Vermouth: So Much More than an Industrial Drink!
Before starting our presentation, we are going to address a linguistic matter: in the Netherlands people call this drink vermout. In Spain it's vermut or vermú. We use the English term Vermouth because that's what our Spanish (naturally) distributer uses. In any case, the three words mean the same thing.
... What exactly is Vermouth?
Vermouth starts out as a (mostly) white wine to which herbs and spices and their extracts are added. It is then fortified with wine alcohol. The most frequently used herbs and spices are bitter wormwood, gentian, orange peel, ginger, cardamom, coriander seeds, ... sometimes as many as 30 or 40 are used. They are initially soaked separately in wine or neutral alcohol before being added to the base wine. The result is a flavourful, fortified wine to which fresh must or caramel is often added to counterbalance the bitter taste of the wormwood. The Vermouth is then stored for a few months (or longer) before it is sold. It is sometimes aged in oak barrels too.
Europe has laid down a few rules ...
- Vermouth must comprise at least 75% wine
- It must have at least one variety of wormwood added to it (there are about 100 different types)
- Its minimum alcohol percentage is 14.5%, and its maximum 22%
Where is Vermouth actually from?
Vermouth, as we know it today, was invented by a Turin distiller, Antonio Benedetto Carpano (1764-1815). However, his concoction was not entirely new. Wormwood wine had previously been prescribed by Hippocrates for stomach ache. Therefore, over the course of the centuries, wormwood wine bottles were more likely to be found in the home medicine cabinet than at the bar. Moreover, the word Vermouth itself comes from the German word for wormwood, Wermut.
Vermouth has been very popular since Carpano's time. Cinzano was the first Italian company to commercialise Vermouth and Martini soon followed suite. The base wine is usually made from local grape varieties. Picpoul and Clairette, for example, in the South of France, Palomino and Pedro Ximénez in Andalusia, Viura in Rioja, and Trebbiano in Italy. In the past, the quality of the base wine left something to be desired, but more and more small producers are making use of downright good wines. This means that Vermouth has become much more than the industrial drink of many people's memories.