How To Enjoy Vermouth, Italy’s Underrated Aperitif

A beverage once enjoyed by the royal Savoy family, vermouth is making a comeback.
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The holiday season is a great time to stir up cocktails for friends. Our tip? Try Italian vermouth. This ingredient has long taken a back seat to spirits in famous cocktails like the Negroni, Martini, and Manhattan. Recently, however, vermouth has been standing out on its own. Whether mixed into drinks or enjoyed over ice on its own, its glistening white and luscious red hues are a great addition to your home bar.

Cocchi @alchemyofordinarythings @cluboenologique

What is Vermouth?

Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine infused with a mixture of herbs and botanicals to create a unique, flavorful drink. It is higher in alcohol content than wine (generally 15–22%) but it is not technically a spirit. Although it is often served alongside them in cocktails. The word “vermouth” comes from the German word for wermuth (“wordwood”), a bitter herb used to aid digestion and treat fevers. It was also famously used in Absinthe.

Vermouth producers have their own original recipes which can incorporate up to 30 different botanicals. Ingredients usually include wormwood, grapefruit peel, vanilla, gentian rosemary, orange peel, as well as licorice root. The full recipe list, however, is often a closely guarded secret.

The Birth of Italian Vermouth

There are many different stories surrounding the origin of vermouth. The consensus is that vermouth was created for medicinal purposes in the 16th century and found its way into commercial uses in the 18th century in Turin, Italy. Additionally, it has a long aristocratic history and was reportedly the beverage of choice of the royal Savoy family in Piedmont.

The popularity of vermouth has waxed and waned over the centuries. But the cocktail resurgence of the last decade has brought it back into the spotlight. This is largely thanks to the popularity of the Negroni, a cocktail made of equal parts gin, red vermouth, and Campari served shaken over ice.

Though vermouth is produced in many countries, Italian vermouth is considered the best. Vermouth di Torino is even controlled by Italian law to ensure its quality. As a result, the label can only be used if it adheres to production-specific rules.

©Contratto

Italian Vermouth: Dry, Sweet, and In-Between

Vermouth ranges from dry to sweet. While all styles of vermouth are great to prep the stomach before a meal, they also can be enjoyed after a meal.

Dry vermouth is typically radiantly clear and—like its name implies—tastes dry, crisp, and slightly tart. White vermouth, referred to as bianco, has a clear to pale yellow color, and displays more sweet floral notes than dry vermouth. Sweet vermouth is mostly a reddish-orange hue. It acquires its color from the aging of the base wine and caramel that is often derived naturally. Sometimes larger producers will use caramel coloring to achieve the desired shade. The reddish, sweeter style in particular is used to make the internationally famous Negroni. Reports on the history of the Negroni are mixed, but it certainly originated in Italy.

Like wine, vermouth has a brief life cycle before its quality, flavor, and color deteriorate. This drink is best enjoyed fresh, shortly after opening. Although you can store it in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. Get creative and enjoy crafting one of these easy-to-make cocktails at home, or sip it alone over ice with an orange peel or sprig of rosemary.

©Cocchi

Classic Negroni

  • 25ml Vermouth Rosso
  • 25ml Gin
  • 25ml Campari

Negroni Bianco

  • 25ml Vermouth Bianco
  • 25ml Gin
  • 25ml White Bitters

Negroni Sbagliato

The Negroni Sbagliato is known as the “mistaken Negroni.” A cocktail with a history in which an Italian bartender accidentally used sparkling wine instead of gin to make the Negroni.

  • 25ml Vermouth Rosso
  • 25ml Sparkling Wine
  • 25ml Campari

Americano

  • 25ml Vermouth Rosso
  • 25ml Club Soda
  • 25ml Campari
©Cocchi

The Best Artisanal Italian Vermouth

Antica Torino: Vermouth di Torino

Antica Torino was established by Vittorio Zoppi and Filippo Antonelli (who also own Antonelli wineries and vineyards in Umbria). This label is a relative newcomer in the fortified wine category and has made a great name for itself in a short time.

Cocchi: Vermouth di Torino

Cocchi, which has been producing vermouth since 1891, has a long, rich history as a distiller and winemaker. Founded by Giulio Cocchi, the internationally renowned Cocchi is now owned by the Bava family who also produces wine in Piedmont’s Monferrato and Langhe areas.

Contratto: Vermouth Bianco, Piedmont

Contratto is one of the first wineries to produce Italian sparkling wines in the classic method style. Although they have been around since 1867, they began producing vermouth in 1920.

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