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In Good Taste

Introduction to Vermouth

Introduction to Vermouth

What is Vermouth?

You’re out for a night on the town, and you decide that you’re in the mood for a cocktail that makes you feel sophisticated and fancy. You ask the bartender for a martini, or maybe a Manhattan, and you suddenly feel elevated to a new level of elegance. Those delicate, herbal notes in your high-class drink just make you feel so posh.

Huh, herbal… What's giving your cocktail that interesting taste anyway? That would be vermouth! Vermouth is not a liquor or a bitter like you might expect, but rather an aromatized (or infused), fortified wine that’s flavored with herbs and botanicals. Yep, that sophisticated cocktail of yours has wine in it, which in our opinion, makes it even better! Vermouth is having a bit of a renaissance in the US, so let’s take a closer look at this herbal drink and see what makes it so special. 

History and Origin of Vermouth

Alcoholic drinks that have been infused with botanicals are nothing new, but drinking them purely for enjoyment is relatively new in the grand scheme of herbal drinks. Before the 16th century, botanical beverages that are similar to vermouth were used for medicinal purposes and were often infused with wormwood - an herb that has been used for centuries to treat indigestion and stomach problems. 

Before the 16th century, botanical beverages that are similar to Vermouth were used for medicinal purposes and were often infused with wormwood - infographic

The exact history of vermouth is slightly contested, and there are a couple of different versions of this story. Vermouth is the French pronunciation of the German word Wermut, which means wormwood. There is evidence that Germans used fortified wines with wormwood for medicinal purposes as early as the 16th century. 

Around the same time, “wormwood wine”, a similar product infused with more botanicals, was made in Italy by an Italian merchant named D’Alessio. Soon after this introduction, several competing brands began popping up in eastern and southeastern France. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that this beverage was referred to as “vermouth” by those who enjoyed it as an aperitif in England.

In another version of the vermouth story, Antonio Benedetto Carpano of Turin, Italy made the first sweet vermouth derived from ancient Roman recipes in 1786. Dry vermouth didn’t make an appearance until 1813 and was created by Joseph Noilly of France. 

Although the exact beginnings of vermouth are unclear, we do know that in the late 19th century, bartenders began using vermouth in a variety of what we now consider classic cocktails, including the Manhattan, Negroni, and Brooklyn. Vermouth then saw a surge in interest in the 1950s thanks to the martini. You can thank Mr. 007, James Bond, for that! Its popularity waned in the late 20th century, but since 2013, it has seen a resurgence in the United States thanks to artisan makers who are taking a different approach than European vermouth producers. 

In the late 19th century, bartenders began using vermouth in a variety of what we now consider classic cocktails. Vermouth then saw a surge in interest in the 1950s thanks to the martini. InfographicSince 2013, it has seen a resurgence in the United States, thanks to artisan makers who are taking a different approach then European vermouth producers

Sweet Vermouth vs. Dry Vermouth

Generally, most vermouths can fall into one of two categories; sweet or dry. Sweet vermouth, or Italian vermouth, is red in color. It’s mildly bitter, slightly sweet, and has a fuller body than dry vermouth with a sugar content between 10 and 15%. On the contrary, dry vermouth, or French vermouth, is paler in color with more bitter notes, likely because of added nutmeg or bitter orange peel to the recipe. Dry vermouth is lighter in body than sweet vermouth and has a sugar content of no more than 4%.

In addition to the traditional sweet red and dry white vermouths, there are a few newer varieties on the market including a sweet white, golden, and rosé vermouth.

What Does Vermouth Taste Like?

There’s no one answer to describe what every vermouth tastes like, as each producer makes theirs differently from the next. Sweet vermouth is going to taste different than dry vermouth, and even within these categories, sweet and dry variations of vermouth will taste different from each other depending on the maker, the types of herbs and botanicals they use, how long they infuse their recipes with these botanicals, whether or not they age the wine prior to infusion, etc. You get the picture, there are a lot of variables that go into the flavor profile of vermouth. 

There are, however, some commonalities that you’ll encounter in your vermouth tasting journey. Sweet vermouths are generally fuller-bodied, heavier, more flavorful, and, sweeter. They have notes of dark fruits, cocoa, caramel, and vanilla, and are best paired in cocktails with whiskey, bourbon, bitters, and sparkling wine. This is the vermouth that you’ll find in a recipe for a Negroni or a Manhattan. 

Sweet Vermouth mildly bitter, slightly sweet, with a fuller body

On the other hand, dry vermouths are lighter, more floral, and much more bitter. They are quite herbal and a bit lean. They pair well in cocktails with gin, vodka, Campari, Aperol, Amaro, and Cynar. Dry vermouth is the one that you want on hand to channel your inner James Bond and make a mean martini with. 

Dry vermouth paler in color with more bitter notes

How Vermouth is Made

Producers of vermouth are highly secretive about their individual recipes, but we do have some idea about the general process that goes into making this delightfully herbal beverage. 

The base of vermouth is a neutral grape wine or an unfermented wine. This provides a nice foundation to let the added flavors shine. The grapes that are used for this base are usually varietals such as Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Catarratto, or Trebbiano. Some producers may then choose to age the wine for a short while. 

How Vermouth is Made: base if neutral grape wine or an unfermented wine, providing a nice foundation for added flavors to shine

From here, the wines are fortified with fruit-based alcohol, usually, a brandy made with grapes or sugar beets, and are placed in large barrels or tanks where dry ingredients are already added. These dry ingredients can be any number of herbs and spices including cloves, cinnamon, citrus peel, cardamom, chamomile, coriander, juniper, lavender, hyssop, or ginger, just to name a few. Sweet vermouths also have sugar syrup added to increase the sugar content and body. The producers then let the wine become aromatized or infused with the herbs and spices over a period that lasts a few weeks. Finally, they remove the contents when the vermouth reaches a point that meets their standards. 

How Vermouth is Made: wines are then fortified with fruit-based alcohol, placed in large barrels or tanks for dry ingredients are addedHow Vermouth is Made: producers then aromatize or infuse the wine with herbs and spices

Vermouth Recipes

Feeling inspired to rediscover the delicious qualities of vermouth? While it tastes wonderful on its own, it’s also a welcome addition to several classic cocktails. To kickstart your inspiration, take a look at a few of our favorite cocktail recipes that feature vermouth as an ingredient:

Vermouth Recipe for Americano Cocktail

Americano

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ ounce of Campari

  • 1 ½ ounce of Sweet Vermouth

  • Soda water

  • Orange peel twist

Directions:

  1. Fill a glass with ice, then add the Campari and Vermouth.

  2. Fill to the top with soda water, then garnish with the orange twist. 

Vermouth Recipe for Negroni Cocktail

Negroni

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce of gin

  • 1 ounce of Campari

  • 1 ounce of Sweet Vermouth

  • Orange peel twist

Directions:

  1. Add the gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth to a glass filled with ice and stir until it’s sufficiently chilled.

  2. Garnish with the orange twist.

Vermouth Recipe for Martini Cocktail

Martini

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ ounces of gin

  • ½ ounce of Dry Vermouth

  • 1 dash of orange bitters

  • Lemon peel twist

Directions:

  1. Add the gin, dry vermouth, and orange bitters into a mixing glass and stir until it is cold.

  2. Strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with the lemon twist. 

Vermouth Recipe for Vermouth Spritzer Cocktail

Vermouth Spritzer

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces of Prosecco

  • 2 ounces of Dry Vermouth

  • 1 lemon slice

  • 1 sprig of mint

Directions:

  1. In a glass filled with ice, mix the Prosecco and dry vermouth and stir until chilled.

  2. Add the lemon slice and mint to garnish. 

Vermouth Substitutes

If you don’t have any vermouth on hand to make these cocktails, there are a couple of alternatives that you can consider. For dry vermouth, consider using Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc. For sweet vermouth, another option is Dubonnet Rouge. These substitutions won’t give quite the same flavor, but they will work for your cocktail recipes when you’re fresh out of vermouth.

Ready to step out of your comfort zone and test the waters of vermouth? Whether you decide to enjoy it as part of a classic mixed beverage or on its own as an aperitif, get ready to experience something herbal, classy, and truly unique.

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Light Reds

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Rosé of Sangiovese

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Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.

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Barbera

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The perfect pizza wine. Barbera is a simple wine that’s not only easy for winemakers to make, but easier to drink. It’s low in alcohol and an Italian red wine we implore you try chilled because it’s truly *chef’s kiss*. Classic Barberas are fruity, medium bodied and offer the perfect hint of tartness. It’s also the best of both worlds in terms of light and heavy red wines. Let’s say you’re having a friend over who always prefers a cab, but you’re more of a Pinot Noir kinda gal. Order a pizza and open the Barbera for a perfect middle ground kind of evening. After all, the combo of good red wine and pizza is the great equalizer.

Montepulciano

Andiamo

Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

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If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

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Nerello Cappuccio

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Ah, Chardonnay. This full-bodied and diverse wine is polarizing in its very nature: from an oak barrel-aged buttery, oaky, rich white wine, to a stainless steel-aged, mineral-driven neutral wine. Our classic Unprecedented California Chardonnay is the former, and will surely become a new favorite. Its buttery vanilla nature pairs extremely well with like-minded buttery, creamy foods such as brie cheese, lobster, crab cakes, crème brûlée, squash, corn, and mushrooms.

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Andiamo

A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.

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We’d love to introduce you to our old friend: Unprecedented Red Wine. She’s a 2019 blend that has been with us through it all and grown to be one of our more popular wines. She’s a mix of all the best Italian grapes: Barbera, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo with a splash of Mourvèdre and a few others. They’re all hanging out, having one big, juicy, delicious party! Tasting notes include a touch of spice, a hint of leather, and some of the best juicy fruits, including blackberries. She truly gets along with just about everybody!

Côtes du Rhône White

Passport

This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

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Bordeaux Rouge

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When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

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Ventoux Rosé

Passport

You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

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Tempranillo

Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.

Grenache

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We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.

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Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.

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Dolcetto

Andiamo

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Vermentino

Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.

$23.99

Viognier

Unprecedented

For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.

$24.99

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