Food & Drink

Things You Don’t Understand About Vermouth

Published On 10/09/2015 Published On 10/09/2015
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To most of us, vermouth is that stuff they put in our whiskey so we can call it a Manhattan. But most don’t really know what it is and why it’s so important to the overall flavor of your drink.

To learn more about the aromatized, low-alcohol wine (yep, it’s wine!), we consulted Yves Leboulengé, commercial director for La Quintinye Vermouth Royal, for a crash course on that bottle we all have on our shelf, but should probably put in the fridge. Read on to learn why.

Flickr/Simone Berettoni

It’s actually fortified wine

Most people believe vermouth is a spirit. But it’s actually a fortified wine. Does that mean we’re recommending you put Wild Irish Rose in your next martini? No. But we’re also not not recommending it.
 

It was technically invented in Italy

Back in the 16th century, Italians invented vermouth for medicinal purposes, though our doctors keep getting on our case for that today. The first commercial vermouth was an Italian red variety from the 18th century.
 

It’s named after wormwood

The origin of the word “vermouth” comes from the way French people pronounced the German word for wormwood. You see, fortified wine originally contained wormwood. “Wermwut” eventually became vermouth, and while it no longer contains wormwood, the word stuck.

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France and Italy can both claim that it belongs to them

“Red vermouths are called Italian vermouths,” says Leboulengé. "Soon after [the 18th century], the vermouth production crossed the Alps and the French started to produce their vermouth, white and dry, thus becoming French vermouths.”
 

Both white and dry vermouth come from the same base wine

“Many believe that white wine is used for white and dry vermouth and red wine for red vermouth, but in reality the wine base is white for all types,” says Leboulengé. “Infused botanicals can bring the reddish/brown color but more often it is caramel added that will bring the color.”
 

There are five different styles

Rouge, blanc, extra dry, dry, and half dry. And no, they’re not interchangeable.

You should keep it out of your liquor cabinet

“It may begin to turn four to six weeks after opening,” says our expert. “To preserve your vermouth after you've opened the bottle, treat it like you would an open bottle of wine and store it in a refrigerator rather than cabinet.”
 

The flavor changes over time

Again, put it in your fridge. But once you do, the flavors will change as it sits. “The liquid will evolve in the bottle, seeing as vermouth is wine based,” Leboulengé says. “We recommend enjoying Vermouth Royal, especially the extra dry, within a month or two to ensure the product’s quality. After this time, it may start to lose its organoleptic (aka taste and odor) characteristics.”
 

It’s more versatile than you think

Sure, your local cocktail bar is stocked with vermouths for mixing into Manhattans, Negronis, and other cocktails, but it’s also technically an aperitif, which means you shouldn’t feel too weird taking a pull of straight vermouth once in a while, especially before dinner. It’s also great for cooking: both for drinking while in the kitchen and as an ingredient.

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Christopher Osburn has traveled the world in search of the best wine, beer, and spirits. Believe him... that includes quite a lot of sampling. Follow him to wormwood: @ChrisOsburn.

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