Saturday, February 6, 2010


Here I go again, extolling the virtues of what I feel is an under-appreciated wine.  Yes, vermouth is a type of wine!  In fact, it's a fortified wine.  That means that at some point either during or after the fermentation of the grapes, alcohol is added to increase its shelf-life.  What makes vermouth unique amongst fortified wines is that it is also flavored with herbs, spices, and other botanicals.  All of those layers of flavor make it great for a really interesting cocktail, an aperitif, or for cooking.

It has become fashionable to order a martini without vermouth now that there are so many top quality vodkas and gins available to us.  Back in the day when there was a dearth of understanding for fermentation technology and the intricacies of distillation, spirits were bit more rough and primitive.  The vermouth was often added to mask the undesirable flavors and to "smooth" out the spirit that it was blended with.  In the case of a Martini or a Manhattan, it also brings the overall alcohol level of the drink down, making it possible to have more than one over the course of a night.  Believe it or not, both of these used to be two ounce drinks and were never intended to fill the huge seven or eight glasses that are commonly used in restaurants or bars now.  If you are ordering a vodka with no vermouth, you are drinking three to four shots of vodka!  I don't know how people manage to drink two or more in an hour's time and are still able to taste food, let alone stand.

Vermouth also makes a really delicious aperitif.  Aperitifs are typically enjoyed before the meal and they should make your mouth water a little.  I prefer a drink that is lighter on the alcohol to start my meal such as vermouth because I plan on drinking wine during my meal and then following it with some brown liquor.  Pacing is essential!  I like to mix white and red vermouth together in equal parts and have it over ice with a twist.  Most white vermouth nowadays is dry and most red is sweet.  It's a simple and refreshing drink with a nice mix of sweet, sour, and subtle bitterness that really gets my appetite going.

Historically, the Italians are credited with the invention of vermouth.  It is thought that the first recipes used wormwood, the halucinagenic botanical used in absinthe.  Spiced wines and vermouth are still very common in Northern Italian where bitterness from the botanicals is prized and greatly appreciated for it's appetizing and soothing attributes.  A Barolo chinato is a really interesting wine flavored with botanicals and herbs and made with Nebbiolo similar to vermouth.  The leading Italian producers of vermouth today are Cinzano and Martini and Rossi.  You'll know them from their beautiful advertising posters that are commonly hung in restaurants in living rooms today.

French vermouth producer, Noilly Prat, happens to be my favorite for drinking and cooking.  They were the first to produce and export dry white vermouth in France.  They produce red, sweet vermouth only for export, and they also make a rare amber vermouth that I have never had to good fortune to taste.  I use Noilly Prat dry white vermouth constantly for cooking in addition to having a nip from the bottle now and then while cooking.  I find its balance of tartness to subtle bitterness an excellent addition to sauces, sautées, and stocks.  It's also a heck of a lot cheaper than wine and brings more to the table in terms of flavor - WIN!

Something I didn't know about Noilly Prat that I learned from researching is that they also fund an award and academy for visual arts.  Every year a substantial cash prize is awarded to a single artist after an exhibition is given of all of the entrants.  I have to admire any business that gives to the arts and it makes me appreciate the creativity that must have gone into creating their dry vermouth in the first place.

If you don't believe me yet, get a half bottle of the stuff and use it next time a recipe calls for white wine.  It should only cost you $4 or $5!  It keeps indefinitely once opened. And, If you've never tried it in a Martini, use just a little splash next time you oreder one and you'll be amazed at the dimension it adds to the drink.  It won't cost you anything extra, and your palate will thank you.  Cheers and Bon appétit!


  1. Great post! You have educated me on the virtues Vermouth. I can't wait to try it in my next recipe!

  2. thanks! i hope you have good luck with it. i love the flavor it adds to just about everything!

  3. Okay, I just have to say that you are totally right about the vermouth! Last night, I made scallops and mushrooms in white wine sauce, but used a dry, white vermouth instead of the wine. It was divine! (Plus, little sips of it while eating the dish added to the experience.) Thanks for a great tip.

  4. awesome! i'm glad my post was useful!