Tasting notes: Dolin Vermouths are notably lighter, drier and less pungent than their larger commercial counterparts. The particular mixture of plants found near Chambéry give a fresh, restrained and elegant nose, with a subtle, complex bittersweet palate. Even the Blanc and Rouge retain great balance, with the sugar never cloying, and just enough bitterness to whet the appetite. Each can be enjoyed as aperitif on ice, with a twist of citrus, or in a broad array of traditional cocktails.
Location: Dolin produces their Vermouth in Chambéry itself. Once the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, this bustling mountain town is now the commercial center of the French Alps. In addition to the Vermouth, Dolin is as well known today for their Genepi liqueur (made from a famed botanical of the Grand Chartreuse range) which is a longstanding tradition of the alpine resorts of the region.
Production: Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine; the ingredients are wine, herbs and plants, grape spirit and sugar. The practice of aromatizing wine dates back to the Ancient Greeks. This was formerly done to mask poor wine, or as later to add extra complexity to something already good. It also proved to be an effective form of early, homeopathic medicine. Right up until the 20th century, doctors regularly prescribed Vermouths and aromatized liqueurs for all manner of illness, and many people continue to take a glass per day for medicinal reasons. The process chez Dolin begins with purchase of base wine, always white, light in alcohol (10% by volume), and as neutral as possible, both on the nose and palate. To this is added a selection of herbs and plants, which are left to macerate several months. The exact recipes are a closely guarded secret, but there are up to 54 different plants used, most notably wormwood, but also hyssop, camomile, genepi, chincona bark and rose petals. The aromatized wine is then lightly sugared, to less than 30 g/l for the Dry and 130 g/l for the Blanc and Rouge. The color of the Rouge does not come from red base wine, which is unsuitable for elegant Vermouth, and instead comes from the particular plants used, and from sweetening with dark, caramelized sugar. Finally, the Vermouths are fortified – up to 16° for the sweeter styles, and 17.5° for the Dry. Chamberyzette is made with the addition of a juice of wild strawberries from the Alps and fortified to 16° alcohol.
About Maison Dolin & Cie: Dolin is among the few remaining independent producers of Vermouth and the last producing Vermouth de Chambéry. Dolin continue to make the authentic product according to the principles which earned Chambéry France’s only A.O. for Vermouth back in 1932. This means production in Chambéry itself, maceration of real plants rather than pre-prepared infusions, and the unique addition of sugar as opposed to other sweetening products. The finished Dolin Vermouth contains 75-80% wine, much more than those by the large international concerns. The particular quality of Vermouth de Chambéry was first identified in 1821 by one Joseph Chavasse, whose son-in-law Ferdinand Dolin inherited the recipe, and the now eponymous company. Dolin Vermouth was winning medals in Philadelphia, St Louis and London in the late 19th century, and still remains the benchmark for fine French Vermouth. A hallmark of Vermouth de Chambéry was the creation of the Blanc (aka Bianco) style, a first clear vermouth, of which the Dry recipe has been celebrated in cocktails from the 1920s onwards. According to Chavasse’s recipe, the base wine was made from local grapes. However, phylloxera led to replanting in the region with red varieties, or overly aromatic whites such as Jacquère. As with Cognac and Armagnac, the best base wine is very light, and as neutral as possible. Not surprisingly, the majority of the base wine now comes from the Armagnac vineyards of the Gers in addition to local/regional producers.