Full-Strength

Reinventing a historical category of wine.

Reinventing a historical category of wine.

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There’s a vermouth revolution in America. The re-appreciation of this wine category has spawned several new domestic producers, new products from the classic giants, new imports from small producers and a wealth of new info: books, websites and articles.

People are drinking it again, by itself and in cocktails new and old. Not that this stopped in Europe or especially in South America, where they celebrate, every day, the “vermouth hour” or l’hora del vermut.

There is also a split between American and European examples. By law, vermouth in the E.U. must contain wormwood (Artemisia absinthum) and what it can be sweetened with is limited, while in the U.S., vermouth is defined much more broadly and can be really almost any wine fortified with spirits and aromatized by infusion with botanicals. Though wormwood can be used, it is severely regulated, so many do not bother with the hassle. Regardless, there is a wealth of creativity in the category. We at Channing Daughters have wanted to make one for a long time because they are delicious, and it seems whenever we look back this is really how wine was made.

Every time an ancient vessel that held wine is dug up in France or China or the Caucuses or what was the Fertile Crescent, the story is the same. Not only is there residue of grapes but also herbs, flowers, fruits, honey, roots, barks and spices. If we go back 1,000 years, or even 9,000 years, we find that wine was almost always aromatized with botanicals local and exotic. The wine was often fortified, too. The reasons were medicinal, philosophical, religious and preservative, not to mention for flavor and aroma. These were local products first, and as the world expanded, so did the ingredients.

Vermouth’s heyday was 200 years ago in Italy—that’s also when the word “vermouth” was coined; Carpano was the first producer, followed by Martini, Noilly Prat and Dolin and many more in France and Spain. (For great history that we don’t have space for here, look for The Mixellany Guide to Vermouth & Other Aperitifs and the website vermouth101.com.)

So after much research, thought and tinkering, we dove in and created our own addition to the category: Channing Daughters VerVino. (The name comes from a marriage of the word Vermouth and the Italian word for wine, Vino.) Inspired by the long history of vermouth and aromatized wines and wanting to make local, seasonal examples, we fortified our wine with neutral grape brandy and macerated 20 to 40 different aromatic local botanicals in the wine, then sweetened it slightly with local honey. All of the botanicals were grown or foraged by us or by our farmer friends all within a few miles from the winery. Sagaponack farmer Marilee Foster, Springs gardener Eileen Roaman and Bridgehampton farmer Dave Falkowski played important roles, as did Mary Woltz, whose Bee’s Needs honey that comes from hives on these farms was used.

We made five variations, a white VerVino with spring botanicals, a white and a red with early-summer botanicals and a white and a red with late-summer botanicals. These VerVino vermouths are a reflection of our place through wine as well as other edible aromatic plants.

One can drink these wonderful elixirs many ways, but I suggest you start by first tasting and smelling it on its own at cellar temperature, which is 55 degrees. Then move on to chilled VerVino, maybe over ice or with seltzer or some juice. Go wild and make a martini or some Manhattans, next create your own VerVino cocktails. Julia Child was famous for enjoying reverse martinis—five parts vermouth and one part gin, a low alcohol aperitif.

We have just released Variation One, with Two and Three coming very soon, and the feedback is fantastic. For example, this from a friend: “I kept having images of fairies and other woodland creatures drinking this ambrosia.”

Our recipe? There is a long history of keeping these proprietary. But we’d like you to have a window inside, and thus the labels are photographs of the plants steeping in the wine. You don’t see everything, but quite a bit can be discerned: calendula, fennel, sage, nasturtium, lemon balm, rose, basil, spiked za’tar in Variation One; chili peppers, borage, cucumbers and zucchini blossoms in Variation Two; beets, arugula, black birch and blueberries in Variation Three.

Remember VerVino is local and seasonal; it is a unique expression of our terroir and joins a long history, thousands of years really, of people fortifying and adding plants to wine.

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James Christopher Tracy is the winemaker and a partner at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.