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Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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vermouth, herb-flavoured fortified wine available in many different styles and qualities but usually a much more industrial product than wine. The Romans certainly made herb-flavoured wines, and the Greeks before them used a wide range of additives (see Ancient greece), often using wormwood or artemesia absinthum, which was thought to have curative powers for gastric ills. Such flavoured wines were strictly of local minority interest until the 16th century when a Piemontese, d’Alessio, began to market a medicinal wine similar to those he had noted in Bavaria flavoured with wormwood, there called Wermuth. The medicine, which enjoyed a certain success in French royal circles, subsequently became known as vermutwein and, in Anglicized form, vermouth. The diarist Samuel Pepys noted ‘a glass of wormwood wine’ without the comment it would have elicited had it been anything other than commonplace in late-17th-century London. Modern large-scale vermouth production dates from 18th-century piemonte, close to the Alps which could supply the necessary herbs. Brands such as Cinzano, Martini, and the French Noilly Prat threw off any pretence at curative powers during the cocktail age and were particularly popular in the early and mid 20th century.