Chinato and Quinquina from Italy’s Piedmont, South Africa’s Swartlands, and the Columbia Valley

While technically not a Vermouth, Chinato is similar in its infusion of herbs and spices. What’s different is the addition of Cinchona. Cinchona is the dried bark of the South American tree that is a source of quinine and used for a variety of medicinal purposes; it’s the national tree of Peru.  The bitterness of the bark and other spices (usually, gentian roots, rhubarb, cardamom, cinnamon, orange) requires the addition of sugar to be palatable. The most famous and historical ones come from the Piedmont, the most famous being made with Barolo.  While not common, producers outside Italy now produce Chinato, too. Oregon’s Cana Feast Winery makes a Nebbiolo-based Chinato, and in South Africa Adi Badenhorst partnered with Danish bar master Lars-Erik Lyndgaard Schmidt to reinvent that country’s version of Chinato.

Chinato should be served lightly chilled and taken neat or over the rocks with a twist of citrus. However, it can also be used as a mixer. The Mancini Vermouth  and Cana’s Feast websites gives several recipes.

Tasting Notes

Pio Cesare Barolo Chinato ($95) 95  Medium dark red showing amber on the edge with a profusely aromatic nose of citrus and dates and an elegant, creamy palate with woodsy, herbal notes and flavors that evoke spiced English Christmas cake with dried red cherries.. Lovely, long finish.  Lovely, long, long finish.  Only 80 cases made annually. The perfect after dinner drink; best consumed neat. US Importer: MMD

Mancino Chinato Vermouth ($32) 91  Dark red garnet.  Shows a spicy, woodsy note with a dried fruit character similar to Amarone.  Bright dark red fruit shows on the palate with hints of Christmas spices and compote of dark cherry; finishes with just a hint of bitterness. A fresh, fruity note appears when served on the rocks, Based on red wine from Erede di Chiappone Armando with a red wine base of Barbera d’Asti and added quinine bark Calissaja using the original recipe of Giancarlo Mancino. 17.5% alc. US Importer: Fasel Shenstone

Badenhorst The Grande Quinquina Caperitif Kaapse Dief Swartland ($30) 94 From South Africa’s Swartland comes this unorthodox Chinato made with Chenin Blanc rather than Nebbiolo and flavored with Cinchona and an infusion of 43 botanicals including Fynbos, Kalmoes and Naartjies.  Light bronze in color with aromas of nectarine, tangerine and wild fynbos. It’s light and refreshing with light bitter notes on the finish. Served on the rocks with orange zest it’s a true aperitif that awakens the palate to the coming meal.  Inspired by the 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book, which mentions a Cape quinine wine called Caperitif. US Importer: Broadbent

Sordo Barolo Chinato ($45) 91 Sordo’s Nebbiolo based Chinato has bitter-edged herbal spice, earthy, dark cherry compote and citrus aromas and flavors. Made from an old family recipe with oak-aged Barolo infused with cinchona calisaya and aromatic alpine herbs and the addition of grappa from the Piedmont.  The Azienda Agricola Giovanni Sordo is a traditional family winery located in the Barolo region not far from Alba.

Cana’s Feast NV Chinato d’Erbetti Columbia Valley ($45) 92 Showing an effusive bouquet of cinnamon, clove, sassafras, sandalwood, resin and myriad other herbs and spices.  Full in the mouth with firm tannins, flavors that mirror the bouquet, and an enticing ying-yang of sweet and bitter.  Inspired by Barolo’s Chinato and created by winemaker Patrick Taylor, the base wine is Nebbiolo from Washington State’s Ciel du Cheval vineyard that has been barrel aged for several years, fortified with brandy, and infused with 18 different herbs, spices, and aromatic plants.  Unfined and unfiltered. 17.4% alc.

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