Vermouth is old school. It is a classic drink, an essential element to concocting various cocktails and is even used in cooking.
Vermouth is not a spirit. It is actually fortified, aromatized white wine that has been infused with botanicals. Originally used for medicinal purposes, nowadays vermouth is drunk as an aperitif or found in cocktails like the Martini, Negroni and Manhattan. In Spain, one often commences a meal with sweet, red vermouth, drunk neat or on the rocks, topped with just a slice of orange peel and a splash of club soda. Perhaps the Spaniards do know the best way to savor a good vermouth.
Vermouth is made with a base wine that has been infused with herbs, spices and roots. These botanicals are either steeped in the wine for a specific amount of time then filtered out, or they go through a distillation process to extract the herbal notes which is then subsequently blended with the wine. For a sweet vermouth, sugar or caramel will be added.
The defining trait of a vermouth is the slightly bitter taste that comes from a bitter plant or root. The other botanicals add depth, complexity and flavors. The herbal blend is so important that each company guards its secret recipe very carefully. Common aromatics include liquorice root, wormwood, angelica root, citrus peels, vanilla, juniper, chamomile, ginger, sage, clove, star anise, cardamom and cinnamon bark.
There are different varieties of vermouth in the market but these are the three main types. Sweet vermouth is red and sweet. Dry vermouth is white and dry. Blanc or bianco vermouth is white and sweet.
Since vermouth is a type of wine, it oxidizes quickly and loses its aroma. Store your vermouth in a refrigerator and ideally consume it within 1 to 3 months, or use the older vermouth for cooking. Consider getting half bottles to ensure freshness, and if you find yourself unable to finish the wine, why not invite your friends over and organize a vermouth tasting party?