Words by Simon Difford
As the name (which incidentally is pronounced 'barolo kee-NOT-oh') suggests, Barolo Chinato is an aromatised wine is based on Barolo wine, the famous red "wine of kings" from Italy's Piedmont region. This is fortified with an infusion of quinine and other herbs and spices. Quinine is 'china' in Italian, hence the name 'chinato'.
Barolo Chinato is said to have been first made by Giuseppe Cappellano in Serralunga d'Alba - one of the villages that comprise the Barolo wine region. Cappellano was a 19th-century pharmacist and he intended the wine as a medicinal tonic. He may have intended it as a simple digestive but his elixir was drunk to ward off or cure colds, flus, headaches and numerous other ailments.
How is Barolo Chinato made?
Barolo 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 neutral alcohol. This infusion is then used to fortify Barolo DOCG wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes and the blend matured in oak casks for up to one year. A little sugar is added prior to bottling.
What does Barolo Chinato taste like?
Barolo Chinato is a very complex aromatised 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
Best served chilled in a wine glass to accompany a chocolate dessert/dark chocolate or as an after dinner digestive. It can also be served over ice either neat 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 Barolo Chinato
Barolo chinato is wine based and has a relatively low alcohol strength so should be treated much a vermouth. Prior to use store like a wine in a dark, cool place. One opened store in a refrigerator, preferably using CO2 or a Vacuvin stopper to slow oxygenisation. Ideally consume within a week of opening.