Just how familiar are you with the category of aromatized wine?
There are so many misconceptions behind vermouth. It’s a spirit, it’s a wine, it lasts pretty much forever once it’s opened, all brands are created equally. Wrong, right, wrong and wrong. Here are 11 things that might surprise you about the quintessential cocktail ingredient and aperitif.
1. Chambéry, France, is known for its light, clean, floral and Alpine-style of vermouth, produced using up to 30 locally-foraged herbs. The most famous of these is Dolin, which dates back to 1821 and is famously used in an equal parts-ratio gin Martini. But it’s not the only brand available from the region. Vermouth Routin was founded in 1883 and makes Chambéry vermouth in three styles: dry, rouge (perfect for that Manhattan or Negroni) and blanc, a sweeter style that readily mixes with blanco Tequila or unaged whiskey. It’s now being imported to the US.
2. If you prefer a more savory profile in your vermouth, choose a bottle from Reus. In the Catalonia town north of Barcelona that’s the epicenter of Spanish vermouth production, aromatized wine generally made in a wormwood-forward style seems to flow like water. At outdoor cafes on the city’s plazas, it’s typically served in a pint glass over ice garnished with an olive, which coaxes out its savory olive and balsamic notes. Miró is perhaps the most well-known producer, making both an Extra Seco offering as well as a Rojo. Both are intensely flavored rather than subtle, so if you are mixing them into cocktails, be sure to select ingredients that aren’t going to be overwhelmed.
3. ...there is even a museum dedicated to vermouth. That’s right, the Museu del Vermut in Reus has hundreds of bottles, labels, ads and posters to pay homage to the cocktail modifier-slash-aperitif. There is also a full-service restaurant and bar serving up tapas-style dishes with mussels, anchovies, marinated grilled octopus and seared duck breast, along with cocktails and even a molecular gastronomy spherification filled with (what else?) vermouth.
4. As of April 2017, Vermouth di Torino became just the second geographically protected indication for vermouth, meaning that any vermouth made in the Italian region must adhere to regulations about its flavoring, coloring and alcohol content. In 2011, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino relaunched its recipe from 1891, a vermouth which adds depth and complexity to any cocktail. It starts with a base of floral estate-grown Moscato wine, to which botanicals (including cocoa, rhubarb and citrus) are added.
Incidentally, if you find yourself in the town of Cocconato in September, don’t miss Il Palio di Cocconato, the yearly donkey race that’s been going on in the small village for the past 48 years. It’s a huge deal that overtakes the entire town and is loads of fun.
5. “Americano” is a recognized category of aperitif wines which mainly get their flavor from gentian and have a yellow or red hue, and its name may not mean what you think. Cocchi Americano Bianco is made with Moscato wine, while Cocchi Americano Rosa uses Brachetto d’Acqui. Fun fact: the Bianco style became popular when it started being used as a replacement in James Bond’s beloved Vesper for the defunct Kina Lillet. The story behind the name is somewhat nebulous: “americano” stems from “amaricante,” the Italian word for bitter. Whether or not it has anything to do with the American habit of drinking vermouth with ice and soda is up for debate.
6. American producers got into the vermouth game in the 1990s starting in California, making a style that’s referred to as “Western dry.” Represented by companies like Vya, Atsby and Imbue, they have wildly different botanical profiles and no one discernible character or fingerprint.
7. The style of wine used in vermouth isn’t nearly as important as the overall production and the botanicals used. Similar to brandy, the wine is meant to be a relatively neutral base, and grapes included vary depending on the region in which it’s made. French bottlings may be made with Ugni Blanc, those from Italy with Moscato, and Spanish vermouths with Airen, a ubiquitous grape planted all around the country.
8. Vermouth doesn’t have nearly the shelf life of a spirit. Remember: its ABV is like that of wine, not vodka, so once it’s opened, it should be refrigerated and consumed within several weeks. In other words, it you see an opened bottle gathering dust on the back bar, you might want to rethink getting that Martini.
9. Ordering a “perfect cocktail” isn’t just another way of asking for a well-made drink. A perfect Manhattan – or Martini, Negroni or any other libation that includes vermouth – means that the bartender will add dry and sweet vermouth to it in equal parts. It can be a great way to either make a typically dry drink a little more palate-pleasing, or tone down its sweetness.
10. Vermouth is the liquid equivalent to the spice rack in your kitchen. Because it’s chock-full of herbs, spices, flowers, roots, bark and other botanicals, yet has a moderate alcohol level, it can add multi-dimensional flavor to dishes, from salad dressings, ceviche marinades and as the steaming liquid for shellfish, to pan reductions for lamb or duck breast and syrups for desserts. Check out this article about using vermouth in the kitchen.
11. Don’t save all your vermouth for the mixing tin. It’s also incredible as an aperitif during cocktail hour. Serve it over ice, garnishing dry with a lemon peel, rouge with an orange swath, and blanc with a sliced strawberry.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.