Ancient and modern tastes: the taste(s) of Vermouth

As specifically set forth in the relevant European regulation, wine must account for 75% of the product’s volume.

To make this wine special, other ingredients must be added: sugar, alcohol, spices or flavorings, and some caramel or burnt sugar, the latter often used to impart the characteristic red color to vermouth. Plants of the genus Artemisiae are essential in vermouth aromatization.

Among them, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) plays a very important role. When looking at the various recipes written over the course of history, one can observe the constant use of a selection of herbs and spices that have come to represent the heart of the bouquet; there are others, however, that may vary according to the choice made by the makers to individualize their products.

As a result of this thousand-year-old tradition, modern wines have thus been aromatized using parts of plants from around the globe: resins, rinds, flowers, roots, rhizomes, leaves, fruits, seeds and scented wood pieces.

Alongside wormwood, the most commonly used plant types are yarrow, blessed thistle, sage, marjoram, thyme, oregano, savory, dittany, germander, elder, orange and lemon (peels), angelica, rhubarb and gentian (roots), etc.

The most frequently used spices are vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, hyssop, nutmeg, aloe, cloves, saffron, tonka beans and many more, all of which are chosen for their rich fragrance and specific sensory characteristics.

Most of these botanicals, because of their officinal properties, are also used in herbal medicine and pharmacology.


Creating unique harmonies

Nowadays, experts that master the art of extracting ingredients, flavors, scents and aromas from plants are often represented as modern-day alchemists. Indeed, their expertise and know-how are all important.

Their ability lies in combining plant materials with the appropriate extraction technology, so as to obtain a specific sensory profile. Depending on the type of extraction, the same herbs or spices can lead to dramatically different sensory results.

It is necessary to extract a maximum of odorous substances, while altering the plant’s original aromatic profile as little as possible.

With very few exceptions – such as vanilla pods that require ripening and fermentation – all botanicals must be stored for as short as possible in a dry place, protected from drafts of air and direct light.

Flowers, leaves and all the other thin, non-wooden parts of plants can be extracted as they are. Roots, stalks and all wooden or wood-like materials must be cut up in pieces that are small enough to allow alcohol to soak into their fibers. Seeds can be crushed in a roller mill, while a special shredder is used for roots and trunks or stalks.

After preparation, the plant undergoes quick extraction, otherwise the aromatic compounds could evaporate or deteriorate.

There are dozens of plants that are used to make extracts.

Their dose must be carefully calculated, because, when mixed, the aromas will not just simply add up; the final result is a very complex aromatic ensemble, built on a fine-tuned balance among the components.

The alcohol proof and the maceration time depend on the type of compounds one wants to extract. Maceration can last anywhere between three and thirty days.

Historically, each winery has sought an exclusive combination of ingredients, in order to obtain a personal and recognizable characterization of their vermouth’s flavors.

Extract preparation is fundamental to obtain a particular maker’s specific sensory profile. This is why recipes were jealously guarded secrets, and, still today, individual wineries are extremely protective of them: only very few people in charge of production have the privilege.




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