Vermouth is a fortified wine flavoured with botanicals that include roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, and spices. It’s bitter (wormwood was the key original ingredient) and was originally used for medicinal purposes – bitters often being prescribed for ailments ranging from fever to worms. It became a fashionable aperitif in Turin during the late 18th Century – especially after a little sugar was added to the recipe – and from there was taken up as a basis for many of the earliest and most classical cocktails like the Martini. It remains more of a cocktail ingredient than a fortified wine to be drunk in its own right.
A Turin merchant, Antonio Benedetto Carpano marketed the first sweet vermouth in 1786 and Joseph Noilly the first pale, dry vermouth in France beginning about 20 years later. Its production hasn’t retained any close association to any particular region – although a lot still comes from Italy and France. The Carpano name is still proudly emblazoned on many Italian varieties.
It hasn’t retained a close association to any particular recipe either, with many variations developed around the world. Inconsistency in the formula was encouraged by the fact that wormwood was made illegal in many countries until fairly recently. It’s believed many producers continued to add it anyway, but it’s hard to be sure because vermouth recipes are usually heavily guarded secrets.
Other famous brands include Cinzano, Martini & Rossi, and Noilly Prat.
Dubonnet is a sweet aperitif, about15% alcohol – a blend of fortified wine, herbs, and spices (including quinine). The fermentation is stopped by adding extra alcohol in the same manner as most other fortified wines.
Joseph Dubonnet developed the drink in 1864 in response to a competition run by the French Government to find a way of persuading troops in the Foreign Legion to drink quinine! (to combat malaria). It’s often mixed with gin.
Dubonnet is also commonly mixed with lemonade or bitter lemon, and forms part of many cocktails. Sadly, a lot of classy people suffer from malaria…
It’s long been a favourite drink of both Queen Elizabeth II and the late Queen Mother (mixed with 1/3 gin and served with lemon).
It is now available in Rouge, Blanc and Gold (vanilla and orange) varieties – which means it won’t leave a stain if it gets spilled on those curtains.