Are you planning to visit Spain soon? If the answer is yes, la Hora del Vermut is an event you should be writing down in your agenda. It takes place in any local bar before lunch or dinner and consists in sharing with friends a glass, or two, of the Spanish aperitif par excellence, vermut. In a few words, a good excuse to meet with friends and prepare your stomach for a great meal.
What is Vermut?
Vermut (Spanish name for Vermouth) is a fortified wine aromatized with different botanicals. Its production generally starts by steeping in water different spices, citrus peels, flowers and plants like gentian, quinine and the most important one, absinthe. After the steeping process is over, the infusion has to cool down before adding a neutral alcohol that will help to continue extracting more aromas, flavors and bitterness from the different botanicals. This mixture macerates for a period of time and, when the desired profile is reached, a proportion of this extract is added to a neutral wine (generally white), along with sugar, more alcohol (until it reaches 15-20% AVB) and caramel color for vermouth rosso or rojo.
The modern sweet version of vermouth was first made around 1786 in the city of Torino by Antonio Benedetto Carpano with the purpose of hiding bad aromas and flavors from low quality wines. Today, long has evolved this bitter-sweet aperitif and it’s now produced in a large variety of styles that go from dry to sweet, young to aged in oak and in white, rosé or red color. Some are even made with the addition of other fortified wines like Sherry to give an extra level of flavor and complexity.
Spain, Italy and France are the three major producers of vermouth and each of them is known for having a specific taste profile. The Spanish and Italian vermouths are the sweetest, although the Italians are easy to recognize for their bitterness. The French are generally white, drier and have higher alcohol content.
The best way to enjoy it…
In Spain, red vermouth is always served with ice, a green olive, a piece of orange and soda water if you prefer a lighter version. For white vermouth replace the orange for a slice of lemon, it will taste fresher and match better with the flavor profile.
To officially have la Hora del Vermut you need to have some bites to nibble on and olives are almost a must. The sweetness of vermouth goes very well with salty foods like potato chips, cheeses, Serrano ham and sardines, as well as with fried calamari and fish conserves.
If you buy a bottle of vermouth to enjoy at home you should treat it almost like a wine in order to preserve its aromas. After opened, close it properly and store it inside the fridge for up to three months.
Some of the best-known Spanish brands are Miró, Yzaguirre, Espinaler, Siset, Nordesía and Dos Déus. One of my favorites is the vermouth made by Bodegas Lustau in Jerez de la Frontera, which besides having a great mixture of spices and botanicals it also has the aroma complexity from Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez wines.
For those who are planning to visit Spain soon you can’t miss this social hour full of flavors and tradition! If Spain is not in your near future don’t worry! You can get crafty with this delicious vermouth recipe. Don’t forget to share it with your friends to experience an authentic hora del vermut wherever you are!
You can really get creative here! Feel free to experiment with your favorite herbs and spices!
1/2 teaspoon of dried wormwood
1/2 teaspoon dried gentian root
1/3 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers
1/3 teaspoon of fresh or dried lavender
1/4 cup of fresh oregano leaves
2 fresh sage leaves
5 cardamom pods
1 small rosemary sprig
1 orange rind
2 750 ml bottles of a not so intense white wine (Airen, Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Müller-Thurgau)
1 cup of brandy (if you want a dark vermut) or vodka (if you want a white vermut)
Dry or sweet?-
If you want to make an authentic Spanish vermut add 1 ½ cups of dark brown sugar (if you want a dark vermut) or white sugar (if you want a white vermut).
If you prefer a dry version just leave the sugar out.
- Place the botanicals over a piece of sterile cloth and tie it with butchers cord. This sachet will make the maceration process much easier and less messier.
- In a sauce pan add the sugar, brandy and orange rind. Bring to a boil and when the sugar has dissolved turn the heat off and let it cool.
- Pour the wine inside a 2 lt glass container, add the brandy mixture and the sachet with the botanicals.
- Close the container, shake it well and let it macerate for 2 weeks.
- Shake the container every couple of days for a better extraction of flavors and aromas.