Barolo Chinato is a wine-based digestif, or digestivo as it’s termed in Italy, and since the wine base is the coveted Italian Barolo from Italy’s Piedmont region, I’ll stick with digestivo. Barolo Chinato (pronounced kee-nah-tow) is an after-dinner drink, famous for aiding digestion and being one of the few that may be unforgettable in the best possible way. While some classify ports and most liqueurs as a digestif, there are two ways to look at these pleasures. 1) There are sweet and luscious after-dinner drinks that make a nice/incredible dessert to end the evening, and 2) there are digestivos/digestifs that serve the purpose of settling the tummy and tasting amazing at the same time.
Whatever a true digestif is, it is always a conversation starter. Have you ever sipped a Green Chartreuse with friends without commenting on it – like after the first taste? Likely not. Have you enjoyed Kahlua and continued on with whatever you were discussing without an ooooh or awe about the Kahlua? Be truthful. The answer is yes, no matter how much you love Kahlua (and I do). Sometimes, a true digestif tastes simply vile (but it’s always a matter of personal taste). Others, they’re okay – you learn how to maneuver them over and around your taste buds to lessen the initial shock, and then there are those that are sublime, like Green Chartreuse (which I still have to maneuver a bit). Barolo Chinato falls into the sublime category for me.
Barolo is a wine made from the red Nebbiolo grape in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. Good Barolo is a big, robust black-laden fruit wine. Barolo has it’s own appellation or DOCG in Italy (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) – in other words guaranteeing that the Nebbiolo grapes in a bottle of Barolo are grown within the DOCG and made to controlled specifications. The wine in a bottle of Barolo Chinato is Barolo, but does not carry the DOCG designation due to the method of production.
How Barolo Chinato is Made: The dominant characteristic of Barolo Chinato (kee-nah-tow), besides the Barolo, is the Calisaya bark (sometimes spelled Calissaya) or “quinine bark” translated to ‘china’ in Italian (also known as cinchona bark). Calisaya is not from China, but from Southern Peru, the Andes and Bolivia. Barolo Chinato is Barolo steeped with the Calisaya bark, then a two-month maceration with orange and other citrus peels, juniper, star anise – notably gentians, a dark blue flower found in the Alps – cinnamon, clove, cardamon, rhubarb roots, juniper, a bit of sugar. Oak barrel aging, usually a year or more, and you have Barolo Chinato, bitters, but bitters as you’ve never tasted them. But here is a caveat: One producer uses 33 secret herbs and spices, another uses 21 herbs and spices and other don’t say, so the ingredients listed in this paragraph are the most commonly noted.
The Calisaya bark is in every producers bottle of Barolo Chinato, but Barolo is not in every bottle of Calisaya liqueur. Calisaya is produced as a digestif by itself, without a wine base, and is classified as an herbal liqueur that can be an aperitif or digestif.
How to Serve: Remember, there is orange and cinnamon and clove and…sugar. From the Nebbiolo comes the richness of cherries, rose petals and tar associated with good Nebbiolo. Serve it with dark chocolate, of a high-cocoa content, and talk about it for weeks.
As with Campari, another Italian bitters used as an aperitif and a palate cleanser, Barolo Chinato can be served chilled, with mineral or soda water ––or not, with ice chips –– or not, and as an aperitif. On a cold winter evening, try mulling your Chinato. .
Pour 2 cups of Barolo chinato into a medium saucepan and add a slice or two of orange, a couple of whole cloves and allspice berries and a cinnamon stick. Warm the mixture very gently over a low flame or double boiler for about 15 to 20 minutes, tasting occasionally, to allow the flavors to marry.
I personally suggest using the double boiler.
How it Lives: Barolo Chinato ages well, and will live in the bottle after opening for a long time, weeks to maybe years – softening as time passes. Does the same unopened. It can be stored in the fridge but don’t use a natural cork, a VacuVin is best. The wine is expensive, anywhere from $50-100 depending on the brand. I wouldn’t open it, and wait weeks before trying it again. Sip it once a week until you are familiar with how your Barolo Chinato progresses.
Taste: Rosy amber in color, beautiful in the glass, intensely herbal and spicy nose. On the palate fruit and herbs seamlessly melding, all in beautiful balance with the barky ‘quinine,’ yet velvety at the same time. It finishes clean, austere, bittersweet and dry, and is beautiful in the glass. I remember Roagna suggesting serving their Barolo Chinato in a white wine glass, but can’t find that page online right now. A snifter works as well. I have glasses much like those in the photo above, and they are perfect for Barolo Chinato.
The Barolo Chinato I have tried recently is from Cappellano. but the one I recently tried is from Cappellano which claims to have invented the medicinal benefits of the wine and the bark and the other botanicals. According to the family today, the “medicinal herbs and spices are ground using a stone mortar and pestle,” Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchants/Mad Rose Group imports Cappellano Barola Chinato.
Think about trying a Chinato at a restaurant, after dinner, before the splurge.
➤ Barolo Chinato: Baw-row-low Kee-naw-tow (Baw and naw rhymes law) (row, low and tow are sound the same sound as roe and toe)
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