Barolo Chinato – A Nectar for Winter
Barolo with Benefits
I am tempted to tell you to stop reading now and go out and buy this and taste for yourself. But I really want to share my thoughts with you. Maybe you could take a friend or a kid or a neighbor with you in the car, and your passenger could read this to you on the way to the liquor store. That would be a good idea.
From Italy’s Piemonte region, the Foot of the Mountain, comes some of the world’s most magnificent food – truffles and spectacular mushrooms, to name but two, and the wines of The House of Cocchi. My regular readers will recall my articles about Cocchi Americano and Vermouth, two of their vini aromatizzati. But Cocchi has a third aromatized wine, Barolo Chinato (key-NOT-o.) Long favored as a treatment for lung ailments, flu, headaches and as a digestivo, the old folks know and love it. Barolo Chinato has warmed and soothed body and soul for well over a hundred years.
There is some dispute as to who invented Barolo Chinato with both Giuseppe Capellano and Giulio Cocchi claiming bragging rights. Giulio Cocchi invented his Barolo Chinato in 1891, and it soon became popular in Italy and Europe. The late 19th century had already seen much experimentation in the development of fortified wines and labels everywhere read “alcool, zucchero, china, infuso di erbe aromatiche, spezie.” The House of Cocchi is now owned by the Bava family and Barolo Chinato is still made according to Giulio Cocchi’s original secret recipe.
Barolo Chinato begins with DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) Barolo, the king of wines. What sets this apart from any other Barolo is an infusion of chinchona (China Calissaja bark – that’s the chinato part) along with herbs and spices. After almost a year’s maceration, it emerges garnet red from its casks, ready for consumption, a true vino aromatizzato, a revelation kissed with bitters. Whether you drink it at room temperature, warmed or with a chill on it, I can guarantee you will be seduced.
Now please, wine geeks, don’t get all over me about the add-ins to the Barolo. I hear you already. This is not like the time you poured your dad’s Chateau Lafite into the punch at the Frat house. Not even close. As intoxicating as the nose is, the drinking will educe more than you would think possible. This is a complex delectation, viscous, sweet and aromatic, filled with a rich warmth and the taste of orange peel, cherries and raisins, cardamom, rhubarb and gentian along with warming spices – cloves, star anise, ginger and cinnamon. But you do not taste this all at once – bitter and sweet alternate, and flavors, either one by one or in astonishing harmony, come to the fore and retreat making the wine seem almost alive. With a mildly bitter and lingering finish, Barolo Chinato is elegance in a bottle.
It is so richly satisfying it could be dessert by itself, but sip it alongside today’s ultra-dark chocolates, and new dimensions of flavor are revealed. I was positively stunned as I nibbled bittersweet chocolate – cinnamon came to the fore along with other warm and wintry spices I had never noticed before in the wine. In fact The House of Cocchi manufactures chocolate specifically created to be enjoyed with Barolo Chinato.
There is another side to Barolo Chinato. Gently heated and served with an orange twist, it is warming and comforting. With a few more additions it makes the most sumptuous mulled wine I have ever tasted. 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 or 20 minutes, tasting occasionally, to allow the flavors to marry.
Barolo Chinato fell from favor in the latter half of the 20th century. It is expensive to make, and other more assertively bitter liquors came into favor. But today it is growing in popularity. Imports are increasing, and today’s enterprising mixologists are making hay with drinks such as Darkside, Nice Legs, and Red Negroni.
Bring a bottle to your hosts this New Year’s Eve, and they will be forever grateful. Barolo Chinato keeps well, and is perfect for late night sipping. Add a selection of fine dark chocolates for a truly special gift.
The dark cherry notes of the Barolo Chinato marry beautifully with the chocolate, almond and cherry of the Nardini Mandorla grappa. A dark maraschino cherries finishes off this most elegant cocktail. Served with dark chocolate, this could even be dessert.
Only Nardini Mandorla Grappa will do here. Its triumvirate of flavors is perfect with the Barolo Chinato. I call for Luxardo Maraschino cherries, dark marasca cherries in Maraschino liquor and sugar syrup. If you have none, you may substitute Amarone cherries in syrup, but do not use any neon American style maraschino cherries. That would just be wrong.
Luxardo Maraschino cherries for garnish
Combine Barolo Chinato and Mandorla in mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir thirty seconds and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with one or two Luxardo Maraschino cherries. Serve.
In California Barolo Chinato is available at K&L Wines and online at klwines.com. Alcohol by Volume: 16.5%
Food nerd note: About the appellation – Barolo wine is made from Nebbiolo grapes. Barolo Chinato is made with DOCG Barolo. However, once the wine has been aromatized, it can no longer be considered DOCG.
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I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.