Port Joins Sherry and Vermouth as Sought-After Cocktail Star

Lulu Martinez creates port-based cocktails during Taylor Fladgate classes. Photo: Huge Galdones

As much as any category, sherry and vermouths have benefited from the comeback of the classic cocktail and the searching creativity of today’s bartenders. Drinks including sherry are now almost guaranteed to be on the menu at most craft cocktail bars, and mainstream operations have slowly expanded the number and quality of the vermouths they use for mixing Manhattans and other drinks. There’s even an influx, both domestic and imported, of vermouths that have expanded the range of flavors available from these types of fortified wines.

With recent efforts from one of the major port producers, makers of that fortified wine are seeing that there are many opportunities, finally, for growth not only in the US but internationally wherever cocktails come to mind.

Bars and restaurants all across the country are incorporating them, either as one of a handful of ingredients in assertive cocktails, or as leading lights in drinks on their own. Both vermouths and sherries are even finding their way into some operations on tap.

At the Kimpton Hotels-owned Urbana Dining & Drinks in Washington, DC, bartender Andrea Tateosian is a big fan of the savory qualities vermouth and sherry bring to the glass.

“I’m seeing a backlash against the backlash against vermouth, a movement to two-to-one and even one-to-one Martinis, and it has breathed new life into vermouth as a category. People have found they work really well and have the backbone to support an entire cocktail rather than being a sideline player,” she says.

Not only have Noilly Prat and Martini both started selling more sophisticated (and pricey) expressions in the US market as a result of bartender insistence, two of the largest Sherry producers – Lustau and González Byass – have dusted off some very old recipes indeed and started shipping brands of vermouth here. Gallo’s Lo-Fi Aperitifs vermouths are being rolled out in some markets as products designed to capture new consumers with a different herbal take on the classic sipper.

Sherry’s rediscovery has been well covered, and now, as mentioned, it’s port’s turn. Taylor Fladgate has taken tentative steps toward training about the qualities ports provide that can elevate, enhance or otherwise add flavors to cocktails in a way that partners well with the primary spirits. Port is nuttier, sweeter and more pronounced than many sherries, working wonders as a balance to more bitter ingredients. And if the continuing talk about low-alcohol cocktails, and their increasing placement on menus is any indication, we can expect to start seeing more cocktails made up entirely of fortified wines, sparkling wine and aperitivos.

It’s about time. Like with vermouth and sherry, port can provide a tasty range of flavors that otherwise have been coming from housemade syrups. Not that there’s anything wrong with said syrups, but when reliable and intriguing flavors come already bottled, that’s one less step a cocktail-forward operation needs to take to deliver quality drinks time and again.