red Vermouth.

I mentioned this vermouth before (in my post about the Negroni Manzanilla, remember?), but only as a footnote. It’s better than a footnote, though. It deserves the spotlight.

There aren’t many English Vermouths knocking about, as far as I can tell. Asterley Bros (they actually are brothers, I believe) leapt with typical Forest Hill panache into the breach. What is it, incidentally, about Forest Hill and alcohol? I’ve only been there once or twice, but you have the Asterley HQ, you have Robert McIntosh (patron saint of UK wine bloggers), you have Forest Hill Gin Club, whose virtues a friend of mine extols… None of these things, mark my words, do you have in Petersfield, Hampshire.

Anyhow. The bros Asterley knocked up a vermouth (alongside, intriguingly, an Amaro and a Fernet, neither of which I’ve yet tried). Unlike lots of red vermouths, the Asterleys’ isn’t made from a base of white wine (the colour of red vermouth normally comes from caramel, not the original wine). Asterley Bros Vermouth, though, is made from a base of red wine (in this case, pinot noir from Gusbourne Estate in Kent). It’s instantly evident, both in terms of the drink’s appearance (darker, tending more towards opacity) and its taste: the grip of the tannin and heft of darker berry fruits is unlike the more herb-led Italian vermouths (Martini Rosso et al).

Which is all frightfully interesting, of course. But you don’t come here for facts, do you?

(Please tell me you don’t come here for facts.)

Let’s taste, then. Starting with Asterley Bros Vermouth unadulterated (well, except for the obligatory twist of orange peel): neat, over ice.

Glass of English Red Vermouth alongside a table lamp

It’s indecently full and sweet in the gob to begin with, but a very nice catch of bitterness steps in fairly quickly, handing over to a bunch of spicy, rooty characters to escort you out. Considerably less sweet than some of its ilk (I’m looking at you, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino) and rather delicious to sip when you want something without the hefty ABV of a whisky (or a Negroni) but with some depth and complexity to it. I know it’s customary in Spain to drink Vermouths neat in this way, and I raise my glass to our Iberian friends in approbation.

And in a Negroni, too, it’s excellent — so long as you’re not after a classic Negroni. Because of its depth and bitter edge, it certainly muscles into the drink. My preference is not to put it up against Campari, but instead pair it with the mellower Sacred Rose Hip Cup (£27.95, The Whisky Exchange), against which I don’t feel it competes to the same degree.

Oh, and it’s sodding blinding in a Manhattan. Really extremely good, anchoring the drink superbly. I put it in a 1:2 ratio with Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey (£27.75, The Whisky Exchange) and a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters.

Now, sorry in advance. I’m going to talk dirty.

I’m going to talk (urgh) marketing.

I don’t know whether the Bros have a natural grasp of the dark arts or whether they’re superbly well-advised. But they’ve done a couple of pretty intelligent things with their drinks. Firstly, by the look of it, they’ve spent a decent amount of cash on the packaging design and sourcing, and have accomplished the two most important goals: it looks expensive and it looks different (bear in mind this will sit alongside bottles of Martini Rosso, Punt e Mes and the like).

Bottle of Asterley Bros Estate English Red Vermouth

Secondly, they did some rather clever ‘beta testing’ whereby those registering early interest in the company were sent samples of alternative blends before the product was finalised and asked to confirm their preference. An alcoholic A/B test, in other words. What a fabulous, low-cost way to build an engaged base of customers and advocates (and do market research at the same time). Well done, chaps.

I’m not going to write loads more about the Asterley vermouth now — you’re a busy person, I know, and I have another English Vermouth post planned. In any case, I’m too busy drinking.

I have a week of lost labyrinthitis time to make up for…

Asterley Bros Estate Vermouth is available from the Bros own website (£23.95 for 500ml) and is also stocked by The Whisky Exchange, if you want to buy it alongside a host of other booze. It’s 16% ABV, if you’re interested.