Vermouth in France: a unique tasting experience

Join Wine Paths on a cultural discovery in France, sampling the finest vermouths and learning about the incredible history of wine making and distilling in this famous grape region. Discover this often misunderstood fortified wine that is rarely made in other parts of the world.

Known for its high society and culture, France is a nation that welcomes millions of visitors each year. From the rolling vineyards and premier wineries to its charming cities with their grand architecture and beautiful museums, every experience in France is luxurious yet laidback.

Many connoisseurs have enjoyed multiple French wine tasting holidays, but few ever venture into the vermouth category. Although widely consumed in France, it still isn’t particularly well understood worldwide, and is often confused with Italian vermouth. While vermouth first came from Italy, the French found a way to refine, adapt and make it their own. Nowadays, the two varieties speak for themselves and showcase their own unique characteristics and flavor distinctions.

Both French and Italian vermouth are classified as a fortified and aromatized wine, which is in its essence, wine spiked with brandy. Infused with various herbs and spices and sweetened to taste, the flavors are interesting and the finished product can be enjoyed in a number of ways. From cocktails and mixers to drinking it on its own (the best way according to experts), French vermouth is versatile. With less sweetness than the Italian version – and lighter in color – it’s a drink that brings together the very best in French alcohol.

To learn more about refined vermouth varieties, join Wine Paths on an exclusive discovery across France.

Why vermouth tasting in France?

Vermouth production isn’t something that happens anywhere in the world, so in a way it’s a rare craft. Most vermouth is made in Italy and France, and these are the official homes to this enigmatic beverage.

Its humble beginnings date back to Turin, Italy in the mid-18th Century. During this period, vermouth was being distilled for medicinal purposes in a similar way to other spirits around the world. It was later recognized as a popular aperitif and quickly became a fashionable drink that could be served around the clock.

The French followed with vermouth making in the early 19th Century and it all began with Joseph Noilly in Lyon. Noilly made his first concoction by mixing fortified white wine with plants, herbs and spices. By the middle of the century, he moved production over to Marseillan and this has been the headquarters of the iconic Noilly Prat label ever since. For many vermouth beginners, Noilly Prat is a quintessential French vermouth to try. 

Today, many French dining tables give vermouth center stage before the start of a meal. It’s a common aperitif to whet the appetite and make guests feel relaxed. Although it can be used in cocktail making, the vermouth purists swear by drinking it straight or over a cube of ice with a twist. If you’re new to vermouth tasting in France, enjoying vermouth on its own is definitely the best way to train your palate.

Places to visit in France

When it comes to sampling vermouth in France, you have to begin your journey with Noilly Prat, one of the most iconic names in the industry. It was the first ever French vermouth producer and remains one of the world’s finest today. Maison Noilly Prat is located in the South of France, just 50 minutes from Montpellier, on the shores of the Thau Lagoon and in the quaint Port of Marseillan. The high season for this distillery is May to September and the low season is March to April and October.

Chambéry is an Alpine town that makes the famous vermouth de Chambéry, a regional variety made up of two brands using the herbs and botanicals found in the Alpine area above. The brands here are Dolin and Bonal.

In Lyon, where French vermouth started out, is the premium label of St. Raphael. This is an iconic aperitif that has maintained its popularity through the decades thanks to its unique flavors and strong branding. And for a vermouth that is like no other in France, give Dubbonet a go in the charming commune of Thuir.

When to visit France

Although France has many regions with their own microclimates, the country mostly has a temperate climate. This means summers are warm and mild, and winters can be cool, without any temperature extremities. Summer is a popular time for many people to travel as longer daylight hours and hot weather is on the cards, but the shoulder seasons are just as great and can be a good way to avoid the busy summer rush.

If you don’t want to be caught up in the crowds, travel in spring instead (April to June). Or catch the beautiful autumnal colors of the French countryside in autumn (September to November). Bear in mind that September to October is the harvest season for wine country, so some of the wine routes will be busy at this time too.  

FAQs

What is the difference between Italian vermouth and French vermouth?

Italian vermouth is often known for being much sweeter and being red in color, while French vermouth is much drier and is paler in color. However, this isn’t always the case with modern vermouth varieties, particularly with Italian brands like Martini that create vermouth in every style.

What grape varietals are used to make French vermouth?

Several wine grapes are generally used as the base ingredients for vermouths. But the signature French white vermouth, which is often clear in color, is made from around 80% Picpoul grape and 20% Clairette Blanche. These tend to be the most common grape varietals used for all vermouths in France.

What is used to flavor French vermouth?

Many herbs and botanicals are used to flavor vermouths in France. At the heart of this drink is wormwood, but the flavors can range from things as light as chamomile to coffee, bitter orange and cocoa for some of the non-classic varieties such as Byrrh or Dubbonet. The Noilly Prat label uses flavorings such as coriander, cloves, nutmeg and veronica to flavor its classic white vermouth.

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