Tuesday, November 6, 2012

:: demystifying vermouth ::

pdxcw portland cocktail week seminars vermouthThe first talk I went to on Tuesday morning at Portland Cocktail Week was entitled "Demystifying Vermouth." The presenters were two vermouth makers, namely Neil Kopplin of Imbue and Giuseppi Gallo of Martini & Rossi, and one bartender, Junior Ryan of Clyde Commons. The seminar was divided between discussing vermouth as a spirit class and tasting vermouths.

In the United States, vermouth is mainly a mixer, and not a beverage meant to be enjoyed on its own. This changes how producers must think about crafting and marketing products for the American consumers.

European Laws:
1. Must contain at least one herb from the Artemisia genus. There are over 300 of which wormwood is the most famous.
2. At least 75% of the volume is derived from wine.
3. 14.5-22% ABV

European Sugar Content Laws:
• Dry - under 60 grams sugar / liter. (Noilly Prat, Dolin Dry = 50)
• Sweet - under 130 grams sugar / liter. (Most around 120)
• Extra Dry - under 30 grams sugar / liter.
• Bianco - around 100 grams sugar / liter.
• (Imbue Vermouth made in the U.S. is around 50 grams sugar added / liter plus natural grape sugars).

United States Laws:
1. Does not require Artemisia. It is preferred if wormwood is not used due to absinthe-related historical issues.
2. At least 75% of the volume is derived from wine.
3. 16-21% ABV
4. It must smell and taste like vermouth.

Vermouths are generally all about the region and the herbs and spices that can be found there. While French and Italian are produced in different countries, the vermouth regions are adjoining in Southern France and Northern Italy, so there are a lot of similarities.  Generally, in dry vermouth, flavor is added through a distillation process, and in sweet vermouth, flavor is a maceration one.
vermouth sweet dry herbal spice tasting matrix
Vermouth can be characterized on two axes (a third for sweetness and dryness was not mentioned). One axis spans from more herbal to more spice driven. The other was more floral to more citrus. Most producers shoot for the middle ground for the average drinker, especially when the vermouth is drank unmixed. When a producer wants a new product for bartenders, they will shift the vermouth in one direction.

The vermouths were placed on the graph after the room had tasted them. There was not complete agreement on any one placing since it can be a judgment call as to whether a taster finds the herbal or spice notes stronger, for example. Some quick notes about each of these vermouths:

Dolin Dry - rose petals, dry orange peels, dusty from forced oxidation
Noilly Prat Dry - unique in that it is the only vermouth to use Blanc de Blancs. Salty as aged in barrels next to the sea (which would explain why the vermouth is often drank neat as an aperitif with seafood and oysters). 20% of product is used by cooks in the kitchen. Corriander, nutmeg, chamomile; spicy and herbaceous.
Imbue Bitter Sweet - Pinot gris grape for abundance and high acidity (for flavor and preservative). Elderflower, cinnamon, clove, sage, juniper, orange peel, chamomile; no wormwood. Trying for a rustic, pine forest, spiced, and floral concept.
Dolin Rouge - Cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, rustic, sweet, savory, Artemisia, toned down acid. Note: rosemary and oregano are standard to detect first in an European sweet vermouth.
Carpano Antica - Note: we did not taste it, these are just conversation notes. Expensive, vanilla (derived from Tonka bean), white wine, a lot of sugar, flavorful enough to take over Campari in a Negroni.
Martini & Rossi Sweet - Strong on Artemisia, dry orange peel, cinnamon, clove, oregano.
Imbue Petal & Thorn - Note: we did not taste it, these are just conversation notes. Cinnamon bark, Oregon sugar beets for earthiness, chamomile, orange, gentian.
China Martini - Not a vermouth, but a digestivo/amaro as alcohol-based and 31% ABV, but flavors similar to a vermouth. Cinchona bark, orange, gentian, mint, cascarilla bark, juniper, Artemisia, vanilla.

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