Veering Towards Vermouth
We bet you didn’t know that vermouth is a type of fortified wine. Apart from being an integral part of Martini, Vermouth is also a great aperitif and is also known as an aperitif wine. It uses a white wine base which is fortified with a distilled spirit, grape brandy mostly, and infused with botanicals. The base white wine is often made from Clairette Blanche, Piquepoul, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Catarratto and Trebbiano grapes. The name vermouth is derived from the German name for wormwood – wermut – which is an infusion botanical. Some of the other spices and herbs used include cinnamon, juniper, cloves, saffron, etc.
Commonly vermouth is defined by its flavor profile, its either sweet or dry. Sweet vermouth comes from Italy and contains 10-15% sugar. Sugar syrup is added before the base wine is fortified with brandy. There is also Rosso, which is considered to be the oldest vermouth coming from Turin in Italy with a history dating back to 18th century. Rosso tends to be reddish brown in color and has a distinctive herbaceous sweetness to it. France is responsible for the development of dry vermouth. Compared to sweet vermouth, sugar content in dry styles never exceeds more than 4%. It is also light bodied. Marseille and Chambéry are the hubs for vermouth in France. Vermouth today isn’t defined by the country of origin, but the countries just help define the style.
Vermouth was created to make local wines of the region more financially viable. They also had great medicinal value, the same way liqueurs and bitters did. US was one of the earliest and a big export market for vermouth in the 1800s. This period was crucial even for the growth of cocktail culture; many new cocktails were devised during this time. Inclusion of vermouth as an integral part of the cocktail culture took place in this period as well. Cocktails like The Manhattan, Negroni and even Martini use vermouth extensively and were born in the US.
Apart from these 3 basic styles, there are other variations like Americano and Quinquina. They aren’t vermouth but types of aperitif wines. Americano uses the flower gentian as its key botanical where as Quinquina uses quinine extracted from Chinchona bark. Quinine was the magic remedy for all colonial diseases and therefore used in almost everything, tonic water is an example, therefore why not in a aperitif wine. They were after all known as medicines as well.
Drink it is an aperitif, pour yourself around 60-90 ml of vermouth in a glass. You can drink it neat, chilled or over ice. The complex flavors of the wine are bound to be a revelation. Vermouth found favor amongst bartenders as it helped control the alcohol of the base spirit in a cocktail. Make yourself some classic cocktails like the Martini or The Manhattan.
Since it falls in the wine family, rules of its storage are similar. Once you open a bottle keep it refrigerated, keeping it in open air will result in getting oxidized rendering it unusable. Use vacuum closures to store the bottle. It is a common mistake since most consider it to be liqueur and not a fortified wine.
In India, the most commonly found brand of vermouth will be Martini, both Bianco and Extra Dry versions are easily available. Some places you might also find Cinzano Rosso.