Exploring the world of Vermouth

Exploring the world of Vermouth

On a recent trip to the Basque region in Spain we found ourselves in a vermouth – vermut – bar in Donastia/San Sebastian. Whilst enjoying the vermut and pintxos on offer I decided I needed to do some investigating and broaden my vermouth knowledge. I obviously knew about the vital role vermouth plays in some cocktails but I didn’t know how delicious it could be as its own drink.

What is vermouth?

Vermouth is an aromatised wine. This is wine infused with botanicals, sugar and fortified with the addition of distilled alcohol. They are often sweetened and have their colour adjusted. All vermouth must contain flavourings from the artemisia family (wormwood) which gives vermouth its unique bitterness.  

Styles of Vermouth

Alcohol levels typically range from 14.5-22% with sweetness levels from extra dry to sweet. Factors affecting the style of vermouth include; the base wine, botanicals, sweetness, addition of distilled alcohol and use of caramel colouring.

There are 3 basic types:

Sweet Vermouth – typically red. Also known as Italian vermouth, red vermouth or Vermouth di Torino.

Dry Vermouth – typically white/straw colour. Less sweet but do still have a sweet hint. Often referred to as French Vermouth. Examples include Noilly Prat and Dolin Dry.

Vermouth Bianco – Sweeter than dry vermouth. Usually white/straw colour.

Origin of Vermouth

Italy, France and Spain lay claim to the longest production of vermouth.

Italy – best known for its sweet styles, Vermouth di Torino from Piemonte is arguably the most famous.

France – home to the dry white style as established by Noilly Prat and Dolin.

Spain – vermut was popularised in the Catalan region before spreading all over Spain. In Jerez sherry is often used as the base wine in vermut.  

In Spain the vermut is often less bitter than in Italy and less sweet than in France. Generally made for drinking rather than mixing. The most common vermouth found is vermut rojo, sweet red vermouth with intense infusions of botanicals.

Whilst I was in this tiny vermouth bar in Donastia/San Sebastian on the owners recommendation I tried the ‘vermouth semanal’ (vermouth of the week) which was from the Benito Escudero estate in Rioja. Made from 100% Garnacha grapes and to a family recipe from the 50s this vermouth has over 40 different native botanics. Super complex with honey, nuts and herbaceous notes and soft bitterness balanced with light sweetness. This was served over plenty of ice with orange and a green Spanish olive. This alongside a gilda which is a classic Basque pintxos comprised of spicy guindilla peppers, anchovies and manzanilla olives makes the perfect match. I also tried the Lustau vermut rojo with a base of Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez sherry – citrus, herbaceous, nutty and woody.

I can’t wait to shout about vermouth to everyone this summer and taste my way through the range we stock. If you are thinking of visiting the Basque country go go go not only is it beautiful but the food and wine – wow!!  

If you’re feeling inspired take a look at these:

Viticultor 9 Mes Snou Vermut Vermell - Spain

This vermut from Celler 9+ Mes in Tarragona Spain is perfect as an aperitif and can also be used in cocktails. The bitterness is well balanced with strong herbal and citrus notes. Try as picture above with plenty of ice, orange and a few olives to garnish. 


Cocchi Rosa Vermouth - Italy

Rosé aperitif wine is a blend of Brachetto and Malvasia from Piedmont. Floral and citrus notes with underlying bitterness. Serve with soda and grapefruit or with a Brachetto.



Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth - France

Made from Picpoul and Clairette which are dry and high in acidity. Flavoured with 20 different botanicals. Try as an aperitif or in a cocktail such as Martini. 

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