Say vermouth (pronounced "ver-mooth"), and then say "wormwood", in an exotic European accent. See? They're one and the same. Vermouth is named for its key ingredient, a bitter botanical central to absinthe, but also underpinning the various roots, fruits, barks and spices in these fortified, aromatised wines.
Vermouth's botanical firepower really shines in classic cocktails, where just a few drops can refine, elevate or even downright rescue its partner spirit. Gin may be the star in a classic martini, but vermouth is often the secret.
Of late, Australia has learned to love vermouth just for itself. We're appreciating the sweeter Italian red styles – exemplified by the rich florals and licorice of the Italian stalwart Rosso Antico – with nothing but a slice of orange, while delicate, drier, white vermouths release their subtleties with only ice and lemon for company. Sydney has a vermouth bar, Banksii, and vermouths are the hero at Curious, the exciting cocktail bar at Melbourne's new W Hotel.
New and enticing additions to a burgeoning homegrown vermouth cornucopia include Artemi Vermouth from Ballarat minimal intervention winemaker Jean Paul Artemi, and Embla chef David Verheul's small-batch, seasonal Saison Vermouths.
Maidenii Classic Vermouth
Country Victorian syrah and wormwood meet strawberry gum, wattle seed, river mint, sea parsley and other natives in this Castlemaine-produced beauty from bartender Shaun Byrne and winemaker Gilles Lapalus.
Regal Rogue Wild Rosé Australian Vermouth
A rare rosé vermouth made from organic cabernet rosé, with Illawarra plums, rosella and strawberry gum delivering lush tropical fruit notes. With botanicals sourced from Indigenous growers, and recycled paper and glass packaging, this all-Australian vermouth respects its origins.
Vermouth di Torino Bianco Bosca
1 litre, $23.99
Just landed on Australian shores, this white vermouth from the Piedmont region is from the centuries-old Italian tradition, with delicate herbal flavours, sweet vanilla and plenty of local wormwood. Great taste and pedigree at a bargain price.