How is vermouth made?
Characteristics, ingredients, preparation and tips for enjoying this drink
Despite being a wine with over two centuries of history, vermouth is in fashion. At Peñín we have experienced this first-hand in recent years, as the increasing number of brands that began to appear in our Distilled Spirits Guide in 2016 ended up creating their own publication: the Peñín Vermouth Guide, which we presented almost a year ago with more than 380 brands tasted and which can be downloaded here. So what is vermouth? Today we have set out to teach you all the secrets of this delicious drink.
What vermouth is
Vermouth, as we know it today, was born in the 18th century in Turin (Italy). Its name, however, is of German origin: it derives from the word wermuth, which means wormwood, the plant that gives it its characteristic bitter taste. It is based on wine but is actually a wine-based drink that is macerated or infused with herbs, roots, flowers, seeds and other spices. It is very popular in Spanish, Italian and French cultures.
-Wine: is the base ingredient, usually white.
- Botanicals: These are key to giving it its unmistakable flavour and are used to macerate or infuse the wine: wormwood is essential whilst other herbs, seeds, roots or flowers can be added in different proportions, sometimes fresh and sometimes dried.
- Water: sometimes, instead of macerating the wine directly, water is used to add the botanicals.
- Alcohol: this is added to the previous ingredient -water- to obtain a mixture with an alcohol content of between 45-50º, using different types of alcohol such as brandy or marc.
- Sugar, caramel or honey: these are normally used to sweeten the mixture or to give it a touch of colour.
How to make it
Step 1: Prepare the mixture of botanicals - the proportion must be the right one to achieve a balance and so that it is neither too sweet nor too bitter.
Step 2: either macerate the chosen base wine - usually a white wine - with the botanicals (for small quantities) or infuse the flavouring ingredients in a hydroalcoholic solution - i. e. water with the addition of alcohol - (this procedure is more common for larger quantities). These processes can be carried out hot or cold, leaving the botanicals to act for days or weeks, depending on the extraction the producer wishes to obtain.
Step 3: After maceration the wine is filtered. In the case of infusion, the hydroalcoholic liquid is filtered to eliminate any impurities and mixed with a neutral white wine.
Step 4: The flavoured drink is sweetened with sugar, caramel or honey and left to settle before bottling.
If we differentiate vermouth by colour, there are currently three types on the market:
- Red: normally made with white wine. They usually contain caramel, which gives them their characteristic reddish colour. They have a more intense nose and palate than whites and, depending on the country of origin, are usually more bitter (Italian vermouths) or sweeter (Spanish vermouths).
- White: it is usually less bitter than the red one and with a sweeter touch. It is the typical aperitif vermouth.
- Rosé: more recently created, it is usually produced with rosé wine or a mixture of red and white.
There are no fixed recommendations, but rather, they tend to be different depending on the country. In Spain, it is very common to serve it chilled with a splash of soda water and no further garnish or ice, it is very typical as an aperitif. In Italy, they recommend drinking it chilled with ice or a piece of lemon or orange peel. It is also often found mixed in cocktails, especially the drier vermouths. However you drink it, the important thing is that you are able to enjoy and appreciate it.
Next chapter: Thursday 22 April: The best vermouths in Spain
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Guía Peñín del Vermut 2020 (online visor)