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Falling for Vermouth

Falling for Vermouth

Rebecca Chapa | Chef's Blade

Most folks see vermouth as that dusty bottle on the back bar that bartenders pretend to add to their martini, but vermouth has been totally underestimated!

Vermouth is an aromatized wine, a lightly fortified wine with added botanicals. It can be either red or white. The recipe is closely guarded by each vermouth producer, the formula for Martini & Rossi dates back to 1863 and there are as many as forty botanicals in each of their vermouth styles. Martini & Rossi also does not pasteurize their vermouth, but only lightly filters it. Martini & Rossi is also well known for its Asti Spumante, a charmat method sparkling wine from the town of Asti in Piedmont. Made from Moscato and at about 7.5% alcohol it’s a lively floral white sparkler.

My first wine trip was in fall of 1993. I was just out of college and was fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Piedmont by Carlo Petrini and Slow Food. This was before most of us even knew of the Slow Food movement. We were extremely lucky, the ten of us, as we had the chance to visit multiple producers and basically live in Piedmont for 21 days.

It was towards the end of our trip when we were told we were going to go to Martini & Rossi, producer of Asti Spumate and Vermouth. Now I had heard of Martini & Rossi before, seen it on bars all over the place, and I have to admit I was a bit jaded by this point in the trip. We had tasted unbelievable Barolos and Barbarescos from Ceretto, Chiarlo, Vietti, and many many more. We had had dinner with Angelo Gaja, who said “The women will sit next to me!” We had been wined and dined and had eaten more meat braised in wine than anyone could imagine. Brats that we were, we were tired and irritated to have to drive out of our comfort zone for this visit.

We couldn’t have been more wrong, and man, was I humbled. The property was exceptional. They had an amazing wine museum, but best of all, before we knew what was happening, we were ushered in to a wood paneled room complete with a full bar. Before our eyes appeared aperitifs, and one of these was vermouth.

Vermouth both red and white, can be a delicious start to a meal. The pleasant bitterness piques the palate and prepares it for food. We were immediately put in a better mood and became much more comfortable after sipping these drinks. Then we were escorted into a gorgeous dining room where we were served the most incredible Fontina cheese soup, called Fonduta. It was covered in white truffles and ladled into our bowls from a large tureen.