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I want to make a chukar cherry sauce recipe which calls for 1/2 cup of sweet red vermouth, which gets cooked and reduced with the cherries and other ingredients. I don't have vermouth on hand, and I'm reluctant to buy a bottle I may never use again given the number of other wines I have around.

So, my question is: what wine or combination of wines and other ingredients would be the best substitute for the flavor of sweet red vermouth in cooking, from the list below?

  • Marsala wine
  • Sherry
  • White table wine (many varieties)
  • Red table wine (many varieties)
  • Sake
  • Sweet white dessert wine
  • Red and white wine vinegar
  • Brandy
  • Other pantry staples (sugar, lemons, etc.)

(I'm OK with the color being different, I really just care about the flavor)

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I'd say sherry or marsala will have the closest flavor profile in terms of sweetness, with obviously some nuance of the herbal qualities of vermouth lost. But you could add some spices and herbs to make up for that (cloves, cinnamon, dried ginger, star anise, maybe bitter herbs like mugwort, which is easy to find where I am, or something like thyme or sage). See this article for a rough rundown of what might be in a typical vermouth.

That being said, fruit compotes are amenable to quite a lot of variations in alcohol. I sometimes used a white wine when making rote Grütze, a German style berry sauce/compote, but it's common to add a splash of something like cassis liqueur and fruit juice, but the one that went over the best I made with tart verjus. Brandy could work in moderation. If I went that direction, I'd use a fruit juice in roughly 90% the volume of vermouth intended and 10% in brandy.

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    If the compote contains other spices, the subtleties of the vermouth might get lost anyway; very possible that it was only used in this recipe because it's a very common fortified wine. I agree with the sherry/marsala recommendation, with the caveat that you should avoid drier styles of sherry (fino or amontillado) that don't have the same sweetness as the vermouth. If that's all you have on hand, supplement with a small amount of sweet dessert wine. – logophobe Apr 6 '18 at 14:33
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    Hmmm, I also have some quite herbal Amaro on hand. So maybe a teaspoonful of Amaro added to the mix? – FuzzyChef Apr 6 '18 at 16:06
  • @FuzzyChef that seems worth a try. And the bitterness of an amaro would probably match nicely with cherries, since as they have hints of amygdalin/benzaldehyde in common. – JasonTrue Apr 6 '18 at 23:43
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    FYI, what I used in the end was 1/2 sherry, 1/2 dessert wine, 2 tsp Amaro. Sauce was good, not sure whether it would have tasted different with the vermouth. – FuzzyChef Apr 10 '18 at 17:26
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I would be bold and use the Marsala without a care. Taste and if you think it needs "something" add a few drops of Angostura Bitters. It will end up with a flavor, just possibly not "the" flavor.

  • The question was how to replicate the actual flavor of sweet red vermouth, though. Thanks for trying. – FuzzyChef Apr 10 '18 at 17:15
  • Chef, no disrespect but, using a substitute ingredient does not create the same affect. Thing is that tastes vary and a change of ingredient will be beneficial for some and not for others. And surprises do happen ie. I like this better. And some will not know the difference. I wanted to give courage to the cook. – BARTOL Apr 11 '18 at 19:46

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