How Is Vermouth Made?
There are many types of vermouths, so the exact production method varies from brand to brand. The process always starts with wine. Though you can technically make a vermouth with any wine, it is typically made from grapes like Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, Trebbiano, Bianchetta and Trevigiana. Vermouth producers create a low-ABV wine from one or a mix of those grapes, then add a neutral spirit, making it a fortified wine. Alternatively, it can be made from mistelle, in which the spirit is mixed with grape juice before fermentation. In the case of sweet vermouths, sugar is also added at this point (up to 15 percent). Then the wine is mixed with botanicals, most importantly wormwood. Other frequent flavorings include chamomile, coriander, juniper, gentian and cinchona bark. Producers let the mixture rest for various amounts of time, before filtering and bottling the vermouth.
Styles of Vermouths
White Vermouth: Though Italy certainly dabbles in white vermouth every now and again, it is primarily made in France, typically with a bitter root known as gentian. There are two major categories of French white vermouth: blanc and dry.
Blanc or Bianco: A colorless, herbaceous, off-dry style of vermouth. Blanc (in French) or bianco (in Italian) vermouths weren’t well-known in the U.S. until fairly recently. Blanc vermouth is sweeter than its French peer, dry vermouth, but is not quite as sweet (or spiced) as red vermouth. While bianco vermouth tends to be vanilla-forward, blanc bottlings often feature floral flavors like elderflower along with light tastes of fruit. The style was originally developed by Dolin and has since inspired other producers, including Martini & Rossi, whose bianco is its best-selling product, buoyed by incredibly high European demand.
Dry: Ultra-light and almost briny in taste, dry vermouths were originally popularized in France, but truly took off in the United States during the “Mad Men” era Martini boom. Famous producers include Noilly Pratt and Dolin.
Red Vermouth: Sweet, spiced and just a little bit herbal, red vermouths are primarily produced throughout Italy. Think of vanilla chai lattes, clove cigarettes, heavy winter spices and aromatic flowers like violets. Typical sweet vermouths contain somewhere between 10 and 15 percent sugar (at most 15 percent by EU law). While originally red vermouths were made with a base of red wine, these days many producers use white wine and dye the final result with other ingredients or caramel coloring. Though for years Americans almost entirely used this style of vermouth for mixing cocktails like Negronis, Manhattans and Vieux Carrés, the U.S. is currently on the receiving end of some very good, very sippable sweet vermouth brands like Carpano Antica.