What is vermouth

Words by Simon Difford

What is vermouth image 1

Vermouth is a fortified wine, part of the 'aromatised' wine family, flavoured with botanicals-aromatic herbs, spices, roots, seeds, fruits, and flowers. Traditionally, vermouth is distinguished from other aromatised wines due to its being flavoured with Artemisia (wormwood). Vermouth is a staple cocktail ingredient, appearing in a huge percentage of classic and contemporary libations.

Any product based on wines fortified by the addition of alcohol spirit and flavoured with herbs and spices is an aromatised wine but according to the European Economic Community (regulation 1601/91 and subsequent amendments including 251/2014) there are three main requirements that differentiate vermouth from other aromatised wines:

1. Must be flavoured with at least one herb from Artemisia wormwood family.

Wormwood is a bitter tasting plant from the Artemisia genus. It is also used for anything from insect repellents, antiseptics, digestives, and even to clear worms from patients - hence the name.

Traditionally, Artemisia absinthium (absinthe wormwood) is used, but while the EU requires vermouths to contain wormwood, the species is not specified, nor is a minimum quantity required. Some contemporary vermouths sold outside the EU, particularly those made in the USA, don't contain wormwood (see TTB specification below). For Italians and vermouth traditionalists, "a vermouth without wormwood is like a limoncello without lemon."

2. At least 75% of the finished product must be wine, produced according to EU wine legislation.

Most vermouths are based on white wine, even rosso vermouths.

3. Have a minimum alcohol strength of 14.5% and a maximum of 22% alc./vol.

Few vermouths are more than 18% alc./vol.

USA definition

Other than specifying that vermouth is a wine-based aperitif fortified with a spirit and bottled at a minimum of 15% alc./vol., USA vermouth laws merely state that vermouth should have "the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to vermouth." Hence, if it looks like a vermouth, smells like a vermouth, and tastes like a vermouth, then as far as US regulators are concerned, it is a vermouth. There is no requirement to use Artemisia (wormwood), and due to costs associated with the testing required if it is used, most US-made vermouths use bittering botanicals other than wormwood.

(g) Class 7; aperitif wine.
(1) Aperitif wine is wine having an alcoholic content of not less than 15 percent by volume, compounded from
grape wine containing added brandy or alcohol, flavored with herbs and other natural aromatic flavoring materials, with or without the addition of caramel for coloring purposes, and possessing the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to aperitif wine and shall be so designated unless designated as "vermouth" under paragraph (g)(2) of this section.
(2) Vermouth is a type of aperitif wine compounded from grape wine, having the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to vermouth, and shall be so designated.

USA, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Federal Alcohol Administration Act

Vermouth di Torino

Vermouth di Torino has been protected by a geographical denomination since 1991, and thanks to lobbying by an alliance of nearly 20 producers in the Vermouth di Torino Institute, a regulation (Ministerial Decree No. 1826) was passed in 2017 defining Vermouth di Torino as:
An aromatised wine made in Piedmont using Italian wine only, with the addition of alcohol, flavoured mainly with Artemisia (wormwood) from Piedmont together with other herbs and spices; it must be bottled between 16% and 22% alc./vol.

A further Vermouth di Torino Superiore category requires a minimum strength of 17% alc./vol. and that at least 50% of the base wines and at least two botanicals (in addition to wormwood) are sourced from Piedmont.

In late 2023, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted certification mark registration for Vermouth di Torino.

What vermouth isn't

While defining exactly what vermouth is, it is worth stating that vermouths are not required to be (and usually aren't) 'vin cuit' (cooked wines). Vermouths are also not particularly acidic and are often less acidic than average table wine.

The name

The name 'vermouth' comes from the German word wermut and the French word vermout, both meaning wormwood. As explained above, this plant is the ingredient that differentiates vermouth from other aromatised wines.

Fun fact: The word vermouth entered the English language in 1806, the same year the word 'cocktail' was defined in The Balance and Columbian Repository. Prior to this, it was known as wormwood wine, absinthium, or Artemesia vinum.

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Wormwood

What is vermouth image 1 What is vermouth image 2 What is vermouth image 3 What is vermouth image 4 What is vermouth image 5
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Cinzano Bianco Vermouth image

Cinzano Bianco Vermouth

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 15

 Strucchi Vermouth Rosso image

Strucchi Vermouth Rosso

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Strucchi Vermouth Dry image

Strucchi Vermouth Dry

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 18

 Strucchi Vermouth Bianco image

Strucchi Vermouth Bianco

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Martini Rosso vermouth image

Martini Rosso vermouth

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 15

Martini Bianco Vermouth image

Martini Bianco Vermouth

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 15

Martini Extra Dry vermouth image

Martini Extra Dry vermouth

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 15

Carpano Antica Formula image

Carpano Antica Formula

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16.5

Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery image

Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 17.5

Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambery image

Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambery

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Martini Gran Lusso image

Martini Gran Lusso

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Sacred Spiced English Vermouth image

Sacred Spiced English Vermouth

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 18

La Quintinye Rouge image

La Quintinye Rouge

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16.5

Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato image

Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 18

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino image

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 18

Vermò Vermouth image

Vermò Vermouth

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 17

Mancino Vermouth Marino image

Mancino Vermouth Marino

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Noilly Prat Original image

Noilly Prat Original

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 18

Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino image

Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery image

Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Casa Martelletti Vermouth Classico image

Casa Martelletti Vermouth Classico

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Gancia Bianco image

Gancia Bianco

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

Rosso Antico image

Rosso Antico

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 15

Noilly Prat Ambre image

Noilly Prat Ambre

Category: Wine - Fortified
Sub category: Vermouth & aromatized wines
alc./vol: 16

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