The Importance of Vermouth (1941)
by B.B. Turner
General Manager, Roma Wine Co.
Vermouth today is the fastest growing item in the United States wine trade. It is also the one item about which less is known than any other, and upon which there is a great demand for information. It is a mystery to the average dealer and consumer. And to the wine industry it is vastly important because it has a future market noncompetitive with, but potentially as important as our standard Clarets, Sauternes, Ports, Sherries, Tokays and Muscatels.
The United States has never, until very recently, been introduced properly to Vermouth. It has long been just one of the mysterious ingredients mixed into cocktails, like bitters, seldom or never tasted straight. Americans don’t know whether Vermouth is a wine, a cordial, a liqueur, or distilled spirit or a brew.
Yet the fact is that Americans like the flavor of this temperate beverage, once they taste it. They like it equally well, whether as a minor ingredient in a Martini or Manhattan, or straight, or as the major ingredient in such mixtures as Vermouth cocktails and highballs. The mixing of Martinis and Manhattans still consumes most of the average 1,600,000-gallon annual U.S. Vermouth sales volume. But coming into popularity are the chilled glass of Vermouth straight at luncheon or at appetizer time, and the dozen other beverages in which Vermouth predominates.
Every present indication is that Vermouth consumption in America may soon become larger than at any time in history. The strange phase of this event is that it has been brought about by cutting of the supply of nearly nine-tenths of all the Vermouth this country formerly consumed—the Vermouth of Europe.
By introducing U.S. Vermouths to Americans, and Americans to our own country’s Vermouths, we are discovering a new mutual attraction, that many soon ripen into enthusiastic acceptance. Many wine producers and distributors who never tried to sell Vermouth before are becoming interested. They see Vermouths of this country, principally California, as quickly occupying the former market, and are showing signs of developing a greater market than foreign Vermouths ever had here.
Why has California not produced much Vermouth before, when it supplied nearly 90 per cent of all the other wine used in America? The fact is that California has produced Vermouth for many years, but in limited quantities for discriminating tastes that recognized the special qualities of the California product. We have never produced it extensively because the market was not important enough. Furthermore, until very recently, United States tax laws discriminated against Vermouths produced in this country by imposing a triple tax on them, as against a single tax on the foreign product. One of the Federal taxes was eliminated in 1936, and another in 1940, thus equalizing the tax on foreign and U.S. Vermouths. Today our good California Vermouths not only equal the average foreign product, for are individual—and to most American tastes, preferable to anything from other countries.
Most people ask us, “What is Vermouth?” The simple answer is, Aromatized Wine. It is imply wine flavored with infusions of various aromatic herbs, roots, flowers, seeds.
What kinds of herbs, roots and seeds? Any number, is the answer. Usually 25 to 30 different kinds are used. Roma Wine Company has nearly 100 kinds in its various Vermouth formulae. They range through the alphabet from Angelica root to Yarrow, and in between come dozens of rare, rhapsodical items like Blessed thistle, Cinchona bark, Peach leaves, Cordiander, Elder flowers, Rosemary, Thume, Hyssop, Marjoram, Valerian.
What kinds of wine? Pure wines, carefully selected wine of neutral or delicate flavors, mellowness, balance, clarity and strength selected to blend perfectly with the aromatic herbs an individual winery uses. The formula is always the secret of the individual producer. Seldom indeed does more than one use the same. The exception to this rule is when synthetic Vermouths are made from alcohol instead of wine.
We are asked so many questions about Vermouth generally, and Roma Vermouths in particular, that we much conclude the public wants to know at least briefly how it is produced.
Of first importance, usually, is the wine. Only a few wines will make satisfactory Vermouth. The best Vermouths are made with wine for which the grape varieties have been carefully selected years before they ever come into contact with the herbs. The wines much be comparatively neutral …
(I don’t have all of this one because it was attached to another article which I had requested. There are other articles that chronicle vermouth production at the Roma Wine Co. and this article has its own entry in Amerine’s bibliography)