Vermouth is back in fashion – not just for cocktails

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Vermouth is a key ingredient in some of our favorite cocktails, be it the Martini, Negroni, Manhattan or Boulevardier. But how often do we drink it solo?

Vermouth is a wine that has been fortified to 15-19 percent ABV and then flavored with a range of botanicals and sometimes sweetened with simple syrup and colored with caramel. The basic division is between white vermouth, which tends to be drier, and red, which is usually sweet, although the lines are certainly blurred.

Vermouth was originally a medicinal liqueur that became popular as an aperitif. The name comes from the herb wormwood, and today some, but not all, wormwoods contain this intensely aromatic bitter herb. Modern vermouth was created by the Milanese, who served it as an aperitif. The most famous Italian names include Cinzano, Martini, Carpano and Cocchi. French vermouth is typically white and dry, with the most popular brands being Noilly Prat, Lillet and Dolin.

Red vermouth is generally made from white wine and gets its color from botanicals, caramel, or added red wine. In major wine-growing regions such as Sicily, Languedoc and south-west France, it provided a useful outlet for the mass of fairly tasteless white wines made from varietals such as Ugni Blanc, Grillo and Catarratto.

Vermouth (or wormwood) has been popular in Spain for more than a century. For many years it was considered an old age drink (in some areas a small sip was traditionally drunk after Sunday mass as a digestive aid or to prepare the stomach for Sunday lunch). It’s become very fashionable more recently, as I discovered while judging the vermouth category at a wine competition in Madrid before lockdown. The styles varied widely, ranging from light, spicy and sweet to very bitter and dry.

In Spain, production is largely based in Jerez and Rioja, although it is made across the country, often using locally gathered herbs, and the recipes remain closely guarded secrets. The difference is that in Spain, vermouth is consumed solo with ice, a slice of orange, or an olive. In some places it is served on tap in bars, and in some regions you can fill your bottle straight from the cask.

Vermouth can be fortified, flavored and sweetened, but it is still a wine so once opened it should be refrigerated and consumed as soon as possible; weeks instead of months. If you run out of cocktail ideas, you can use it for cooking. Dry vermouth goes well with fish dishes, red meat and fruits. Just remember that it is stronger than wine so use with discretion.

Today I’m introducing three Spanish vermouths, plus Ireland’s first commercial vermouth, made by Anna and Orla Snook O’Carroll from Spanish wine and herbs collected on Valentia Island, Co. Kerry.

Lacuesta Vermouth Reserva, Rioja

15%, €22-€23
Aged in new French oak barrels, this slightly floral, semi-sweet vermouth has subtle spices and vanilla. Drink it with ice and a slice of orange.
From: A Taste of Spain, D1; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Pinto Wines, D9, pintowines.ie; 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, D6, greenmanwines.ie.

Lustau Vermut Blanco, Jerez

15%, €22.95
A delicious, fairly dry white herbal vermouth with aromatic marjoram and wormwood that finishes on a pleasantly bitter note. Serve chilled with an olive or two.
From: Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Vineyard, D6, vintry.ie; Bubble Brothers, Cork, bubblebrothers.ie.

Valdespino Vermouth, Jerez

15%, €32.99
Bittersweet Seville orange peel and toasted almonds with a rounded sweet finish offset by a bitter note.
From: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Redmonds, D6; redmonds.ie; The Corkscrew, D2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie.

Or vermouth from Valentia Island

18%, €35
Rich caramel and vanilla flavors mingle with coconut and aromatic herbs and spices. Perfect with tonic water and ice.
Widespread including online, Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie.
From: Redmonds, D6; redmonds.ie; Deveneys, D14, deveneys.ie; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Celtic Whiskey Shop, D2, celticwhiskeyshop.com; Willie’s Wine Shop, Cahersiveen; Bubble Brothers, Cor, bubblebrothers.ie; Select SuperValue, supervalue.ie.

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