Barolo chinato is another unusual kind of wine, or rather a product based on wine. In this case the noble Piedmontese wine of Barolo is first enriched with additional sugar and alcohol. After that there is a range of spices and herbs added and the mixture undergoes a process of maceration. Among them we may find bark of cinchona or quina tree, known as source of quinine, rheum’s and gentian’s roots, cardamom seeds, licorice, star anise, citrus peel, juniper, fennel, cinnamon, wormwood, clove, coriander, marjoram, and many more. The first ingredient is definitely necessary and the aromatized wine derives its name exactly from quina tree (in Italian: china). After the aromatizing process of maceration, wine stay for around a year in wooden barrels.
Barolo chinato was invented by a pharmacist and was initially used as digestive or, drunk heated, as remedy against cold. Nowadays people usually enjoy it after a meal, also as part of a dessert, for example, with dark chocolate, or as vino da meditazione. The latter term means literally ‘wine for meditation’. It is about a product which cannot be paired with a meal or drunk in larger quantities, for instance, during parties. Such wines are usually sweet, of liquorish consistence and higher in alcohol content. They are a particular experience and as such should be enjoyed in a ‘contemplative’ way… or, using the direct translation from Italian, meditated. An Italian sommelier, Mauro Mattei recommends for meditation, for instance, Vernaccia di Oristano, Sagrantino Passito and Barolo Chinato Cappellano:
Further wines fitting this philosophy are among others: Vin Santo, Recioto della Valpolicella, Passito di Pantelleria, Aleatico dell’Elba, Moscato Rosa Trentino, Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito, or good fortified wines like Madeira, Port or Sherry.
Barolo chinato I would like to recommend here is from Terre da Vino, which offers good quality without burdening your budget.
When I opened the bottle a wave of scented comforting warmth befell my nose as if I were in a mountain cottage with a fireplace that’s devouring raisin of pine firewood. The opulent and sweet aroma reminded me of Belgian pralines’ milk chocolate, and immediately after that a myriad of spices and herbs appeared. I understood that the first impression had had nothing to do with raisin but rather with Christmas time, which I associate with the wooden cottage of my grandma. It was the smell of cloves and cinnamon from her pastries. But taste was more than sweetness, it was bitter too. A note of wormwood left an aftertaste I knew from my grandma’s house too: she used to give me wormwood infusion for problems with digestion.
The color is deep red with brownish reflexes, like a juice of ripe pomegranate. The round liquorish structure caresses the tongue and leaves on the palate taste of herbs, especially quinine reminding immediately of tonic water. It also seems to pinch your tongue, but it is more about the delicately bitter herbs than alcohol content.
Barolo chinato seems to be a product from some exotic end of the earth, where it could be one of inconceivable creatures, fascinating beasts and beauties, successful or unsuccessful crosses. It is an elegant creation for meditation on cold winterish days or as a remedy on one of gloomy autumnal evenings when your nerves are raw and cold lies in wait for you.