Tapas & Vermouth - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Tapas & Vermouth

Recipes to Enjoy at Home

photos by Dylan James Ho

At L.A.’s Otoño, Beverage Director Tad Tobey pairs Axta Blanco and Atamán Rojo vermouths with tapas, and Lustau Rosé vermouth in cocktails.

Following her travels through Basque country, Chef Teresa Montaño joined Loretta Peng in 2012 to open Ración, in Pasadena, California. In 2017, Montaño took another trip to Spain, this time exploring Catalunya, to inform her own restaurant Otoño. When her interest in paella led her to its place of origin, Valencia, she made another discovery. “What was very striking was how many bars were serving red vermouth,” she says. “That was kind of the drink, especially in the hip area of Valencia. Instead of a beer or wine, it was just about vermouth. I got really turned on to it and knew that we had to have a strong program at Otoño.”

She was impressed by one particular tapas bar where they poured red vermouth with each successive dish. “It was simple tapas, like a smoked sardine with toast and tomato, but lovely.” Today, Montaño has her own play on that dish, an anchovy toast at the restaurant. Her boquerones y mantequilla uses a decadent goat butter flavored with tinned skipjack tuna under the Cantabrian anchovies. The butter adds richness and complexity to the white anchovy– and radish-topped toast. Of course, she serves it with vermouth.

Chef Teresa Montaño uses Bub & Grandma’s foccacia for her pan con tomate, topped with jamón ibérico.

Vermouth has a long history in Spain. In 1870, Italy’s Amadeo I of Savoy, who was born in Turin, was named King of Spain. Italians from Turin started bringing vermouth to the Catalan town of Reus in the late 19th century, and the town soon housed as many as 30 producers. By the beginning of the 20th century, vermouth was a popular part of Spanish culture with the introduction of la hora del vermut, or vermouth hour. Originally the lunchtime hour between 12pm and 1pm, it eventually morphed into anytime of day as an aperitif with tapas before a meal. This popularity dipped in the 1970s, however, after the death of Francisco Franco and Spain’s transition to democracy, when many in the younger generation rejected their parents’ traditions—vermouth was out, and Gin and Tonics were in.

In the past decade, Spanish vermouth has been on the rise. Reus and the broader Catalan region of Spain remain key players, but production has spread all over the country. There are now vermouth houses in Basque country, Rioja, Galicia, Malaga and Jerez, the last producing an interesting style of vermouth-sherry hybrid.

This diversity interests Otoño’s beverage director Tad Tobey, who showcases 12 Spanish vermouths by the glass, offering a range of origins and flavor profiles. He finds that the herbal flavors parallel Chef Montaño’s food. To start a meal, he suggests one of the blancos. “The herbaceousness of white vermouths goes hand-in-hand with lighter fare like fresh vegetables, fruits and fish,” he says. “It has aperitif qualities—it kind of lends itself to opening up your palate and making you hungry.”

Which is why Tobey chose Destilerías Acha’s Atxa Vino Vermouth Blanco to pair with Chef Montaño’s pan con tomate. He describes its tropical fruit flavors, scents of vanilla and herbal notes of rosemary and sarsaparilla as tart, bright and refreshing. “You’re hitting all the tastebuds with sweetness from the vermouth and saltiness from the pan con tomate,” he says. Tobey prefers to serve the vermouth on the rocks with a twist of orange and a green olive because Spanish vermouths can be a little bit sweet, and the ice tempers that, amplifying their refreshing qualities.

That’s the standard in Spain’s vermouth bars. Tobey also serves vermouth with a splash of soda or Cava to create a spritz. He tops Alma de Trabanco’s cider vermouth with Cava, finding that its apple-cinnamon flavors are complex enough not to get washed out by the bubbles. He recommends pairing a vermouth spritz with richer flavors, like a cheese plate, after your vegetable or seafood starters. Or you can use the sweeter rosé styles of vermouth in a between-course cocktail. Tobey mixes Lustau and La Madre rosé vermouths with grapefruit juice, simple syrup and Alchermes, a spiced citrus liqueur, for a more complex, savory spritz.

Tobey’s The Misfit Toy cocktail utilizes Lustau and La Madre rosé vermouths, grapefruit juice, simple syrup and Alchermes, a spiced citrus liqueur, for a more complex, savory spritz.

As the meal progresses, Tobey will pair red vermouths with savory dishes like paella, or with chorizo in dishes like Chef Montaño’s patatas riojanas. This dish is hearty, richer than the pan con tomate, and with a touch of spice from the chorizo and chiles. For this pairing, Tobey chose Barbadillo’s Atamán Vermut, a red vermouth made from Manzanilla sherry that is slightly sweet while maintaining a lifted acidity. “The Atamán is robust the same way that the dish is robust,” he says. “Its nuttiness complements what’s in the sauce and its little bit of sweetness can match the spice in the chorizo.”

To finish your meal, Tobey suggests vermouths from Jerez—like Lustau Vermut Rojo, made from Pedro Ximénez and Manzanilla sherries. Their dried fruit and sweet brown-sugar complexity will pair with desserts, like churros y chocolate.

Otoño’s Pan Con Tomate

Serves 4

Paired with: Destilerías Acha Atxa Vino Vermouth Blanco

Pan con tomate is a classic Spanish tapa, found in almost any Spanish restaurant both here and abroad. Chef Montaño wanted to turn up the volume on this classic by ditching the traditional white bread and using focaccia instead—from California-based Bub & Grandma—crisping it up with lots of olive oil. “Biting into it, you can hear the crunch,” she says. “And I think that’s really satisfying when you have the fat of the jamón on top of that crunchy bread.” And while Montaño had wonderful experiences with red vermouth and pan con tomate in Spain, she prefers the crisp lightness of the Atxa Blanco. “The herbaceousness of the Atxa is complementary with the tomato,” she finds. “Red vermouth can be a more one-dimensional pairing with its weight and the umami of the tomato.”


  • 3 of the best tomatoes you can find
  • 2 ounces Spanish olive oil, plus olive oil for toast
  • sea salt
  • fleur de del
  • 4 slices of focaccia bread, sliced into 1 inch thickness (Otoño uses Bub and Grandma’s bread)
  • As much jamón ibérico as you can get your hands on


  • Cut the tomatoes in two and grate the meat of the tomatoes with a cheese grater into a mixing bowl. Use only the meat of the tomato in this recipe; save the skins for a future project.
  • Peel the garlic cloves and microplane them into the mixture with the tomato. Add 2 ounces of olive oil to the mixture and stir to combine.
  • Season liberally with salt. The key is to balance the acid of the tomato with the right amount of salt. Chef Montaño finds that the fat of the olive oil, the heat of the garlic and the salt/acid balance of the tomato can create an addictive combination. Let the mixture sit and marinate while you prepare the toast.
  • Turn on the griddle or sauté pan to medium heat. Once hot, add the olive oil and bread to the pan. You should have enough olive oil to fully coat the bread. Once the bread is golden brown, flip with a spatula, and add more olive oil to begin toasting the other side. Once the bread is toasted, remove from heat and drain on a paper towel–lined sheet tray or plate.
  • Spoon the tomato mixture on top of the toast in a thick layer, season with more olive oil and fleur de sel. Gently mound jamón ibérico on top. Line up the pan con tomate on a platter and serve.

Patatas Riojanas

Serves 4

Paired with: Barbadillo Atamán Vermut

Chef Montaño has two versions of patatas bravas on her menu—a classic fried potato served with garlic aioli and a churros de patatas bravas, a more playful dish with the potatoes presented with the shape and texture of churros. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t traditional diced potatoes,” she said. Montaño based this third take on potatoes on a classic Spanish tapa that is easy to make at home. “I think the richness of the chorizo and how it coats the potato with the fat of the olive oil is just so great with that red vermouth,” she says. “That was the dish that came to mind. It’s very warm and comforting.”


  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced into one-inch cubes
  • 6 ounces chorizo ibérico, or any Spanish chorizo diced into one-inch cubes
  • 5 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup white onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon pimentón de la vera (or other Spanish smoked paprika)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 dried chile ñora or chile cascabel
  • 4 ounces Atamán Vermut or Spanish red vermouth
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • sea salt
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • chile piparra to garnish


  • In a small pot, add chicken stock, potatoes, chile ñora, bay leaf and a few pinches of salt. Bring to a simmer.
  • In a separate medium-sized pot over medium heat, add olive oil and gently sauté garlic and onion, then add salt. When the onions are translucent, add the chorizo and sweat it until the fat is released into the oil. Add the vermouth and simmer three minutes, until the alcohol is cooked out. Season with salt and pimentón.
  • Return to the potatoes and check for tenderness with a fork, which should easily pierce the potatoes without a crunch. When the potatoes are tender, remove them from heat and pour into a strainer, discarding the liquid.
  • Add potatoes to the chorizo mixture. Add olive oil and fold potatoes into the chorizo mixture with a wooden spoon, making sure they are coated with the chorizo and vermouth sauce. Turn the heat down to medium and let the mixture stew for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally so the flavors meld together. When the potatoes release starch into the sauce, the sauce will thicken and the dish is finished. Taste and adjust seasoning—consider the balance of sweetness from the vermouth, smokiness from the chorizo and pimentón, along with the salt and olive oil.
  • Transfer the patatas riojanas to a serving dish and garnish with piparras chiles. Serve immediately.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Alissa Bica is the Associate Editor and Spirits Critic at Wine & Spirits. She is also a sommelier at 71 Above and co-runs the home wine tasting company, Côte Brune and Blonde. In any rare moments of free time, she writes about obscure grape varieties in the blog Off the Beaten Wine Path.

This story appears in the print issue of Spring 2024.
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