We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
So Why Vermouth?!?
It should no longer come as a shock to many of you that I enjoy a nice drink or two. As I have become older I have started to want more out of drinking. I am no longer okay with sugary shooters, red bull vodkas, or unbalanced cocktails. I want to become more educated; I want to become more refined when I drink. I know how pretentious that sounds but it’s true. When I drink, I want to actually enjoy what I’m drinking and know what I’m drinking. This is one of the many reasons why I started Sunday Wine Down. It’s good way for me to learn about what I’m drinking and how to enjoy it even more. I’m also just a nerd when it comes to this topic.
There is a lot more to alcohol then getting drunk. A lot of work and craftsmanship goes into great alcohol. The distiller, the brewer, and the winemaker want to provide the consumer with a certain sensation when they drink their product. It’s a work of art that should be appreciated and respected. Since taking on this new appreciation for alcohol, I’ve become more adventurous in my drinking. I was and still am determined to learn and appreciate everything that drinking has to offer.
Learning about the world of wine, beer and spirits is an education that I enjoy. I have started confronting spirits that have stronger flavors, ones you have to learn how to hold on you palate and accept its taste and aromas. I like learning how to pick out the different flavors in wine and beer, and how to pair them with food. I enjoy knowing whether a cocktail is balanced or not. The most important part is that I will never stop learning. This is something I can study gradually over time and still never know it all. That really excites me. There is so much territory in this industry that it’s something that will never get boring. I don’t want to learn this to show off; I want to learn because I am truly curious about it. Since university I have spent more of my time focused on my education of wine but the cocktail and the chemistry of the cocktail has peaked my interest as well.
I might still be a novice when it comes to cocktails, but I know what a good one tastes like. I have to say that even with all the craft cocktail bars popping up around the world my favorite drink to order is still a martini, a classic, a cliché, and in my opinion, perfect. Why? It’s simple. Take a martini glass, wash it with vermouth, shake some gin on ice, strain into the glass, place an olive, and drink. I mean how can you not like a martini? How can you not like gin? It is delicious with all the wonderful botanicals flavors and aromas.
The martini does have an ingredient that gets snubbed however, and I will admit I used to be, until very recently, one of those people. Gin was the star of the show; why would I pay any attention to vermouth. Then I went to Spain to find out that I had vermouth all wrong. That is why this Sunday Wine Down we are going to talk about one of my new favorite grape products, vermouth.
It was July in Barcelona so naturally Ash and I were sitting in a tapas bar to get away from the oppressive heat. I was looking down at the drink menu when I saw that vermouth was an option. I found it odd; I never really thought about drinking vermouth straight. Ash educated me on the fact that drinking vermouth is very common in Spain. I’ll be honest at that time vermouth was just something you wash your glass out with for a martini. I said what the hell and decided to order a glass of the vermouth blanco at one of our favorite places, Bormuth. It came in a small glass with some ice, a slice of orange and an olive. I took a sip; it was bittersweet, light and refreshing and very fruity with citrus being the dominant flavor. Most importantly, it cooled me down on such a hot day.
I was hooked on my first sip and I enjoyed it so much that vermouth became my drink in Barcelona. I went from the guy who tossed his vermouth out to a guy drinking it straight. The majority of the time I was drinking vermouth rosso, which seemed to be the most common. Lets just say I enjoyed it so much that the fridge in our apartment never went without having some vermouth in it. I needed to know more, I needed to know why in the states it seemed to be a sin to like vermouth
What is Vermouth?
In simple terms vermouth is a wine; it is made from grapes but there’s a twist. It is a wine infused or flavored with different botanicals and then fortified. Fortification is usually done with a young brandy. Vermouth is classified as an aperitif and an aromatized wine. What do I mean by an aperitif? An aperitif is a drink used to, in a sense, open up one’s appetite. The Latin verb, aperire, means to open which is how it got its name. Aperitifs tend to be somewhat bittersweet in flavor, which helps encourage the appetite. That is what the Italians, the French, and the Spanish tell me the idea is anyway. Just how at the end of dinner you should drink a digestive to help digest ones dinner. If you ever lived in Italy you will understand how important these are to the meal. Vermouth however, is more properly classified as an aromatized wine because you are adding the flavors of different botanicals. You could also classify it as a fortified wine because you are adding spirit to raise its alcohol content.
How is Vermouth Made?
You start off with a low alcohol red or white wine. You then take that base wine and fortify it with a grape spirit such as brandy, which is most common. Then herbs, spices and sugars are added. One way these flavors are introduced is by taking a portion of the wine or brandy and steeping the herbs and spices. If it is sweet vermouth then sugar is added. Common herbs and spices used in the making of vermouth are wormwood, cinnamon, sage, basil, cloves, quinine, citrus peels, cardamom, marjoram, chamomile, coriander, juniper, ginger and many more. When it comes to what spices and herbs are being added it is up to the producer. Like Gin, vermouth can have many flavors. After it is all made vermouth comes out to have an ABV of 16%-18%.
What Kinds of Vermouth Are There?
There are two main styles of vermouth, Italian and French.
What is the difference? French vermouth is dry and Italian vermouth is sweet. Both countries produce both kinds of vermouth though. To keep it simple lets us just separate them by sweet and dry. Sweet vermouth has 10%-14% sugar content, while dry vermouth cannot exceed 4%. Sweet vermouth usually has more body, while dry vermouth is a lot lighter. Besides the sugar content you can separate by color like wine. One can make red vermouth, white vermouth, and on rare occasions rose and golden. The latter two are not as well known on the international scene. Red and white are the common vermouths that you will find. Either one can be sweet or dry. The vermouth that I was drinking straight in Barcelona was sweet vermouth. What I tend to use in my martinis is French vermouth so dry or extra dry. If you are making a Manhattan you add sweet vermouth.
First, lets talk about the etymology of the word. Vermouth is the French name for wormwood. The word vermouth derives from the German word wermut or wormwood. Wormwood was one of the major ingredients in vermouth originally. It is a bitter plant that was introduced to help hide the off flavors of the cheap wine being used. Originally making vermouth was a way to take a wine that was going bad and extending its life by adding a spirit and using other botanicals to hide the off flavors. Simply put, it was to improve a bad or off wine.
Today though that is no longer the case in the making of vermouth. Even though the idea of aromatizing and fortifying wine is nothing new and can be dated back to ancient Greece and China for medicinal purposes, the vermouth that we know of today is believed to originated in Turin, Italy. This is where a merchant by the name of Antonio Benedetto Carpano invented vermouth in 1786. In some of my readings they only credit him with the creation of sweet vermouth. Most of what I have read credits him with creation of vermouth and does not distinguish between sweet or dry. Since sweet vermouth is commonly referred to as Italian vermouth I would assume that it was sweet vermouth and dry vermouth was first produced in France by Joseph Noilly somewhere between 1800 and 1813. Either way we can thank Mr. Carpano for vermouth.
Vermouth and Barcelona
A quick tidbit about the drinking of vermouth in Spain: It started in the Catalan region, actually in Barcelona. In 1902 Café Torino opened its doors and they served vermouth to the upper classes. This was the first place in all of Spain opened specifically for the drinking of vermouth. It was not until the Spanish Civil War where the working class started to drink vermouth. Just a fun fact about the city where I learned to love this beverage.
Favorite Places to Drink Vermouth in Barcelona
You can find vermouth all over Barcelona but I did have a few favorite places to drink it, all located within the neighborhood of El Born where we were staying. All three of these places had homemade vermouth however only one had both red and white. If you happen to be in El Born definitely check out these places for a taste of authentic vermouth!
Carrer de Montcada, 22
Famous for many things especially their tapas, they also make homemade red vermouth. You can buy a liter of it to go if you like to have a little to end your night with. It is 10euros to take home a liter of this deliciousness or you can stay and enjoy it with an array of delicious tapas!
Plaça Comercial, 1
This bar basically has vermouth in its name and it is actually the place where I first sipped on vermouth on our first day in Barcelona. They have both red, white and aged red vermouth. The aged vermouth was my favorite here and definitely worth the additional euro to upgrade.
Carrer dels Mirallers, across from #16
Bodega was literally outside our front door and is such a small awesome local dive. They are only open from 6-10pm every day and their vermouth is poured out of the cask. This is a place to soak up traditional red vermouth and tapas the real way, as in you order a drink and get a snack. When you order another drink, you get another snack as well. (Think olives and salami) You can also get ½ liters of vermouth to go and they cost 4euros a bottle.
That is it for this week’s Sunday Wine Down. I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about this unsung hero of the martini. So go out there and join the movement of bringing back the love of vermouth! (especially if you are in the states!) Let me know about your first experience with vermouth and what are your thoughts about this wonderful drink in the comments! Have you tried vermouth in Spain or anywhere else?
Remember, go out, travel and change the world.
Pin for Later