In our new Ask the Expert series, Paste readers chime in with some of their most pressing booze concerns, and we do our best to help you make sense of it all. Resident expert Jake Emen has spent years on the road traveling to distilleries across the country and around the world, and he’s here to help. Want your own question answered? Send a Tweet to him @ManTalkFood using #AskTheExpert.
Vermouth is getting more love these days, so much so that it’s not unusual for drinkers to request a specific brand when ordering their go-to Martini or Manhattan. Vermouth is even being enjoyed on its own, bringing some Catalonian drinking flair to the states (look no further than The Royal in Washington, D.C., where they make their own vermouth and keep it on tap, for instance). But what is vermouth? And how does it compare to fortified wine?
To begin with, vermouth is actually a type of fortified wine. As we’ve found with other common points of confusion, such as with Cognac vs. brandy, one falls into the larger classification of the other.
So what is fortified wine? It’s a wine… which has been fortified. More specifically, a distilled spirit is added to wine to boost its ABV, but logistically, back in the day this not only gave you a stronger product, but one which was easier to preserve.
There’s a full range of fortified wines, including another which is in the midst of its stateside revival, sherry. Port and Madeira are two other common types of fortified wines, and there’s numerous others as well.
But there’s an extra sub-classification to consider, too. Vermouth is more specifically a type of aromatized wine. Aromatized wines are fortified wines which include the additions of extra flavoring ingredients. There are multiple varieties of aromatized wines as well, although vermouth is by far the most prominent.
As for vermouth itself, it’s defined by the specific usage of wormwood as a flavoring agent—the word vermouth etymologically stems from wormwood. Beyond that, vermouth is typically thought of as either sweet and red or dry and white, but that’s a huge oversimplification of things.
There’s Vermouth de Chambéry, characterized by Dolin, the first brand to sell a Blanc style, and there’s classic dry vermouth, characterized by Noilly Prat which also defines the Marseilles style or region. There’s also Vermut de Reus, Spanish vermouths which have their own lengthy history but first came over from Italy, which brings us to: Vermouth di Torino.
This is the vermouth you probably first think of, and is typically associated as being sweet, rich and red, and includes brands such as Punt e Mes, as well as Carpano Antica, which technically falls into yet another sub-sub-category, Vermouth Alla Vaniglia, but now we’re overcomplicating in compensation for the initial simplification. To really geek out on the finer points of all things vermouth and its categories and styles, I recommend you check out Martin Doudoroff’s Vermouth 101.
Vermouth is also made in the U.S., and all around the world in an increasing range of styles. If you’re curious to learn more about your own preferences, head to a bar which offers a decent selection and start trying new brands to mix up that go-to Manhattan or Martini.
Jake Emen is a freelance spirits, food, and travel writer working diligently to explore the world’s finest offerings so he can teach you about them—how selfless of him. He currently resides outside of Washington, D.C. when he’s not on the road. Keep up with his latest adventures at his own site, ManTalkFood.com, or follow him on Twitter @ManTalkFood.