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 spring season, with its warmer weather and longer days, is a great time to stir up refreshing cocktails for friends. Our trip? Try out vermouth. An ingredient that has long taken a back seat to spirits in famous cocktails such as the Negroni, Martini and Manhattan, vermouth has recently been standing 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 that has been infused with a mixture of herbs and botanicals to create a unique, flavorful drink. It is higher in alcohol than wine, generally 15–22%, but it is not technically a spirit, though 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 (and 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 and licorice root, though the full recipe list is often a closely guarded secret.

The Birth of Vermouth

There are many different stories about the origin of vermouth. The consensus is that vermouth was created for medicinal purposes in the 16th century and then found its way into commercial uses later in the 18th century in Turin, Italy. It has had 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. That’s 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, and the label can only be used if it adheres to production-specific rules.

©Contratto

Dry, Sweet and In Between

Vermouth ranges from dry to sweet. All styles of vermouth are great to prep the stomach with before a meal, though 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 and acquires its color from aging of the base wine and caramel that is often derived naturally. Sometimes larger producers will use caramel coloring to achieve its desired color shade. The reddish, sweeter style 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. It is best enjoyed fresh, shortly after opening, though 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

Founded by Vittorio Zoppi and Filippo Antonelli (who also owns Antonelli winery and vineyards in Umbria) Antica Torino is a relatively newer player 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 and rich history as a distiller and winemaker. Founded by Giulio Cocchi and internationally known, Cocchi is now owned by the Bava family who are also wine producers in Piedmont’s Monferrato and Langhe areas.

Contratto: Vermouth Bianco, Piedmont

One of the first wineries to produce Italian sparkling wines in the classic method style, Contratto has been around since 1867 and began produced vermouths in 1920.

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