The Story of Vermouth – Its History and a Beautiful Vermouth and Italian Wine Cocktail

The story of Vermouth is an interesting one.

If we were to trace this wonderful drink back to the very origins of the concept of an aperitif, we could say it goes back all of the way to Ancient Greece. It was during this era when Hippocrates first came up with the idea of an alcoholic drink to be consumed before a meal, setting the stage for what would come to be known as an aperitif.

However, Vermouth is not an ancient Greek invention. Instead, it is a very Italian drink that builds upon the early concept of the aperitif to become one of the most popular non-wine drinks in Italy.

In this article, we explore the general history of Vermouth, share a few things you may not know about the drink, and give you the recipe for a tasty cocktail that combines Vermouth with one of the most popular Italian wines.

A Brief History of Vermouth

Vermouth is an interesting drink because it has something of a split history. There are two versions of this drink, both of which can be traced back to Italy.

Let’s start with the first version.

During the 16th century, the Germans began creating a drink that combined wine and wormwood that they called Wermut. At the same time, an Italian merchant named D’Alessio began producing a similar drink from his headquarters in Piedmont. He dubbed it wormwood wine, though it had many similarities to the German Wermut. The concept of wine and wormwood eventually made its way to France, where the basic drink was combined with an array of herbs, spices, and roots. This version of the drink eventually found its way to England, where it was called Vermouth.

This version of Vermouth was very bitter, which demonstrates its roots as an early tonic for stomach issues. After all, bitter drinks were often used to relieve digestive distress and stimulate the appetite during the 16th and 17th centuries.

However, it is not this version of Vermouth that many think of today.

Though the bitter Vermouth gained some measure of popularity, the modern version we know today can be traced back to the late 18th century. In 1786, an Italian merchant named Antonio Benedetto Carpano created a sweeter version of Vermouth that he introduced to the markets of Turin. The drink quickly exploded in popularity, and it became the drink of choice in the royal court of Turin.

This version of Vermouth was much sweeter than the version that originates in Germany. It is this sweetness that made it accessible enough for wider acceptance, as Carpano’s version of Vermouth soon spread throughout Italy and, eventually, to the rest of the world. By the middle of the 19th century, Carpano’s Vermouth had practically supplanted the original version and was being used to make cocktails and similar drinks.

Today, this sweeter version of Vermouth is still consumed around the world. In Italy, it is a popular aperitif used to stimulate the appetite before a large meal. Elsewhere, it is often the chief ingredient in cocktails.

Three Things You Need to Know About Vermouth

Now that we’ve explored the basic history of Vermouth, let’s look at a few interesting facts about the drink.

Fact No. 1 – There Are Three Types

Though all modern Vermouths trace their origins to Carpano’s version of the drink, there are actually several versions available today. These include:

  • Rouge
  • Dry
  • Extra Dry
  • Half Dry
  • Blanc

Each of these styles of Vermouth offers something a little different, meaning you have plenty of room for experimentation.

Fact No. 2 – It Needs to be Preserved After Opening

Though Vermouth has several things in common with fortified wines, it needs to be treated like a regular Italian wine once it’s opened. Pop your opened bottle of Vermouth in the fridge to preserve it for as long as possible. Otherwise, you’ll likely find that it loses its qualities after about four weeks.

Fact No. 3 – It’s Named After Wormwood

You may remember the term Wermwut from earlier in the article. This is the German word for wormwood and was used to describe early versions of Vermouth. Interestingly, the term Vermouth comes from how the French pronounce Wermwut. So, Vermouth semi-literally translates to wormwood.

The Perfect Vermouth and Italian Wine Cocktail

Vermouth’s history stretches back further than many people realise. And for many, it’s still the perfect aperitif. But Vermouth is perhaps best known as a cocktail ingredient today, so we should really share a recipe for a great cocktail that combines Vermouth with Italian wine.

The Left Bank Martini is the ideal choice.

Making this cocktail is super simple. You just need the following ingredients:

  • 7.5ml of Extra Dry Vermouth
  • 60ml of Dry Gin
  • 15ml of Elderflower Liqueur
  • 15ml of Chardonnay

Combine all of your ingredients in a mixer along with some ice and shake vigorously. Fine strain the drink into a glass and serve with a lime zest twist.

The result is a beautiful and dry drink that contains 3.2 units of alcohol and 175 calories. You can also substitute the Chardonnay for almost any dry Italian white wine.

The Final Word

Vermouth’s dual origins make it an extremely interesting drink. Though the version of Vermouth most know of today originates in Italy, there is another version that can trace its roots to Germany and its development throughout Europe.

Whichever version you choose, Vermouth is a wonderful drink that makes a perfect aperitif. Its wormwood-based origins also mean that it has just the right note of bitterness to open up your appetite. Of course, its dry nature also makes it an excellent cocktail ingredient, as it can add a refined taste to almost any drink.

Would you like to sample some Vermouth for yourself?

At Xtrawine, we stock a small collection of Vermouth drinks from some of the leading Italian producers. Check out our collection online and we’re sure you’ll find the perfect addition to your drinks shelf.


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