Culture: Why Vermouth di Torino Should Be on Your Radar
Whether your go-to drink is a martini, a Negroni or perhaps an Americano, wine-based vermouth is a key ingredient. While vermouth can be made anywhere, those who embrace Italy’s wine and aperitivo culture should know about Vermouth di Torino, a product of one the country’s key winemaking regions:
Perhaps you’ve already spotted bottles designated as “Vermouth di Torino.” While Vermouth di Torino is just part of the broader global vermouth-iverse, it’s a category with a deep history and lots of bottles worth a pour.
Here’s everything you need to know about it, plus, some bottles to check out.
What Is Vermouth di Torino?
In brief, it’s a specific style of vermouth made in Italy’s Piedmont region. It has a formal geographic denomination—the name literally translates to “Vermouth of Turin.” Some Americans may remember the city of Turin, located in northwestern Italy at the foot of the Alps, for hosting the 2006 winter Olympics.
Like all vermouth, Vermouth di Torino is wine aromatized with herbs and other botanicals, and fortified with a distilled spirit, which increases its shelf life. What makes it distinct from other vermouths is that its ingredients are sourced from the region, and the final product has a government stamp of approval.
History and Terroir
“What we call modern vermouth was born 300 years ago in Torino,” says Robert Bava, president of the Vermouth di Torino Consortium and owner of Giulio Cocchi winery, which makes Cocchi vermouth and Bava wines. It emerged in Piedmont and Savoy, then part of the kingdom of Sardinia and today part of Italy and France.
Torino’s location at the foot of the Alps provided a favorable winemaking climate and access to botanicals sourced from the surrounding mountains. In 1884, the construction of the Turin-Genoa railway meant easier access to spices, another vermouth flavoring. They were often imported from Asia and the Americas by ship to Genoa, then transported by train to Turin. “The train was very important to the wine industry,” Bava notes; some vintage vermouth labels, like Martini, even featured a train.
Vermouths were generally regional products until the early 1800s, according to the Consortium, when they were exported to other European countries and the Americas, where large Italian populations had immigrated.
How Is Vermouth di Torino Made?
Similar to the Designation of Protected Origin (DOP) classifications assigned to some Italian wines, which specify a geographic area as well as specific grape variety, Vermouth di Torino is classified with an Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP), or protected geographic origin.
Specifically, to earn the Vermouth di Torino IGP, the drink must be made in Piedmont, using only Italian wines. Artemisia (wormwood), which adds a characteristic bitterness, is required to be among the main ingredients, and it’s essential to include Artemisia grown or harvested in Piedmont.
The provisions also specify how much sugar is allowed. “Extra Dry” Vermouth di Torino must contain less than 30 grams per liter, “dry” less than 50 grams per liter and “sweet” equal to or greater than 130 grams per liter.
Vermouth di Torino must also be bottled between 16% and 22% alcohol-by-volume (abv). In addition, Vermouth di Torino Superioreis bottled at 17% abv or higher, and at least 50% of the base wine and all herbs— besides the Artemisia— must be grown or gathered in Piedmont.
Why Are We Hearing More About It Now?
Had it not been for the pandemic, you likely would have heard about Vermouth di Torino sooner. It’s been a long time coming: In 1991, Italy granted Vermouth di Torino protected Geographical Indication (GI) status, and in 2017, the technical standards that define the IGP were set in place. Shortly before the pandemic, vermouth producers were primed to bring Vermouth di Torino to the world.
A key inflection point came in 2019, when a group of vermouth producers formed the Turin Vermouth Consortium, and the European Union (EU) recognized Vermouth di Torino as an official EU designation. But as we all know, 2020 disrupted promotion plans far and wide, putting a pin in the trumpeting of Torino’s Vermouth designation. Today, the Consortium is getting the word out, picking up where it left off in 2019.
Further, “this is coming at a point in the history of vermouth where we’re seeing a boom in vermouth production like we haven’t seen in a long time,” explains Francois Monti, a Madrid-based Vermouth expert.
That also has meant an increase in knockoffs, which the designation is intended to protect against. For example, Bava points to bottlings from Argentina and England labeled as “Turin vermouth” that weren’t made in Turin.
“You know how Italians are when it comes to defending the authenticity of their drinks and food,” Monti adds. “It’s one of the things that explains the urgency that they have moved forward with in the last five years.”
Does Vermouth di Torino Taste Different from Other Types of Vermouth?
Not necessarily. Vermouth di Torino is about where it’s made, not the flavor, which can vary widely. The category’s umbrella includes a wide range of colors (white, amber, rosé and red) and sweetness levels (extra-dry through sweet), meaning a broad expanse of aromas and flavors.
That said, many people specifically associate rich, full-bodied red vermouths, like Carpano Antica, with Vermouth di Torino, says beverage director Cory Holt, who oversees an extensive vermouth program at NYC’s Maialino and Maialino (vino).
“The sweet style tends to have a more warm, spiced and richer quality than a Chambery,” a French vermouth designation, explains Holt. “The sweet or rosso styles are more commonly associated with Torino, but that’s more of a holdover from the historical prevalence of that style in Italy, while France is more commonly associated with bianco or dry styles.”
Historically, the style was bittersweet, with notable intensity and distinctive “balsamic” and spice notes, Monti says. But over the centuries, vermouth producers have evolved their own styles. “There’s nothing in regulations of Vermouth di Torino I remember that defines the taste profile. They define some aspects of production—but not the flavor profile.”
How to Mix and Serve Vermouth di Torino
Of course, it’s ideal for mixing into some of Italy’s best-loved aperitivos. For example, Holt specifically recommends Vermouth di Torino in a Negroni. But it can also be a delight to sip straight up.
“Vermouth di Torino has the capacity to change a drink dramatically depending on which brand you use,” Holt says. “For that same reason, I often encourage guests drink them over ice or with tonic or soda, especially because most people predominantly think of them as a cocktail ingredient not a drink in and of itself.”
9 of Our Favorite Vermouths di Torinos
Cocchi di Torino Extra Dry
Look for a pale straw hue and fresh green apple and white flower aromas. The palate is zippy and remarkably light, with mouthwatering lemon peel and the barest hints of fresh herbs and peppermint on the super-clean, brisk exhale. Martini-worthy. 97 Points.
Carpano Antica Formula
Rich, fruity and enticing, this sweet vermouth is warmed with notes of fig and dried cherries, and just faint hints of spiced gingerbread and bitter orange peel. Drinkable solo as an apéritif, or use it as a cocktail-mixing favorite. 95 Points.
Total Wine & More
D.co Ulrich Bianco
Overall, this golden vermouth is restrained and complex. Dried apple, dried herb and hay aromas lead into a lightly sweet palate. Ripe pear provides the core, surrounded by hints of green apple and lemon peel acidity, plus a gentle tarragon and coriander exhale. 93 Points.
Mancino Vermouth Bianco Ambrato
A big but harmonious fruit bowl of a vermouth: Bold, ripe pear, golden raisin, and a juicy hint of pineapple lead into an assertive coconut and almond midpalate. The finish is laced with clove and cardamom, plus grapefruit peel bitterness. Producer recommends mixing into a Spritz with an orange wedge – sure, what’s one more fruit in the mix? 93 Points.