The birth of the modern Italian aperitivo can be traced back to the arrival of vermouth in Turin in Piedmont, one of my favourite Italian regions. Herbal liqueurs were used in the 18th century as cake or chocolate flavourings or for medicinal purposes. Antonio Benedetto Carpano was he man who made these concoctions palatable enough to drink and enjoy. Carpano brought out his new infusion in 1768 at his workshop in Piazza Castello, Turin’s central square. He called it vermouth and by the mid 19th century every café, bar or restaurant had their own version.
I remember back in my youth it was popular to drink sweet or dry Martini and lemonade or Dubonnet and lemonade and for a while they were my favourite tipple.
The definition of vermouth is a fortified, aromatic wine. Fortified meaning that a fairly neutral spirit has been added to raise the alcohol content to between 14.5% and 22% and aromatised in that the wine has been infused with botanicals. The various botanicals that can be added are as follows – hops and saffron, vanilla, ginger, majoram, chamomile, elderflower, Melissa, cardemon, coriander, cola nut, myrtle leafed orange, gentian and chinchona bark.
Italian vermouth was originally made using Moscato d’Asti white wine and still is if you see Vermouth di Torino written on the label.
Of course vermouth is a popular ingredient in a variety of cocktails and can be found on the shelves of bars all over the world.