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coercing cool weather with chinato.

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.



About mistralwine1982

Originally from Wisconsin, I moved to Colorado in 2005 in order to get closer to the mountains and rock climb. When it occurred to me that I would never make money with that hobby, I went to grad school. I received a masters in English and American Literature from New York University in May of 2009. I have since then opted not to pursue a PhD, for studying and writing about wine is far more fascinating (well, perhaps not moreso than Virginia Woolf, but still… for the long haul?). My favorite wines come from the old world, especially the Rhone, Burgundy, Rioja, Piedmont, and Tuscany. I am also smitten with roses, Italian hard-to-pronounce white varietals, and dessert wines from around the world. By day I run a wine shop. By nite, I sip and tell. It’s rough… but someone must do this.


3 thoughts on “coercing cool weather with chinato.

  1. So over 30 years ago, in the late seventies, I was a dinner guest in the home of a noted retailer and enophile and was presented with my first taste of barolo chinato. The other guests, all male, were artists in dance and the theater and it seemed so chic to be standing there sipping this bright red aperitif in small slim glasses. I imagined how chic it would make me to have this special digestif in my home too. So I bought a case the next day from that retailer.

    My wife, however, thought I was crazy buying this sweet, 16.5% alcohol, bitter thing rather than a case of “real” Barolo. (I guess you had to be there.) Neither did my guests on first attempt to serve it to company. They gave me that same eye roll as my wife. So the case of Chinato sat there until I discovered that a friend with an Italian last name (who wore italian suits and drove italian cars, and had a taste for anything Italian) had a taste for Chinato. So whenever he would come to dinner a bottle would be opened, he and I would have a small glass or two, my wife would roll her eyes, and I would send the rest of the bottle home with him. I thought we had used it all a couple decades ago, but a few days ago I found one that had been misplaced in my cellar. I was told that chinato would age, but it will be interesting to see how the wine after 30 years, now low in the bottle neck, black deposit firm to the sides of the bottle, but seemingly still red in color through the brown bottle, has progressed. (I’m thinking of forcing that retailer to drink it with me.)

    Any bets on how it has aged?

    Posted by Tom Ferrell | 08/29/2011, 1:38 pm
    • Hey Tom,

      First off, love the response. Not every day a blog is met with a, well…blog. So nicely written and enjoyable to read. I even shared with a couple of my reps.

      To answer your question, many winery websites mention that they are best up to about 20 years. I relayed this to a very seasoned colleague who laughed and said they would go for a 100 years… no joke. Sure it may lose a bit of fruit or richness, but theoretically it should be still very interesting and complex.

      Open it up and tell me all about it! Only one way to find out for sure!

      Hey, I noticed you are from Spring Mountain. Any strange chance you are part of the upcoming Touch the Terroir? I will be there…

      Posted by ahausman | 08/30/2011, 6:13 pm
  2. Yeah it was a little lengthy, but your lucky I didn’t go on about how this same retailer talked me into about two weeks of pay on a special bottling of Chartreuse in a handblown bottle. I don’t seem to ever learn.

    Re: TtT. I most definitely will be there. I’m currently doing the planning/logistics,that’s why I was lurking your site. I put you up at Paloma. Alissa will soon send the details. Look forward to meeting you.


    Posted by Tom Ferrell | 08/31/2011, 8:18 am

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