Having never heard of vermouth before, Charlotte Harding finds out more about one created in Sussex.
Forget Aperol or gin, Alison Nightingale of Albourne Estate is hoping that vermouth is going to be the next big drink of choice.
“It is very versatile,” she explains. “We wanted a drink that could be drunk on its own or used in cocktails.
“We have found many people don’t really know what a vermouth is, but once they have tried it they really like it. It is about getting people to sample it and see what it is like.”
Named 40 after the number of botanicals with which it has been infused, it uses many herbs and other ingredients which are grown in the English countryside.
“We tried various different botanical flavours,” she says. We just experimented with different combinations so we have citrus, herbs, coffee and saffron. We started with 60 but then refined it and looked at and it went down to 40.
“We wanted that right balance of sweet, bitter and citrus notes to create something people can enjoy drinking.”
The vermouth is created at Albourne Estate nestled in the South Downs.
Alison bought the vineyard in 2010 after completing a part time viticulture course at Plumpton College.
“I worked in marketing but left after I had my second child,” she recalls.
“I was always interested in vineyards after visiting some boutique ones in New Zealand and Australia. When I started the course I never intended to have my own vineyard, it was just something that would get me out the house.”
Over the four years, Alison fell in love with it so when she finished, along with her husband, they embarked on a search for some land.
“We looked all over as we needed the land, the buildings, the house and somewhere that was good for schools,” she explains.
“We were giving up hope when this place came up which was five minutes from where we were living in Hurstpierpoint.”
They planted the first vines in 2010, the first harvest was in 2013. The vineyard currently produces four still wines and four sparkling.
Vermouth is a fortified wine made from pressing wine not used in the still and sparkling wine the vineyard produces.
“We have consultants come visit us and we have an Italian one called Salvatore come and he mentioned about creating a vermouth,” she says.
“Recently most of the launches from small drinks producers have been in gin, but vermouth makes much more sense for us as a wine producer as it is wine based, fits well with our range and is delicious to drink.”
It uses matured Albourne Estate base wines blended with the botanical extract and sugar. It is then fortified to 18 per cent of alcohol. And 40 is one of just a handful of English variants, containing the vital bitter, aromatic wormwood ingredient required to take the vermouth name.
A legal requirement is that vermouth contains at least 75 per cent ‘grape-derived’ wine, which is one of the reasons why the vineyard chose to diversify into this area.
“Unlike wine it will keep for several weeks once opened because of the alcohol content, you don’t have to keep it in the fridge but you can,” she explains.
Alison and her team have created their own cocktail recipes including ‘The English Rose’ with gin, tonic water, a splash of rose water and the vermouth.
Other cocktails include the Negroni which consists of gin, Campari alongside the vermouth and the English Spritz which is one part 40 vermouth, three parts sparkling English wine such as Albourne Estate Blanc de Blancs.
“Vermouth is becoming quite big in America and the potential is huge this side of the Atlantic once people understand how and when to drink it. I believe that we are ahead of the wave in what could be the next big thing after gin.”
So time to raise a glass I think.
To view the full range or still and sparkling wines and the vermouth visit www.albourneestate.co.uk