Blog post

Vermouth, a Turin aperitivo

Exploring the history of vermouth in Turin

cropped illustration from a vermouth poster showing three bottles on a table
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Vermouth is an aperitif alcoholic drink, a fortified wine, flavoured with herbs and other botanicals. There are three general varieties: red (rosso), white (bianco) and dry.

Since the 18th century, versions of vermouth have been produced in Turin, Italy with the city becoming synonymous with the development and popularity of many vermouth brands.

colour photograph of a bottle of cinzano with glasses which are placed on vinyl records

Fortified wines have been made for centuries. The name 'vermouth' comes from the French pronounciation of the German word Wermut, meaning wormwood. Fortified wines containing wormwood as the main ingredient existed in Germany around the 16th century. At about this time, an Italian merchant began producing a similar product in Piedmont as a 'wormwood wine'.

Vermouth first began being produced as a product in the 18th century in Turin.

Distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano is credited as being the first vermouth producer. In 1786, he opened a shop selling the drink which he had also produced. Vermouth soon became so popular that the shop opened 24 hours a day. Its success among the Turin aristocracy convinced Carpano to intensify production and, later, to export the drink. It also inspired other producers, who began making vermouth on an industrial-scale.

poster or label for a vermouth brand with wording and image of a factory or distillery and portrait of the founder

Some decades earlier, in the 1750s, two brothers - Giovanni Giacomo and Carlo Stefano Cinzano - created 'vermouth rosso' (red vermouth) which similarly became popular with the Turin aristocracy. The red version was followed by Cinzano Bianco. In the 1890s, Cinzano began exports, mainly to Argentina, Brazil and the USA. In 1913, in Paris, Cinzano was the first product to be advertised with a neon sign.

poster for Cinzano with title words 'vino vermouth' and illustration of an art-nouveau style woman drinking
poster for Cinzano showing a female figure in a white dress on a dark red horse

Martini is another Turin vermouth brand. It stems from the 1840s when a bottling plant was opened in a town near to Turin. In 1863, the name Martini was adopted, named after Alessandro Martini who had become the director of the company. They started exporting bottles of vermouth around the world. Martini became a very popular brand of vermouth, which remains to this day.

elaborately decorated advertisement for vermouth brand Martini
poster for Martini which is dark red with an orange-coloured female figure who wears a hat and drinks a Martini drink

By the late 19th century, vermouth's popularity grew when bartenders began using it in cocktails such as the Martini, the Manhattan, the Rob Roy and the Negroni.

photograph of a martini in a cocktail glass with an olive

Many more brands existed in Turin during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Art movements of the early and mid-20th century - such as art nouveau and art deco - are reflected in the posters and labels of vermouth bottles. In Italy, vermouth producers sponsored many sports and cultural events.

Brands became popular across Europe - these examples are from museums in Austria, Belgium, Estonia, the Netherlands and Sweden.

advert for a vermouth brand with an illustration of glasses in a row
colour photograph of a bottle of vermouth with brand Ragati and elaborately decorated label
colour photograph of a bottle of vermouth
colour photograph of a bottle of Martini vermouth
vermouth advertisement, a bottle of vermouth against a turquoise background with white text

Vermouth's popularity slowed a little in the late 20th century, although many vermouth brands associated with Turin continued to be produced. Many started as family-owned companies, and have since been amalgamated into larger corporations. In the early 21st century, new artisinal vermouth producers have begun to emerge in Turin, perhaps signalling the beginning of a new era for vermouth.