Vermouth is experiencing a revival alongside craft spirits and classic cocktails. But what exactly is it? You may be surprised to learn that wine is the base, to which a fortifying grape spirit is added. Botanicals – wormwood (always), among others – impart character. So vermouth is essentially a flavoured fortified wine.
Traditionally, herbs, spices and roots were added to wine for their medicinal benefits; sweetening the wine made the botanicals more palatable. And as wine oxidises rapidly when exposed to air, the addition of yeast-busting spirit extended its shelf life.
Vermouth can be sweet or dry, and has an alcohol content of between 15% and 22%, which is higher than wine but much lower than most spirits.
Sweetness is part of the style, balancing any bitterness extracted from the botanicals; even those labelled ‘dry’ have a perceivable sweetness. Darker-coloured vermouths are made using red-grape varieties or through the addition of caramel.
Of the botanicals, citrus is important for freshness, with the peels, leaves and flesh used. Spices add aroma, bitterness and warmth to the mix via seeds, roots and barks such as anise and cardamom. Flowers impart perfume, especially chamomile and elderflower. Herbs add complexity and depth; thyme and mint are popular, and many Australian vermouths also include native ingredients, such as finger lime and lemon myrtle.
The exact blend of botanicals used to make a vermouth beverage is usually a closely guarded secret, as the ultimate aim of the producers is to create a ‘signature’ taste.
As with white wine, always store an open bottle of vermouth in the fridge. And for maximum freshness, consume the contents within one month.
Try these REGAL ROGUE LIVELY WHITE, $36/500ML Strong citrus overtones and delicate sweetness. Semillon base; botanicals include lemon myrtle, desert lime, native thyme, elderflower and grapefruit. 16.5% abv. DOLIN BLANC VERMOUTH DE CHAMBÉRY, $30/750ML Slightly sweet and refreshing, with blossom and gentle herb notes. Ugni blanc base; 30+ botanicals. 16% abv. MAIDENII DRY VERMOUTH, $50/750ML Wood, spice and herb accents. Viognier base; 30+ botanicals, including Australian natives. 19% abv. NOILLY PRAT ORIGINAL FRENCH DRY VERMOUTH, $32/750ML Wood-ageing is central to this dry, balanced, amber-toned drop. Great depth and complexity. 18% abv.