It’s taken me a while to come around to loving fortified wines. I started exploring cocktails during the tail end of the “everything is a martini” era, and even when I moved to only drinking martinis that were actually martinis, I tended toward the no-vermouth side of things for a long while. It wasn’t until 2006 that I started checking out classic cocktails, and the obsession didn’t bloom in earnest until 2009 or so (it’s steadily grown since then).
Fortified wines are a unique ingredient in that they’re generally subtle — at least compared to many liqueurs, amaros, and the like — and yet they can really take over a drink. For a while this didn’t really work for me, and I have to admit, I still like my martinis on the dry side. But I’ve started really getting into other drinks that feature fortified wines heavily, sometimes even as the star.
Gin’s still the star in this cocktail, but it doesn’t mask the Dubonnet, which is nice. Not technically a vermouth, historically speaking, Dubonnet Rouge is actually a member of the same family as Bonal, Lilet Blanc, and others — quinquinas. These can easily be subbed for vermouth in most recipes, however, since they’re all similar fortified wines.
It’s less bitter than any other quinquina I’ve ever had, though, and the red wine base seems to shine through a lot. Here it matches very nicely with the cherry of the kirschwasser and the botanicals of the gin to make something that’s reminiscent of — but quite different from — a Martinez.
Standard disclaimer with this and all fortified wine drinks: if your vermouth (or quinquina) isn’t fresh, the drink’s not going to taste very good. Fortified wine doesn’t go bad, exactly, but it oxidizes pretty rapidly once you open the bottle. I try to buy mine in half-size, 375 ML bottles in order to get through them quickly. I also store them in the fridge. You can get a couple of months out of something strong and sweet, but anything light like a dry vermouth is going to taste noticeably different after a month or so.
This article is a modified and enhanced version of a post that ran on my nightly cocktail blog, DrinkShouts.