Paul Clarke has a big article in the SF Chronicle about vermouth. My favorite part was the history, most of which I didn't know:
Vermouth's commercial origins date to 1786, when Antonio Benedetto Carpano began marketing the aromatized wine he produced in Turin, but the consumption of vermouth and its precursors stretches back centuries. Typically made from neutral-character dry white wines that have been flavored with herbs, roots and barks - typically including cardamom, cinnamon, marjoram and chamomile - and then fortified with a neutral grape spirit, vermouth is classically made - and named - for another botanical: wormwood (the plant's name in Old High German is Wermud).
Used as a treatment against intestinal worms, wormwood has been added to wine and ale since at least the time of Greek mathematician Pythagoras, and wine infused with herbs including wormwood was utilized as a tonic and medical treatment by Hippocrates.
By the late 17th century, homemade vermouths were commonly made in the Piedmont region of Italy. In the decades following Carpano's commercial debut, other vermouth makers began production in Turin: The Cinzano family opened their facility in 1816. Martini & Rossi, now the largest manufacturer of vermouth, started production in 1863.
In 1813, Joseph Noilly created the style that came to be known as
dry vermouth or French vermouth. By 1855, Noilly's son, Louis, and his
brother-in-law, Claudius Prat, were producing Noilly Prat dry vermouth
in the southern French village of Marseillan. Like the Italian firms,
Noilly uses white grapes, specifically Clairette and Picpoul grapes
grown in the Languedoc region of France, but doesn't color the wine.
Starting with the aptly named Vermouth Cocktail, which debuted in print in 1869 and is composed of chilled vermouth with a twist of lemon peel, occasionally accented with dashes of bitters and maraschino liqueur - ample quantities of vermouth were consumed in cocktails in the decades that followed its mixological debut.