Ah, it has started…the subtle shift of the sun’s intensity. The almost imperceptible drop in degrees in the early morning hours. The beginning of Fall.
I was born for Autumn. I savor it from these first few sips all the way past Christmas, when I am told to put away the earth-toned apparel and welcome the drab gray tones of dreariness. Homemade peach pies are yummy, don’t get me wrong, but they only really serve as practice for my pumpkin and apple pies coming up.
I believe I finally know why I am so fascinated with this season. I am utterly addicted to sensual saturation. From the collage of colors, the rich smells of harvest, the layers of textured clothing to the flavors of warm spiced food and the marching of holidays, one after the other. I am in love with this nostalgic, sensually gluttonous season. It truly speaks to my choice career which allows me to revel in precisely that.
So when last week I was teased for pulling out the Christmasy Chinato too early, I couldn’t care less. I sensed a hint of harvest ‘round the corner, and I was ready to start sippin’ it up!
Chinato (pronounced Key-Nah-Toe) is one of my favorite post-dinner digestifs. But it was not always so. In fact, it was only about two years ago that I was introduced to this herbal concoction. At the time, even knowledge that the base was Barolo couldn’t convince me of its allure. My palate was only beginning to categorize ‘light wines’—basically your standard red, white and bubbles. Aperitifs, digestifs, liqueurs, cordials, spirits and fortifieds were in another category altogether. It was rather hit or miss. Admittedly, more the latter than the former. Everyone kept saying I would eventually develop the ‘taste’ for sipping wines. But for now, this fine crafted wine just seemed to be a Jagermeister imposter.
I am still a far cry from peaty Laphroag Scotch Whisky… but I am coming around slowly but surely.
I was at Colt & Gray a couple weeks ago when the bartender encouraged me to give it another shot. This time, it didn’t taste like Jager whatsoever. Rather, the Roagna was incredibly layered, complex and elegant. I was instantly hooked and had another glass at Frasca the following week after work by the producer Borgogno. I am anxiously awaiting the Cappellano’s arrival as the season progresses, for not only was that my first introduction to this sensational styled wine (or, at least, that’s what I think NOW), but it was the world’s as well.
Possibly more interesting than Chinato itself is its history.
What is now considered a fine fortified wine, was once the product of local alchemists in Serralunga d’Alba. Back in the early 1800’s, Dr. Giuseppe Cappallano, a chemist by trade and a wine lover by nighttime, was determined to unveil wine’s therapeutic qualities, for he felt them to be real. Before he became a pharmacist, he was a foodie. Combined with his natural interest in chemistry, he was fascinated in learning the effect various ingredients had on the body. Wine, he knew to have incredible health benefits in and of itself (in moderation of course). So his focus was to pull these three passions together and create a medicinal digestif.
Cappallano set about taking the best wine of the region, Barolo, and infusing quinine bark, cloves, wormwood, cinnamon as well as various other alpine and oriental herbs, whilst fortifying it with a local neutral spirit. Before long, it was a household cabinet item, as it cured stomach aches, common colds, headaches, flu and promoted healthy digestion post-dinner. It became appropriate as an aperitif on the rocks as well as a common token of regional hospitality when hosting a guest.
Unfortunately, the sheer cost of Barolo has made this digestif harder (and more expensive) to find. Few producers even bottle this for market anymore. But the several that do, really rock it. You need to go out and get a bottle. Now. Throw a chill on it, I don’t care. But join me in this effort to appreciate a rare art of wine production.
Here are the ones I can whole heartedly recommend:
Cappallano Barolo Chinato—Because you should always give credit where credit is due. Still Frasca’s all time favorite on the market. I am anxiously awaiting its arrival, as I know I will truly appreciate it this time around!
Roagna Barolo Chinato—A brighter style, most suitable for summer if you are going to be like me and just go for it. A blend of 33 herbs infuse these amber-hued sips of loveliness.
Borgogno Barolo Chinato—A bit warmer on the palate, the exotic spices really pop! The spices are actually divided into 3 categories and infused separately so as to not overpower one another and rather sing in unison once bottled. A blend of 39 different herbs.