Vermouth (UK //; or US // ver-MOOTH) is an aromatized fortified wine flavored with various botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, spices). The modern versions of the beverage were first produced in 1757 in Turin, Italy. Vermouth was consumed as a medicinal libation until the later 19th century when it became an important ingredient in many of the first classic cocktails, such as the martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni. In addition to being consumed as an aperitif or cocktail ingredient, vermouth is sometimes used as a substitute for white wine in cooking.
Historically, there have been two main types of vermouth, sweet and dry. Recently, however, vermouth manufacturers have begun experimenting and have created various styles, including white or bianco, amber, and rose. Vermouth is produced by starting with a base of a neutral grape wine. Each manufacturer adds additional alcohol and a proprietary mixture of dry ingredients, consisting of aromatic herbs, roots, and barks, to the base wine. After the wine is aromatized and fortified, the vermouth is sweetened with either cane sugar or caramel, depending on the style. Italian and French companies produce most of the vermouth consumed throughout the world.
Etymology and history
The name "vermouth" comes from the German word Wermut for wormwood that has been used as an ingredient in the drink over its history. Fortified wines containing wormwood as a principal ingredient existed in Germany around the 16th century. At about this time an Italian merchant named D'Alessio began producing a similar product in Piedmont as a "wormwood wine". By the mid-17th century, the drink was popular in England under the name "vermouth" which has been the common name for the beverage until the present day.
Consumption of wines fortified with herbs and/or roots is believed to have begun in China at least as early as the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties in (1250–1000 BC). The extra ingredients were added to wine to make it a medicinal drink. Wormwood wine also played a key role in India around 1500BC. Recipes for infusing white wine date back to ancient Greece from around 400 BC. A popular ingredient was wormwood, based on the belief that it was effective at treating stomach disorders and intestinal parasites. D'Alessio's version of the libation contained other botanical ingredients in addition to wormwood. Competing brands developed shortly thereafter in eastern and southeastern France contained their own, proprietary mix of ingredients, including herbs, roots, and spices.
Over time, two distinct versions of vermouth became established, one pale, dry, and bitter, and the other red and sweeter. Merchant Antonio Benedetto Carpano introduced the first sweet vermouth in 1786 in Turin, Italy. The drink reportedly quickly became popular with the royal court of Turin. Around 1800 to 1813, the first pale, dry vermouth was produced in France by Joseph Noilly. However, not all pale vermouths produced over time have been dry, and not all red vermouths have been sweet.
The popularity of vermouth as a medicinal liquor waned by end of the 19th century, but the advent of cocktails found a new use for the drink. People found that vermouth was the ideal mixer for many cocktails, including the martini (beginning in the 1860s) and the Manhattan (beginning around 1874). In addition, the popular Vermouth Cocktail, first appearing in 1869, consisted of chilled vermouth and a twist of lemon peel with the occasional addition of small amounts of bitters or maraschino. The popularity of vermouth-heavy cocktails in America, often using twice as much vermouth as gin or whiskey, continued through the 1880s and 1890s. Although the amount of vermouth used in cocktail recipes has somewhat declined, it is still used today as an ingredient in many popular cocktails, and for that reason demand for the beverage has remained fairly steady through the 20th and into the 21st centuries.
Production, ingredients, and flavors
Several wine grapes, including Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, Catarratto and Trebbiano, are generally used as the base ingredients for vermouths. From these grapes, a low-alcohol white wine is produced by vermouth manufacturers. The wine may be aged for a short while before the addition of other ingredients. For sweet vermouths, sugar syrup is added before the wine is fortified with extra alcohol. The added alcohol is usually a neutral grape spirit, but may also come from vegetable sources such as sugar beets. The wine is then placed in large barrels or tanks to which the dry ingredients have already been added. The mixture is stirred off-and-on until the dry ingredients have been absorbed and the drink is ready for bottling. Caramel color is added to make red vermouths. Most vermouths are bottled at between 16% and 18% ABV, as compared with the 9–14% ABV of most unfortified wines.
Dry ingredients often used in vermouths include cloves, cinnamon, quinine, citrus peel, cardamom, marjoram, chamomile, coriander, juniper, hyssop, and ginger. The prohibition of wormwood as a drink ingredient in the early 20th century in some countries sharply reduced its use in vermouth, but small amounts of the herb are still sometimes included. Vermouth brand recipes vary, with most manufacturers marketing their own unique flavor and version of the beverage. Vermouth manufacturers keep their recipes for the drink secret.
Sweet vermouths usually contain 10–15% sugar. The sugar content in dry vermouths generally does not exceed 4%. Dry vermouths usually are lighter in body than sweet vermouths.
In addition to pale and red vermouths, there exists golden and rosé versions, but these are not as internationally popular. The region of Chambéry in France has received an appellation d'origine contrôlée for its vermouths, which include a strawberry-flavored version called Chambéryzette. Lillet and Dubonnet are fortified wines similar to vermouth, but are usually considered separate products.
The term "Italian vermouth" is often used to refer to red-colored, mildly bitter, and slightly sweet vermouths. These types of vermouths have also been called "rosso." The label "French vermouth" generally refers to pale, dry vermouths that are bitterer than sweet vermouths. The extra bitterness is often obtained by using nutmeg and/or bitter orange peel in the drink recipe. Bianco is a name given to a type of pale, sweeter vermouth.
According to Stuart Walton and Brian Glover, vermouth "is as far removed from the natural produce of the vine as it is possible for a fortified wine to get."
Vermouth is a common cocktail ingredient, notably in martinis and Manhattans. When drinking vermouth by itself, it is normally an apéritif (although sometimes it is drunk as a digestif). Vermouth is used as an ingredient in many different cocktails, as people found it ideal for lowering the alcohol content of cocktails with strong spirits as their base, for providing a pleasant herbal flavor and aroma, and for accentuating the flavors in the base liquor. As previously stated, vermouth is an ingredient in the martini, one of the most popular and well-known cocktails. At first, martinis used sweet vermouth. Around 1904, however, dryer French vermouths began to be used in the cocktail. The term "dry martini" originally meant using a dryer vermouth as a mixer, not using less vermouth, as the term is used today.
Sharon Tyler Herbst's book, The Ultimate A-To-Z Bar Guide, lists 112 cocktails using dry vermouth and 82 containing sweet vermouth. Cocktails using either dry or sweet vermouth or both include the Americano, Bronx, Gibson, Manhattan, Negroni, Rob Roy, and Rose. Variations of cocktail recipes using equal portions of dry and sweet vermouths are called perfect, as in a Perfect Manhattan.
The popularity of vermouth in the United States and Great Britain has declined since the mid-20th century, but is still used in those countries in many classic cocktails such as the Manhattan, albeit in smaller amounts. The drink is more popular in other parts of Europe, such as Italy and France, where it is often consumed by itself as an apéritif.
Vermouth can be used as a substitute for white wine in food recipes. The herbs in dry vermouth make it an attractive ingredient in sauces for fish dishes or as a marinade for other meats, including pork and chicken.
Because vermouth is fortified, an opened bottle will not sour as quickly as white wine. Opened vermouth, however, will gradually deteriorate over time. Gourmets recommend that opened bottles of vermouth be consumed within one to three months and should be kept refrigerated to slow oxidation.
The Carpano family continues to operate as a producer of vermouth. Their Punt e Mes is a deep red vermouth with sweet and bitter flavors. The company also produces the Antica Formula brand, a bitter, fuller-flavored version of vermouth. Other Italian producers are Riccadonna, Boissiere, and Gancia.
Martini & Rossi the top-selling international brand of vermouth, which started in 1863 in Turin and produces both dry and sweet vermouths, but is most known for its Rosso. Cinzano and Martini & Rossi also produce rosé vermouths, which are mainly distributed in Italy and France.
Noilly Prat, based in southern France, is primarily known for its dry, pale vermouths, but also produces a sweeter version. The company was founded by Joseph Noilly in 1813. By 1855, Joseph's son, Louis, and his brother-in-law, Claudius Prat, were producing Noilly Prat dry vermouth in Marseillan, Hérault. Another French producer is Dolin, known for lighter vermouths.
New World Vermouths
Atsby is a New York vermouth made from a base of locally-sourced Chardonnay (North Fork of Long Island), and are fortified with craft apple brandy from the Finger Lakes region. Atsby Amberthorn is sweetened with raw summer honey and contains over 21 botanicals. Atsby Armadillo Cake is sweetened with a caramel from dark Indian Muscovado sugar and is aromatized with 32 botanicals.
A California vermouth producer is Sutton Cellars made by Carl Sutton, a San Francisco-based winemaker. Another is Gallo, one of the largest California winemakers, whose red and white vermouths indicate "vinted and bottled" in California.
Vya, established in 1999, is an American vermouth produced in Madera County, California. Vya's drink is made from orange muscat grapes combined with port wine and dry ingredients to make a rich, spicy vermouth.
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