Four categories in the world of aromatized wines stand out for their enduring impact on and historical importance to classic drinks. The primary three focus on one specific botanical; wormwood for vermouth, gentian for Americano, and cinchona for quinquina or chinato. Take note these are defined Aromatized Wine categories in the European Union (and in preceding French and Italian laws), so any product labelled as Vermouth, Americano, or Quinquina must be an Aromatized Wine.
Vermouth comes from the German word for wormwood—vermut—recalling a Germanic tradition dating to the middle ages. Wormwood (artemisia absinthium) has a weedy, eucalyptus, intensely herbaceous character that attacks both the front and back palate. Infusing wine with wormwood in any meaningful quantity imparts great herbaciousness and a bitter undertone.
Americano is a play on the name ‘amaricante’, an Italian term for bittered, as well a nod to the ‘American’ way of adding bitters to vermouth. The main botanical, gentian root, has floral, radish and earthy notes, expressed in the middle palate.
French Quinquina and Italian Chinato both have cinchona (quinine—think tonic) as the prime botanical but have different traditions for the wine base. Italian chinato usually uses red wines, while French quinquina has a tradition of using wines or mistelle (fortified grape juice). The chinchona imparts a sweet, flat, drying spice flavor experienced in the back palate.
Vino Amaro may use different botanical bases and is often considered the predecessor to the spirit-based products of today.
These are indeed wines, and fortification does not keep them from oxidizing and losing their optimal taste. Because of their fresh wine bases, which by EU and US law must be a minimum of 75% wine, all aromatized wines are best kept chilled once opened and used within 1 to 2 weeks of opening. If in doubt about an aperitif wine’s condition, let your nose be your guide, just as you would with any still wine.