Chinato, a bittersweet remedy for Italy’s Coronavius meltdown

Palladino is a leading winery in Barolo, Piedmonte and produces a bittersweet Barolo Chinato aromatized wine

Italy is in Coronavirus lockdown. The whole country has moved from Red Zones in Lombardy and Veneto to going into ‘Lockdown’. Police cars crawl around my city instructing people to stay at home though loudhailers. But when in crisis, Italians turn to food and drink for solace and fortitude. So how can a simple drink help. In this case, it’s Barolo Chinato, a sweet, aromatized drink made in a few northern Italian vineyards.

The country’s response to the pandemic is being closely watched across the world as it’s now has the unwelcomed reputation for being the ‘hottest’ spot for infections outside the original source country of China, and just ahead of Spain. Indeed, just today, March 14 the first two cases were reported in my town of Bra.

The virus attacks people indiscriminately, whether or not you have a strong immune system.

I was joined at the tasting with fellow wine enthusiasts of Catame, by way of Venezuela

So how can you protect yourself and strengthen that immune system without a visit to the doctors or local pharmacy? There are thousands of ways, from highly processed pills from Big Pharma to antidotes your Grandma would recommend and that back in the Middle Ages might have been prescribed by witches and warlocks.

I’m going for something that my dear Grandmother would have approved of. No, not a glass of hot water infused with lemon, honey and ginger, but something a little more fun, with a little more poke and an ABV of 16%! Like many drinks Barolo Chinato started life with medicinal intentions.

Here in the Langhe region of Piedmont, home to the two great wine growing areas, the King and Queen of Barolo and Barbaresco wine production. Barolo is a very special place of rolling hills and hilltop towns and towers of the Langhe region south of Turin. It’s here that they offer Chinato as a remedy to coughs, colds, and sniffles and hopefully this tricksy virus.

Famous for its red wines made with the Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes, Barolo is a DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin). . Produced using red wine made solely from grapes grown in the Barolo DOCG region, Chinato is created to a secret recipe by each winery.

How it’s made

An aromatised wine like its cousin Vermouth born in nearby Turin, Chinato is a drink created made by adding a maceration of herbs and spices to Barolo DOCG red wine. First seen for sale in the late 1800s,

Several wineries make claims to have invented the recipe. Several anecdotal accounts attribute it to a local pharmacist Giovanni Cappellano, based in the town of Alba that lies just north of Barolo.  His family owned vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba, home to the Palladino winery that I visited and bought my bottle of Chinato. It’s named for the tree bark China, the Italian word for Cinchona officinalis, the tree from which quinine is extracted.

Other flavours include gentian root, camomile, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla and aromatic roots.

It’s then aged in oak barrels (four months) and bottles (two months) to the aromatisation to slowly work its magic.

How to drink it

There are many ways to enjoy Chinato, and is great whether you are served a glass at room temperature as a welcoming aperitivo, an elegant end of a meal digestivo, or steam heated with an orange zest, reminiscent of a mulled wine. It also pairs well with a snap of bitter, dark chocolate.

Use it as an ingredient for Negroni along with gin and Campari, with peel of orange and grapefruit; mix it with tonic water, strawberries and a leaf or two of basil and a special Spritz; serve it with a slice of Panettone (save it for Christmas time), or pair it with a snap of dark, bitter chocolate.

In warm, summer months it’s a refreshing bitter-sweet drink when mixed with ice and lemon.

Dark Amber in colour with a ruby-red edge, the main taste is one of concentrated aromas, both herbal and spicy. Your first sip might be slightly medicinal, but this initial hit quickly evolves into fruity, softer flavours, although still herbal and spicy with a bittersweet ending. However, with each producer creating their own recipe, each brand will have its own library of flavours.

Need to know

This data describes Palladino’s Barolo Chinato, but is fairly typical of other types.

ABV: 16% (typically between 16-17ºC).

Bottle:  75cl

Typical Ingredients: Barolo wine, sugar, alcohol, an infusion of natural, aromatic herbs and spices.

Storage: Keep in cool place, especially when opened and keep closed.

Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.

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