Carpano Antica – Formula of Vermouth
The legend goes a little something like this: A local resident and herbalist named Antonio Benedetto Carpano began mixing botanical ingredients with local moscatel wines–a common practice designed to make herbal medicines and remedies more palatable. He worked and worked in his little shop, until one day, he came up with a winning formula. His herbarium/wine shop happened to have been located on the Piazza Castelo in Torino, near the palace of King Vittorio Amedeo III, and so Carpano sent a case of his newly christened “vermut” to the king. The king found Carpano’s vermouth to be so excellent he decreed that the customary rosolio (rose petal-infused wine) be replaced with Carpano’s vermouth, thus making it the official “royal drink” of Torino.
It’s a very fanciful story. What is interesting, though, is how Carpano decided to brand his concoction; “vermouth” is not an Italian word, it is based on the Germanic word wermut for “wormwood.” During the time period that Carpano was perfecting his recipe, the famous Prussian author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was touring Italy, both compiling information on his first, and landmark, scientific work The Metamorphosis of Plants and sight-seeing ancient Greco-Roman architectural sites. As Goethe walked among the ruins of ancient Rome—that first unifying European empire, he searched for the equivalent in the plant world.
Though Goethe did not find the primordial ancestor to contemporary plant life (his research came 80 years before Darwin’s Origin of Species) while in Italy, he may have found an acolyte in the herbalist Antonio Carpano. It is interesting to me that, as noted above, Carpano chose to use the German name for wormwood—the main botanical ingredient in his beverage—as its official title. The fortified wine, as we know, was most likely invented by those same Romans who left such monumental marks on the Italian landscape. Perhaps naming his fortified wine “vermut” was Carpano’s ode to the millennia-old interaction between Italo-Roman and Germanic peoples and a celebration of Goethe’s visit and research. Maybe it was love and admiration at first sip for the herbalist and botanist?