by Csilla Kato
Vermouth is as much a potion as a botanical tonic, the ultimate cocktail builder, and also a cocktail in its own right. More often than not, this specialty wine attracts very little attention, and not always niceties. In theory, every proper bar needs vermouth for the most classic mixed drinks: Manhattan, Negroni, Martini, and most recently the Swing State cocktail.
Vermouth by definition is a bit hard to understand: It is an aromatized and fortified aperitif wine. It is meant to be drunk before your meal to build up your appetite and often to accompany small savory appetizers, like in trendy vermuterias in Barcelona.
Most historical European examples come from the Italian Piemonte and the French Savoy regions, which are neighbors and geographically very similar. Besides their centuries old wine production, they also share the rich botanical diversity of the Alps’ foothills and the relative closeness to Genova and Marseille, which allows access to exotic spices (for more in-depth information, visit vermouth101.com).
On this side of the pond, while some are making a sport of having the driest Martini (which is basically chilled gin), others decided to have a go at making their own versions of this underrated wine style. As the regulations are much looser around what is considered a vermouth, American producers of quality vermouth all have their own interpretations, and it is up to you to discover your new favorite!
Eight Reasons to Drink Vermouth Now:
1) Aperitif – a well-balanced dry vermouth on the rocks is perfect while preparing your meal and makes for a classy pre-dinner drink; it will enhance your appetite AND help with digestion. With myriad possible botanicals included in any vermouth, you are bound to have an herb or root in there which will help you digest that seven course dinner. (Ransom Dry Vermouth)
2) Pairs well with food – with its wide variety of aromas and flavors, vermouth easily compliments an array of appetizers or main dishes. As a matter of fact, in Spain it has been such a fashionable drink to pair with tapas that you can find it on tap! (Imbue’s Bittersweet)
3) Artisan and local – yes the two most overused words when it comes to describe any agricultural product, but way beyond just fixing up “off” wine, small batch vermouths can be an expression of the winemaker’s home-grown and locally foraged flora. (Channing Daughters VerVino or Matthiasson)
4) Evokes memories – a citrusy vermouth with some sugar can evoke the sweetest of memories from your Italian trip back in college. Or if you come across a brighter, grassier white vermouth, you can close your eyes and remember that lovely mountain meadow where you picnicked years ago. (soon to be released Ca’Momi Vermouth or Vya Whisper Dry)
5) Makes for a great guessing game – with the average vermouth recipe containing at least two dozen ingredients, your senses will be enticed for more sniffs and sips to guess what you are actually experiencing. Quassia or wild celery, anyone? (Atsby’s Armadillo Cake)
6) Warming – since it is fortified with grape brandy, usually to between 16-18% alcohol, vermouth is perfect for setting you in the right mood, be it a friend-filled holiday party or a dreaded visit to your in-laws’ house. (Imbue’s Petal and Thorn)
7) A hint of bitterness to keep your palate open – with all the savory/salty and sweet flavors that usually weigh heavily in most diets, vermouth offers a bit of a wake-up call in bitterness mingled with various botanicals, a diversity that is hard to find. (Massican)
8) If you must mix it up – high quality vermouth makes for an excellent base for your favorite cocktail, especially if you research a Manhattan from the late 1800s. Or try mixing up a dry white with a sweeter red, add some soda water, and voila – cooking will go so much faster. (Vya Extra Dry and Vya Sweet Red)