Dear Casa Carmen Family,
We have often talked about our wines and our reasons for making them, but I want to devote this letter to one of our proudest achievements: our vermouth, Tender is the Night—named after a line in one of my favorite poems, Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats, which was later the inspiration for the title of Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night. As you may imagine, I could talk about that for a very long time, but will spare you the details. Either way, we are often asked: Why vermouth? And what in the world is vermouth anyways?
The answer is, of course, that vermouth is much more than that old bottle that you pull out from the liquor cabinet once or twice a year to use in your martinis. Strictly speaking, vermouth is an aperitivo wine, an aromatized and fortified wine (like port or sherry but infused with botanicals). It is made by fermenting grapes to turn into wine, distilling a portion of that wine to turn into pure spirit, macerating that spirit with a unique blend of botanicals, and blending it all back together. But vermouth is even more than that. It has a history as rich as its taste, and it is a way of life in the places with the best way of life.
There are many theories regarding the origins of vermouth. One theory
focuses on the inseparable development of wine and medicine. Hippocrates, the Ancient Greek physician responsible for some of the most acute early biomedical observations and for the famous Hippocratic Oath, was known for his healing potion: Hippocratic wine or Hippocras. This was not just any wine, but wine that had been aromatized, macerated with herbs and spices with varied medicinal and tonic properties. It was, broadly speaking, vermouth.
Though vermouth, in its modern form, didn’t appear until the mid 19th century in Turin and under the vision of Antonio Benedetto Carpano, people had been making botanical wine for thousands of years—particularly wine with a very special herb: wormwood, or the German wermut, which is where the name vermouth comes from. It would eventually migrate to France to transform into
Vermouth de Chambéry, and then make its way to Spain—to Reus, in the outskirts of Barcelona, to become so popular that today it is the drink of
choice of the new generation. Vermouth, vermú or vermut in Spain, has become so wildly popular that it is now a verb: vermuteo, which is used to refer to the activity of going to different terraces, streets, bars, piazzas, beaches, boats, backyards, patios to eat mounds of olives, cheeses, charcuterie and tinned fish while drinking glass after glass of cold, sweet vermouth on ice with a splash of soda. “Vamos de vermuteo,” (let’s go vermouthing) is one of the sweetest things one can hear another say after a long day of work, or on warm Saturday night or on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The good people of Southern Europe, but especially Madrid and Barcelona, have turned this sun-soaked activity into an artform and a way of life.
Our vermouth aims at being just that. In the words of Wine and Spirits Magazine, “Tender is the Night is a barrel-aged black vermouth, a rare Spanish style, flavored with black walnuts, wormwood, orange peel, herbs and baking spices. It’s herbaceous and spiced, like a brooding grown-up root beer when topped with soda and a twist. It begs heaping some good tinned fish on bread and pretending it’s pintxos in Iberia.”
This is the “why” of vermouth: it is a way of life. It is the meeting place of the winemaker, the distiller, the chef, the botanist, and, in this case, the ever-aspiring poet. It is wine, spirit, liqueur, aperitivo and medicinal tea. It is the right companion in the high summer when poured on ice and spritzed with bubbles, and it is the consolation in the bleak mid-winter when poured neat on a crystal Nick and Nora. It is lighthearted as it is serious. It is a sensual adventure that moves from the earthy to the herbal, to the floral, to the fruity, to form an everlasting bond with the sky. It is, to remember Keats:
"...a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
...O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
with beaded bubbles winking at the brim...”
Vermouth is an immortal bird that whispers songs of a joyful world, and a knight that wields a wooden sword in the relentless defense of the beauty.
We hope this Iberian practice of vermuteo helps you through the summer and through life. We hope it becomes balm for the weary and courage for our quixotic fight. We hope you make this vermouth yours and drink it however you like it. We hope you have a summer that is “bold, lyrical, and free.” Because “Already with thee! Tender is the night.”