Vermouth has been the favourite aperitif of all southern French, and Italians for centuries, nut now seems to be falling out of favour. This is unfortunate, for vermouth ought to be regarded as an elegant, fortified, versatile, and superbly flavoured wine.
It can be used in cooking, served on the rocks with a twist of lemon, mixed with liquors and liqueurs for a number of cocktails, and enjoyed on its own served with roasted, salted almonds.
During a recent banquet, vermouth-poached scallops in dough-sealed shells drew unabashed wonderment and high praise from all. They once looked on vermouth as a “seasoning” for martinis only.
European chefs have been using vermouth longer than bartenders.
The subtle herbal-citrus flavour of dry white vermouth can be as exciting to the palate as wine. What should be of interest to consumers and restaurateurs is that once opened, vermouth stays fresh for a long time (once opened, keep white vermouth refrigerated), and it happens to be much les expensive than a bottle of good wine.
Noilly-Prat from Marseille and Ricadonna’s extra dry from Piedmont, Italy, are two white vermouths highly recommended for drinking as well as cooking. If you have a few shrimps, saute them in olive oil and shallots. Deglaze with Noilly-Prat . Season and just enjoy with crusty bread.
Noiully-Prat begins as a bone dry white wine made from Clairette and Picpoul grapes; both are indigenous to southern France. The wine is run into barrels and stored out-of-doors for one year, then taken inside for another year. Diurnal temperature changes bake and partially maderize the wine. The wine is then blended with mistelle (blended grape juice and alcohol), lemon and raspberry spirits, and fortified with alcohol to 19 – 20 ABV. After this the blend is piped into barrels containing a secret blend of herbs and spices. ( the blend may contain camomile, ginger root, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, centaury, dittany, lemon balm, iris roots, bitter orange peel) Each manufacturer has its own jealously-guarded secret recipe, known only to a few trusted people.
Vermouth is aged for six weeks, during which period it is stirred once a day for a few minutes. Finally, the liquid is strained and bottled into one litre or 500 ml containers.
Red vermouths appeal to some people more than white vermouth. They are always sweetened with sugar and darkened with caramel. Red vermouths contain the same alcoholic strength but appear to be stronger because of their slightly bitter taste; this marries well with potent distillates.
Generally, French and Italian manufacturers are regarded as masters of vermouth production, although many other countries make and market several brands.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu