Vermouth: the magic behind a great Italian tradition

Vermut, Vermutte or Vermouth (in the French spelling) is a special drink officially born in Torino, Piedmont, around 1780.
How is it made of? Is it a wine or a drink?
It is both: a wine in which aromatic herbs. traditionally absinthe (Artemisia Vulgaris), roots and flowers are macerated

The origin

Vermouth, as many other famous drinks was born as a tonic beverage, a kind of medicine used since ancient times. According to the historians, Hippocrates himself was the first to prepare infusions by herbs, adding to the wine absinthe flowers and oregano, considered in ancient Greece a sacred and fortune-telling plant.

This special tonic drink, named  as Hippocratic wine survived for centuries, up to the Renaissance, when it was still listed among the kinds of medicines to “keep the patient strong and healthy”, while in the 1700 century, white wine based on absinthe was prescribed in case of abdomen and stomach ache.
In the late 1700 the perception of this beverage started to change. Although still defined a medicament, the interest towards this “pre-vermouth” slowly moved to its taste and quality.
Cosimo Villafranchi, doctor at the florentine court and writer, noted in his work Oenologia Toscana (1783) that “to make good vermouth the wines used must be white, naturally sweet, but at the same time generous“, rich in body.
In the meantime the interest in the quality of the herbs and spices to infuse it grew as well, thanks to the commercial monopoly of this precious ingredients held by the cities of Marseille in France, Barcelona in Spain and above all, Genova, Italy.

In our Country iconic brands like Martini and Carpano were the first to produce and market Vermouth on a large scale. In the Roaring ’20 and ’30, as a result to the huge success of this drink, the governments in France and Italy started developing a special legislation to regulate its production.

Today

The last important upgrade to the regulation in the Vermouth production was in the ’90, when the European Union, classify Vermouth as an alcoholic drink containing min. 75% of wine, a so-called main agente amaricante (an ingredient whose addition is able to create a pleasant bitter-sweet flavour) extracted mainly from Artemisia Vulgaris, an alcoholic content between 14.5% and 21%.
Five different categories are officially listed: white, red, rosé, dry and extradry, according also the residual sugar content (from 130 gr./liter to 50gr./liter).

Abandoned in the 80’s,Vermouth came back in the spotlight in the half of the 90’s due to the iconic TV commercial by Martini, hiring for the occasion a young and provocative Chalize Theron (link to the video below).

Today there’s a new re-discover of this vintage drink, thanks also to the efforts of small artisan producers, offering a great variety of flavours, using not only absinthe, but also cinnamon, orange zests, cardamom, gentian, cloves, sage, star anice, coriander, nutmeg etc. and to the new interest in bartending and mixology. Vermouth is,  in fact, in the recipe of two of the most classical Italian-style aperitivo cocktails: Americano and Negroni (official recipes according to I.B.A – International Bartenders Associations below).

Umbria also is proud to have some producers who are experimenting new and charming local versions like the winery Raìna, an organic and biodynamic producer in Montefalco whose Vermouth, the first ever to be produced exclusively from native grape varieties, named “Numero Uno” is made by “Wine (Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 75%, La Peschiera di Pacino 25%), brown sugar, alcohol, aromatic infusions of herbs and spices. Well structured displays notes of liquorice, cinchona, gentian, cinnamon, rhubarb and citrus fruits, enhanced with hints of balsamic. Perfect for high-end cocktails, but also extraordinarily good on its own as a digestive, after a meal”. 

My Negroni

AMERICANO

Aperitivo/Before Dinner Cocktail

  • 3 cl/1 oz Campari
  • 3 cl/1 oz Red Vermouth
  • A splash of soda water

Mix the ingredients directly in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice-cubes, add a splash of soda water and garnish with half orange slice.

NEGRONI

Aperitivo/Before Dinner Cocktail

  • 3 cl/1 oz Gin
  • 3 cl/1 oz Campari
  • 3 cl/1 oz Sweet Red Vermouth

Pour all ingredients directly into old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir gently. Garnish with half orange slice.

***Link to YouTube Channel: TV Spot Martini 1993 

 

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2 Comments

  1. The exact origin of the martini is unclear. In 1863, an Italian vermouth maker started marketing their product under the brand name of Martini , after its director Alessandro Martini , and the brand name may be the source of the cocktail’s name.

    • Thank you for your comment.
      Yes, the origin of many drinks and cocktails is not clear, many legends and creativity in it, but very interesting as well.

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