Wine reviews – By Michael Wolsey
When I was a young man, buying drink for ladies of a similar age was a risky business. Few of them drank beer, which I could afford, and many drank spirits, which I could not. In between came the drinkers of vermouth, fortified wines with exotic names such Cinzano, Punt e Mes, Dubonnet and Noilly Prat.
They were popular in the Sixties and Seventies, usually taken with a simple mixer such as lemonade or soda. They went out of fashion but I have read that their sales are up again, partly due to their use in cocktails.
They are made by infusing unfermented wine with herbs and adding alcohol and were originally produced for medicinal purposes. Wormwood, a lethal ingredient in absinthe, was one of the botanicals frequently added – vermouth is the French pronunciation of ‘wermut’, the German word for wormwood.
By the time people realised this stuff wasn’t curing any ills (middle of the eighteenth century) they had become fond of it and a popular drink was born.
Dry vermouth is white and is mainly produced in France. Sweet vermouth is red and is mostly from Italy. The terms dry and sweet are a bit misleading as much of the flavour comes from the added ingredients, not the grape. Some of the reds have a complex, bitter taste and the white range includes Vermouth Blanc, which is sweet.
Cocktails apart, they are popular today as an aperitif. Try one of the reds, poured over ice with a twist of orange or lemon, or the dry white with ice and a slice of lime, a favourite with many a Swinging Sixties girl and still popular with some I know who are now well into their own sixties.