Vermouth has a very long history, but is essentially wine fortified with spirit and infused with herbs and botanicals plus a little sweetness for balance.
The concept of mixing wine with herbs (for medicinal purposes) dates back to ancient China as well as early Indian and Greek history, but the modern incarnation of vermouth is most associated with Turin in northern Italy.
In the late 19th century it became popular with bartenders as a key ingredient for cocktails, such as the martini, the Manhattan, the Rob Roy and the Negroni.
The etymology of the name is wermut, the German for the Wormwood tree and a base flavouring. Vermouth is part of a larger family of bitter tonic drinks originally believed to have medicinal properties, such as tonic water, bitters and colas
Barbadillo's Atamán Vermut first originated in the 1940s and was made using a Manzanilla sherry base, infused with a herbs and botanicals such as Quassia tree bark (a kind of cinnamon), rosemary, Seville bitter orange peel and elderberries.
It proved hugely popular but a later decline in interest forced Barbadillo to close their doors on the project in the 1960s, leaving a significant amount of vermouth ageing undisturbed in old oak butts and demi johns in their cellars.
The closure notwithstanding, Barbadillo's bodega workers would quietly tend to the well-being of these stocks and as a result the company now has at its disposal an amazing 50-year-old vermouth still in excellent condition.
Through analysis of the original Vermut, as well as consulting with retired workers, Barbadillo formulated a new recipe to approximate the same flavour profile as the original. For increased authenticity, a small portion of the incredibly concentrated, 50-year-old original vermouth is also blended into the mix, giving it depth and character.
Only small batches of 1500 bottles are released at a time, with the original logo and brand on the bottle. The name, however, remains something a mystery; it means Cossack chief but what prompted Manuel Barbadillo to use this is unknown.
Barbadillo Atamán Vermut, (£19.99, Amazon, Horsham Cellar, Wadebridge Wines, Harrogate Fine Wines, Cozzi and Boffa) aromatic and herbal with bold, complex bitter botanicals and roasted spices; initially bittersweet, it finishes dry; very long, savoury and multi-layered.
Sip neat as an aperitif in cooler months; in summer, served chilled over ice with a slice of orange, or with a mixer such as dry tonic. Also as a backbone to cocktails such as a Negroni or a Manhattan.
If serving with food, match the spiced bitter-sweetness to creamy chicken in spiced tarragon sauce or ham with cloves and an orange-marmalade glaze.
World Vermouth Day is on 21st March 2020.
Other food and cocktail suggestions:
Oz Clark says: Too good for a Negroni? Not when I’ve got the thrilling Garden Swift gin and a 40 year-old Campari to mix.