April 2013
he first thing you should do
with that open bottle of ver-
mouth on your bar is throw
it away.
Even amid an explosion of orange
wines and sparkling Malbecs, vermouth
is still the least-understood wine in most
bars and shops.
Note that word “wine.” Vermouth
is not a distilled spirit; it’s an “aroma-
tized,” fortified wine, and it won’t last
longer than other fortified wines. In the
refrigerator it might last six weeks, but
at room temperature—go ahead, throw
it away. Grab a fresh one and start play-
ing around with cocktails: nothing on
the bar adds more flavor for less cost.
Bad storage is the reason for ver-
mouth’s history as the butt of jokes. The
Brits couldn’t get fresh vermouth during
World War II, so Winston Churchill rec-
ommended making a martini by pouring
chilled gin into a glass and bowing in
the direction of France.
American disdain from vermouth
comes partly because many drink vod-
ka in martinis, instead of gin. “I don’t
think vermouth plays well with vodka.
It doesn’t have the botanicals that ver-
mouth loves in gin,” says Tony Abou-
Ganim, who develops cocktails for Steve
Wynn’s properties in Las Vegas and re-
cently wrote the book Vodka Distilled.
Julia Child loved vermouth; her favor-
ite cocktail was a “reverse martini” with a
5-to-1 ratio of vermouth to gin, and she
preferred cooking with it because its flavor
is both more complex and more consistent
than dry white wine.
Europeans love vermouth; Martini
is the largest-selling brand by volume of
either wine or spirits in Europe. If you
ask for “a martini” in Europe, you’ll get a
glass of Martini Vermouth on the rocks.
“What is important in a vermouth
is the mouthfeel,” says Giorgio Cast-
agnotti, Martini’s production director.
“All the buds of the tongue are being
stimulated, all the way through to the
bitter taste at the end. It stimulates all
the taste buds and makes you hungry.”
Recipe For Success?
Big stores have to carry vermouth. “It’s
not a huge category, but we carry at least
four vermouths in every store,” says Joseph
Kaulbach, supervisor of the wine buying
for Whole Foods in Northern California.
About five years ago, vermouth ap-
peared poised for a U.S. revival, as cock-
tail bars reported a resurgence in aperi-
tifs. Noilly Prat management saw this as
the moment to finally sell Americans
the same dry vermouth it has been sell-
ing the rest of the world.
Noilly Prat hadn’t changed its recipe
for Europe since Joseph Noilly created
Vermouth: the Forgotten Wine
It’s Not a Spirit, and It’s Ripe
for a New Generation
Left: Technically an aromatized fortified wine,
vermouth owes much of its character to herbs
and spices; at Noilly Prat, the mix includes 20+
different botanicals—chamomile, coriander,
marjoram, wormwood, quinine, cloves and more.
Right: Noilly Prat’s Chai des Mistelles houses
vast oak vats that can hold up to 40,000 liters.
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