Vermouth 101 + Martini & Rossi Rosso: Profile and Tasting Notes

Vermouth—the often overlooked, frequently ignored staple of mixology. You will never pick up a cocktail book with recipes and not find a deluge of cocktails featuring vermouth, and if you do you should throw it to the ground in disgust and walk away post-haste. Vermouth holds an irrevocable position in mixology and is one of the most versatile and flavor-intensive ingredients you will use.

What is Vermouth?

It is vital in our study of vermouth that we start with a definition of what vermouth is, because it’s not a concise one.

The term “vermouth” is derived from the German word “wermut,” meaning “wormwood.” Vermouths, by EU law, must include the Artemisia species of herb in its production. The European Economic Community passed regulation No 1601/91 in 1991, “laying down general rules on the definition, description and presentation of aromatized wines (among others).” Per regulation 1601/91 2(a), In order for a product to carry the vermouth designation, it must:

  • Comply with strict cultivation and fermentation guidelines;
  • Be comprised of wine at no less than 75% of total content;
  • Use only fresh or fermented grape must;
  • Have its fermentation arrested by the addition of alcohol;
  • Have an actual alcoholic strength of 14.5% to 22% ABV or more;
  • Contain Artemisia; and
  • Only be sweetened with caramelized sugar, sucrose, grape must, rectified concentrated must and/or concentrated grape must.

Vermouth di Torino is afforded special, geographical designation status (think Champagne). In order for a vermouth to be a “vermouth di Torino,” it must be produced in the Piedmonte region of Italy, of which Torino is the capital city.

Martini & Rossi Rosso

Martini & Rossi was not the first vermouth to hit the market in Italy or the U.S., but its market attack propelled vermouth from an obscure, Italian preference to a global, household product. Wine merchant Alessandro Martini and master herbalist Luigi Rossi teamed up with accountant Teofolio Sola and took control of the brand in 1863. Rossi’s recipe features more than 30 herbs, spices and botanicals from all around the world. After moving to Pessione di Cheri (in Turin province), the company found quick, global success with Rossi’s Rosso recipe:

  • 1865, won a medal at the Dublin International Exhibition;
  • 1867, won a medal at the Paris International Exhibition;
  • 1867, started exporting to the United States;
  • 1879, became Martini & Rossi (after the Sola family sold its shares);
  • 1882, Harry Johnson published the first recipe for the Martini;
  • 1882+, synonymous with vermouth di Torino and global rule.

Market information is difficult to come by, so I’ve had to piecemeal the information together from different, available sources. What is for certain is that with upwards of 18,000 cases sold annually (as a brand), M&R is the world’s largest and most widely distributed vermouth producer. Part of the Bacardi-Martini empire, the brand’s annual sales project at around  $480 million.  I do not know its exact market share, but I can assure you it’s significant.  M&R made itself synonymous with vermouth, having featured heavily in early recipes and continuing their success through product placements, advertisements and expanding product lines throughout the 20th century.

A classic, Martini advertisement. These ads featured prominently during Martini & Rossi’s rise to prominence.

Tasting Notes

This is a classic product. The look has a deep, copper hue that turns gold on the sides. The nose is tangy, sweet and woody, with big notes of orange peel, apricot and juniper developing. The first taste is light and dry with sweet-bittersweet and herbaceous characters at the front. The entry meets with dried apricots, orange peel and fennel. Mid-palette deepens to wild berries and dark fruits, noticeably figs and black currants. Juniper and orange develop as it moves to the back, followed by hints of rosemary before a deep, caramel on-rush. The finish is short, but notes of raspberry, orange, fennel, gentian and caramel carry on afterwards.

Have you had Martini & Rossi Rosso vermouth? What are your thoughts on it?

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