Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine that has been aromatised with a range of botanicals. It is also known as red vermouth (vermouth rosso) due to its colour or as Italian vermouth due to its origin. Today, sweet vermouths aren’t just limited to Italy.
In the 16th century in Piedmont, a shopkeeper known as Alessio started the production of wormwood-infused wine. Wormwood is wermut in German, which translated to vermouth in French. The modern sweet vermouth production really began in 1786 when a young herbalist from Turin, Antonio Benedetto Carpano, began selling herbal, sweet fortified wine.
Vermouth is made using a white wine base (min 75% of the finished product), which can be a blend of wines. This is then mixed together with sugar, a botanical distillate, and a spirit to reach the preferred ABV level, usually 16-22% ABV. Sometimes the vermouth is rested in an oak cask or a vat for a short period of time.
The flavour profile of sweet vermouth varies based on the botanicals used and the level of bitterness and sweetness. Alcohol is distilled through a basket of botanicals to extract the needed flavours. Alternatively, the botanical mix is left to macerate in neutral alcohol. Most brands do not reveal their unique list of botanicals, and the recipes are passed through generations. However, artemisia is a mandatory ingredient in vermouth, even though it is not specified which type should be used. Artemisia covers hundreds of herbaceous plants and shrubs, most of which are bitter in flavour.
Some common botanicals:
Citrus: bergamot peel, orange peel, lemon peel, pink grapefruit peel, kaffir lime leaves
Bitter: bitter orange, wormwood, orris root, cinchona bark, rhubarb, juniper, angelica, St Benedict’s thistle
Herbs: coriander, sage, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves, saffron, thyme, lemon balm, savory
Flowers: lavender, elderflower, honeysuckle, chamomile, rose, dandelion
Spices: coriander, vanilla, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom, liquorice
How to store it
As vermouth is not a spirit, but fortified wine, its shelf-life is not that long. It is recommended to use the bottle within two to three weeks from opening to avoid oxidisation. However, to gain extra time for your vermouth, I recommend you store it in the fridge or at least somewhere dark and cool. This way you can extend the shelf-life to up to three months, although it is likely that the flavours will change during this time.
The remaining vermouth can be used in cooking.
You may have seen this Scottish-Italian vermouth on social media recently. It is sweet vermouth made using a blend of Italian white wines and Scottish new make malt spirit (normally used to make whisky) as well as a mix of herbs and spices from both countries. The botanicals list includes bergamot, rhubarb, three types of wormwood, sage, laurel, gentian root, liquorice root, ginger, sweet and bitter orange, and cinnamon.
Valentian Vermouth, 16% ABV, is the brainchild of the Tait brothers, David and Dominic, who wanted to create a drink that brings out the best of the malty and fruity spirit. While walking through the Scottish countryside and enjoying the dramatic scenery of the Borders, the brothers first came up with the idea for Valentian. They then travelled to Piedmont in Italy, where they found a family much like their own, warm, welcoming, and full of laughter, to embark on this journey with. The vermouth offers a flavour experience that embraces both regions. It is named after the ancient Roman province of Valentia, which is believed to have reached to Antonine Wall in Scotland.
The outcome is a fruity, bitter, and herbaceous sweet vermouth. You can detect a lot of bergamot and rhubarb and some candied orange. When served neat, it is not as sweet as many other brands, but once mixed in a cocktail the flavour profile becomes sweeter, resembling a candied fruit or rhubarb sweets.
How to serve sweet vermouth
Sweet vermouth makes an excellent aperitif. It is low in alcohol, so you see many Italians drinking it during their lunch breaks. I’m truly enjoying these Italian traditions of drinking vermouths and amari neat. It is a habit we have been neglecting. You don’t always feel like mixing complicated cocktails, especially after work, when you just want to sit down and sip something easy. This is why I like to drink Valentian Vermouth with some ice and an orange peel. As the flavour profile is not super sweet and due to fairly strong bergamot flavour, it is very fresh and refreshing to sip on its own.
Alternatively, add soda or tonic to create a low-ABV long drink. Sweet vermouth is a common ingredient in many traditional cocktails, and it really is versatile to mix with. Due to the wide range of botanicals used, the variety of sweet vermouths allows you to experiment beyond the classics. Create the same cocktail twice using different vermouths and you can really start exploring your favourite recipes.
I have mixed a few drinks with Valentian Vermouth that you might like to try.
Americano – The perfect low-ABV summer drink
35ml Valentian Vermouth
Pour the vermouth and Campari over ice and top up with soda. Garnish with a juicy slice of orange.
No Borders – A mix of Scottish and Italian ingredients
25ml Blended Scotch (I used Epicurean Lowland Blended Malt)
15ml Fig liqueur
20ml Valentian Vermouth
15ml Amaro (I used Meletti)
15ml Fresh lemon juice
Shake well and strain over ice. Garnish with an orange twist.
Rhubarbarian – Really bringing out those yummy rhubarb flavours
35ml Warner’s Rhubarb Gin
20ml Valentian Vermouth
20ml Fresh lime juice
Shake all but ginger beer. Strain into an ice-filled highball and top up with ginger beer. Garnish with a slice of lime or a rhubarb ribbon.
Have you tried Valentian Vermouth? How do you like to serve sweet vermouth?
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Valentian Vermouth, but, as always, all photos and opinions are my own.