Words by Simon Difford

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Chinato (pronounced kee-NOT-oh') is an aromatised and fortified wine from Italy's Piedmont region and is traditionally based on Barolo wine, the famous red "wine of kings." The main botanical flavour is quinine is 'china' in Italian, hence the name 'chinato'.

Barolo Chinato is said to have been first made in the late 1870s by Dr Giuseppe Cappellano, a pharmacist in Serralunga d'Alba (one of the villages that comprise the Barolo wine region), with a shop in Turin. Cappellano may have intended his Chinato as a tonic digestivo, but his elixir was drunk to ward off or cure colds, flu, headaches and numerous other ailments. Dr Giuseppe Cappellano Barolo Chinato is still made by the Cappellano family, and this is now one of numerous brands of chinato.

How is Chinato made?

Chinato is made by infusing quinine (the bark from the South American cinchona tree), gentian, rhubarb root, cinnamon, coriander, orange peels, cloves, cardamom seeds, iris flowers, mint, vanilla and other such aromatic botanicals (sometimes over 30) in grape or sugar beet-based neutral alcohol. This infusion (council) is then used to fortify wine, and the blend is matured in oak casks for up to one year. A little sugar is added prior to bottling.

Traditionally, Chinato is based on Barolo DOCG wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, but some producers favour other wines from the Piedmont region according to the flavour profile desired for their Chinoto. For example, Mancino Chinato is based on Barbera d'Asti DOCG wine made from 100% Barbera grapes, while Mauro Vergano uses Grignolino grapes. He also uses Moscato d'Asti to make a white chinato.

What does Barolo Chinato taste like?

Barolo Chinato is a complex aromatised red wine - velvety and fruity, yet spicy and slightly bitter with quinine. Typical flavour notes include berries and dried fruit (mulberry, plum, strawberry and damson), spice, dried and fresh herbs, tobacco, tar, roses, camphor, chocolate, eucalyptus, leather, tannins, tobacco, liquorice, cinnamon, cloves, gentian, mint and white truffles. Lingering quinine leaves a dry finish rather than the sweet fruitiness of regular dessert wines.

How to serve Barolo Chinato

It is best served chilled in a wine glass to accompany a chocolate dessert/dark chocolate or as an after-dinner digestivo. It can also be served over ice or with soda as an aperitif. In cooking and cocktails, use in place of a sweet vermouth or an herbal liqueur. Also, try serving Barolo chinato warm as an instant mulled wine garnished with a slice of orange. You can make the mulled wine less rich by stirring in some lemon juice while warning.

How to store Chinato

Chinato is wine-based and has a relatively low alcohol strength, so it should be treated much like a vermouth. Prior to use, store like wine in a dark, cool place, Once opened, store in a refrigerator, preferably using CO2 or a Vacuvin stopper to slow oxygenation. Ideally, consume within a week of opening.

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