Wine Dharma

Vermouth guide: all you need to know about the great Italian fortified wine

Vermouth wine guide, fortified wine made with Arthemisia absint, spices flowers Vermouth is a wine flavored with Arthemisia absinthium, spices, Alpine herbs and flowers to which alcohol and sugar are added to give more consistency, roundness, strength and to help preserve them. Vermouth is classified as a fortified wine, it is not a distillate or a liqueur: it’s made with a cold infusion of herbs and spices in wine, sugar and alcohol. If you want you can make it at home, but you can’t sell it as “vermouth”.

The history of vermouth

The history of vermouth is millennial, already the Greeks used to add spices, honey and seawater in wine amphorae, however, the legend according to which Hippocrates would be the inventor of Hippocratic wines, precisely wines flavored with honey, herbs and spices, is just a myth.

To tell the truth, the Hippocratic wine only appeared in documents from the Middle Ages and there are no traces of Greek quotations or testimonies of this ancestor of vermouth. But it is with these first attempts that the foundations are laid for the birth of real vermouth.

But why were Hippocratic wines “invented”? Flavor, healthy, digestive and therapeutic issues, given that they were considered the tonic, but above all the wines were flavored to mask their defects, given that they were harsh and highly perishable products. Venice was the spice capital and held the monopoly of every trade and these wines were fashionable among the nobility and the wealthy classes.

But we are still far from the true vermouth we know today. We must make a leap and reach the second half of the 1700s and move to Piedmont, to Turin to see the birth of the first vermouth at the hands of the legendary Carpano, a young man with a past as a herbalist scholar.

What is vermouth, how is made, Italian fortified wine flavored with herbs What did he do?? It made these ancient mixtures drinkable starting from a great Piedmontese grape variety: Moscato di Canelli, already very aromatic of its own. He added spices, Artemisia and so “invented” the aperitif that has changed the history of wine. In short, his wine became the official drink of the Savoy court: everyone wanted it, every coffee served it and thus began a real revolution, led by a group of “vermuttieri”, who quickly conquered the world.

From Turin, the vermouth passed to Germany and there became Wermut, or absinthe, which is none other than our beloved Artemisia Absinthium. In France instead, it was called vermouth.

In a few years, vermouth changed, other aromatized wines were invented, other versions, but above all, cheaper vines were involved. The Moscato di Canelli was (and is) precious but rare and very popular also for the production of sweet wines, so here came the need to use other wines like Timorasso or Gavi.

Ingredients of vermouth

75% of wine, sugar, ethyl alcohol, spices, aromatic herbs, and aromas. Apart from the aforementioned Artemisia, we can find dozens and dozens of herbs, including gentian, hyssop, elder, vanilla, bitter orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, juniper, angelica, marjoram, mint, saffron, and cinchona.

As you can see, there are many suggestions to balance. Making vermouth is art: you need sensitivity, an egregious palate to choose the right ingredients to create a harmonious symphony. But luckily Piedmont is a promised land with plenty of flowers and herbs in the Alps and some of the best wines in the world. It couldn’t be born in a better place.

Speaking of china, worthy of mention is “vino chinato”, a particularly bitter and complex wine, like Barolo Chinato or Moscato Chinato. They are precious, rare and particular but they deserve all your attention.

Types of vermouth

Dry vermouth for making cocktails, what is vermouth what types of vermouth exist They are divided according to the sugar degree and not to the color. We have extra dry or extra dry vermouth with less than 30 grams of sugar per liter, they are the sharpest, austere and bitter like palate. The dry vermouths contain less than 50 grams of sugar and then we have the sweet vermouth, with sugar equal to or greater than 130 grams. It is the most variegated and is subdivided into white, rosé and red: the only one in which the use of caramel is allowed. In this case the distinct sweet flavor is well balanced by a note herbaceous bittering, however, the taste is very velvety.

How much does a bottle of vermouth cost?

It seems a trivial question, but now we are in the Renaissance of vermouth with a myriad of new artisan bottles that are baked out year after year. So don’t be surprised if you start at 6-7 euros to get up to 35-50 euros for top-notch vermouth. After years of industrial products, this movement is bringing a new conception of vermouth, with real, mottled, carefully made wines, top-quality ingredients, and no chemical aromas. And then remember that vermouth is a wine and if the base is ugly vermouth will be camouflaged, weighed down by more sugar or artificial flavors. Less is more…

How to serve vermouth?

The vermouth should always be served cold, at a starting temperature of 12 degrees. Smooth or on the rocks, but with a slice of orange and the classic lemon peel, which you will have to squeeze over the wine before putting it inside.

How to store vermouth?

It’s a wine, fortified but not a spirit. So keep it in your cellar as the other wines or Marsala, Sherry and Porto. Once open keep it in the fridge and drink in a couple of weeks.

What cocktails should you do with vermouth?

The history of cocktails starts with distillates and vermouth, the two pillars of mixing: it is no coincidence that many of the greatest cocktail recipes involve the use of vermouth as an ingredient. Excluding the South American or tropical cocktails where the real protagonists are fruits and distillates of sugar cane like rum and cachaca, many of the most unforgettable drinks are vermouth based. Think of how dreary life would be without the Negroni or Boulevardier

But let’s see some recipe to try.

With dry vermouth: Martini cocktail, Vodka Martini, Vesper, Tuxedo.

With sweet vermouth: Americano, Negroni, Bronx, Gin and It, Negroni Sbagliato, Sweet Martini, Cocktail Martinez, Manhattan, Rob Roy, Boulevardier.

Photo credits