I first tasted and learned about Vermouth/ Vermut, through my paternal family. When I was growing up, my grandmother Rosa, known to her grandchildren as grandma Tota, drank Vermouth everyday right before lunch, she used to mix some Gancia, with a bit of seltzer water and ice and served it with cheese, olives and salami as an aperitif. Of course, my father picked up this habit soon enough, and drank Vermouth every noon himself, since enjoying vermouth hour was indeed very common in the 70’s and 80’s, a tradition copied from Spain, Italy and France, countries where this ritual continues today.
Vermouth or Vermut (in Spanish) comes from the German “wermut” which means wormwood, these are the bark/ bitters used to flavor Vermouth and Absinthe. Historically, it was the monasteries that in the middle ages, used to infuse spirits and wines with botanicals to treat different types of human ailments and illnesses. Now, the actual birth of Vermouth happened much later, in 1786, when an Italian bar owner named Antonio Carpano, created his first Vermouth made from a blend of Muscat wine with local botanicals and started serving it to his customers. As you may imagine, what started in a small bar in Turin became a huge success and pretty soon, many of the important brands emerged, names like Gancia, Cinzano, Martini and Campari. This inspired the French to create their own version, which included more bitters in the recipe and therefore creating a drier style. The French took a step further and founded the first Vermouth Appellation Controlée in Chambéry in 1932.
But, what is Vermouth? Vermouth is a fortified wine, similar to sherry and port. It starts its life as a dry table wine, to which distilled alcohol is added to about 19% ABV. This alcohol usually comes from grape or beet based spirits. The difference here is that Vermouth is aromatized/infused, similarly to Gin, by macerating the base wine with barks, herbs, fruits, spices and botanicals.
Most common Vermouth come in two colors, white and rosso (red), though rosé and golden versions also exist. Red vermouth or Rosso, follows the Italian recipe and is always sweet while white can be either sweet (also known as Bianco) or dry (usually labeled as extra dry). The different flavors/ aromas of Vermouth come from each producer’s own proprietary recipe, and may include spices, such as cinnamon, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, anise, cloves; fruits especially citrus peel from lemon, lime, orange and bergamot; green herbs like marjoram, chamomile, juniper, hyssop, ginger, sage, oregano and most importantly barks including wormwood (the key element of Vermouth), but also juniper, angelica root, licorice root and quinine. The taste varies according to the ingredients and according to the different levels of sweetness, which is added at the end, in the form of sugar syrup and/or grape juice concentrate, also known as mistelle.
The base wine for Vermouth can be made from any grape variety and most producers use what is widely available to them, some of the most common grapes are Clairette Blanche and Piquepoul for French Vermouth and Catarratto, Trebbiano and Muscat grapes for the Italian versions.
Stylistically Vermouth is full-bodied and mostly spicy, featuring herbal or leafy aromas, depending on the ingredients, vermouth can also be floral, or fruity, with citrus notes, but always with a hint of bitterness and tartness, that gives the wine an extra kick!
The best of all is Vermouth’s longer shelf life, once opened, it can last up to 3 months in your refrigerator.
Here are my recommendations:
Boissiere Vermouth Extra Dry was originally developed in France in 1857, but the producer moved to Turin, Italy in the 70’s. This delicious, floral vermouth features rose petals and orange blossom aromas and is infused with a blend of botanicals that includes elderflower, chamomile and coriander. This is a true value, costing only $10.99 a bottle.
Vermouth Mata Blanco and Vermouth Mata Tinto are produced in Bierzo, Spain. The Blanco is made from 100% Godello grapes and is aged for 40 days with a blend of roots and botanicals that includes anise, saffron, mint and thyme. Their red version on the other hand, is a blend of 90% Mencia with 10% Godello grapes and is macerated for 18 month with a blend of roots, flowers and botanicals that include anise, cloves, saffron, turmeric, bitter orange and sage.The importer of these vermouths (Patrick Mata) uses his own family’s recipe that dates back from the 1880’s. $21 each.
Vermut Flores Red and Rosé are originally from Uruguay, and are made with the most important red grape variety there,Tannat. These artisanal vermuts are infused with a blend of over 27 flavorings featuring wormwood, gentian, quina bark, rosemary and coriander and 4 flowers (rose, hop, elderflower and chamomile). $19 each.
Caperitif Lot 11 is an extra dry vermouth/aperitif from the Cape, South Africa, featuring a base wine made from Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Bukettraube grapes. To this base, they add 35 to 45 flavorings that include flowers, grapefruit, herbs, bitters and spices, grown locally in the Cape Floral region. A portion of this vermouth is aged in old oak casks, adding even more punch to the recipe. This fancy vermouth is very dry, almost reminiscent of fine gin. $43
Chazalettes Vermouth di Torino Rosso is made using a recipe that dates from 1876 featuring: wormwood, artemisia, marjoram, angelica, coriander, lemon balm, ginger, bitters, cinchona bark among other enticing flavorings. It was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, who in 1907 granted the Chazalettes the rights to bear the Real House emblem on their bottle labels. $29.99
And finally, Lustau Vermuts, which are different from the rest of the samples I tasted, as they have a sherry base. The Lustau Rojo is made from a blend of Amontillado and PX sherries with botanicals that include wormwood, sage, orange peel and coriander. The Lustau Vermut Rosé features a blend of Fino and Moscatel Sherries with Tintilla de Rota wine, the recipe includes chamomile, vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom and wormwood. $19 each.
As you may see, Vermouth/ Vermut offers a huge variety of flavors for you to experience, whether you choose to drink it, with ice and seltzer water like I do, or in a cocktail such as the Manhattan, Negroni or Martini. Cheers! Silvina.
Thank you to Ole Imports, Broadbent Wine Selections, Palm Bay Imports, Europvin and Global Vineyard for sending samples to me.
#thoughtsoflawina #vermut #vermouth #aperitif #drinkupamerica #fortifiedwines.