Back in January I read a terrifying article in the Wall Street Journal: the formulation of my beloved Noilly Prat dry white vermouth was changing. I socked away a few bottles and ignored the new stuff for a while, putting off the inevitable switch as long as possible. As has been discussed many times here and elsewhere, martini drinkers are stubborn creatures and a change to the most delicious, widely-available white vermouth struck fear in many hearts.
Eventually it was time for a new bottle, and I figured that I should give the new and old formulas a fair taste test. It couldn't really be blind--one is obviously sweeter and darker than the other. But I sought to evaluate them fairly.
Things may get a bit confusing here, as the "new" vermouth (pictured on the left) is actually the original European version that has been made on the other side of the Atlantic for 200 years. The "old", brighter, drier version (on the right) was a separate product developed for the American market around the 1940s and sold until this year. I'll just use the terms European and American to avoid confusion.
I tried both straight (if your vermouth tastes bad on its own, you're using cheap, nasty, or stale vermouth) as well as in a 4:1 ungarnished martini made with New Amsterdam gin.
Tasted on its own, it is light and tangy, like a Bordeaux Blanc made mostly from Sauvignon Blanc (although it's actually made from southern French grapes, mostly Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette). Crisp and herbal. In a martini... well, this is the house martini here at Casa de Benito and I've had it too often to be objective. But it provides a dry, bracing flavor to the cocktail.
Just like the new 2 liter Coke bottles, curves were apparently necessary. The WSJ is correct in that the flavor is closer to Lillet Blanc, though nowhere near as sweet. It is easier drinking as a strait apéritif where it has lower acidity. Made into a martini, it smooths out the gin considerably for what I felt was a great drink. If you want the additional acidity, a twist of lemon or a dash of lemon bitters will take care of that quickly.
Neither version is really superior to the other, but they are different. I will still be on the lookout for another, purely dry white vermouth, but for the meantime I'm happy to have this in the bar. I think the WSJ assessment (and my own initial reaction to the news) was unfair, and I would highly recommend trying out this European version if you get the chance.