Whilst nearly every lover of Italian wine (and wine in general) has probably drunk Barolo, I doubt the majority of these people have made the trek over to Barolo Chinato.
For me Barolo Chinato is an exotic and mysterious drink that reminds me of the times when Piedmont was a very different person to that we know of today. When it is dark, cold and raining I drink Barolo Chinato and imagine. Imagine what it must have been like all those years ago when one of the sole comforts for old men and women was a strange and mysterious drink conjured up pharmacy in Serralunga d’Alba using a grape variety to which they had known and loved.
It seems slowly by word and mouth, almost like Chinese whispers, Barolo Chinato spread and soon other wineries like Ceretto, Marcarini, Roagna and Borgogno all had their own recipe for this mysterious wine. In the cellars of Alba, you can still buy Vecchio (old) Chinato from the 1950’s and it does taste like the eternal nectar, a digestivo made by the wine gods for everyone to enjoy.
The history of Barolo Chinato according to Ceretto.
‘Barolo Chinato originated at the end of the 19th century in the pharmacy of Dr. Cappellano in Serralunga d’Alba, and the first producers were the chemists in the various local villages. In just a short time, it became a mythical elixir with extraordinary properties, permeated with the ring of mystery that is typical of the secrecy of alchemic formulae. Its success story was helped by the fact that it was made using Barolo, the wine of Kings. With this background it spread initially amongst the country folk as a medicinal infusion, and then gained popularity as an aromatized wine, also becoming the flagship product of leading wine-producing families. Following a heyday period it began a decline that has led to just a few labels remaining on the market today, along with the vivid memories of more elderly consumers’.
Well what is exactly Barolo Chinato? This is Luca Roagna’s take on it.
Barolo Chinato has been made by the Roagna family with a secret recipe for hundreds of years. It has been the digestive of the family for decades and a few years ago we decided to introduce this product in our range of wines.
As a beautiful and unique wine excellent as digestif or in combination with desserts, Barolo Chinato has its origins in the heart of the Barolo area in the second half of the 19th century. It derives from an ancient recipe that has been passed on from ancestors. It is made by the infusion of China Calissaya bark and alpine herbs, peel, bark with alcohol and Barolo wine.
In Barolo Chinato Roagna we use 33 different kinds of herbs which are macerated in grappa di Barolo, a little ‘sugar and Pira Barolo Riserva from the vineyards of Castiglione Falletto. Aged for a long time in large oak barrels, this elixir with 16 ° alcohol has an amber-colour with reflexes of ruby red. The intense and persistent, bitter taste from the China Calissaya bark and the complexity of the Barolo wine, makes it delicious and inviting. A rare specialty for connoisseurs which was for a long time regarded as a medicament.
There are several great ways to serve this wine: With mineral water and ice as an aperitif, smooth like a liqueur or heated and served with orange peel it becomes the ideal beverage for chilly evenings.
It is not just a wine for meditation; Barolo Chinato is fantastic accompanied by chocolate desserts. After opening a bottle it is possible to continue to enjoy if for weeks or even years as the nectar is an almost eternal.
Barolo Chinato should be served in a white wine glass to fully enjoy the olfactive qualities. The production is very limited: less than 1000 bottles for each bottling.
Grapes: 100% Nebbiolo Barolo D.O.C.G.
Wine-making: that of Barolo Riserva La Rocca La Pira and after wine aging proceeds to the maceration of herbs in brandy.’
Probably the most famous Barolo Chinato is that of Teobaldo Cappellano. I have had in on a number of occasions and it is for me, with the Roagna the best Barolo Chinato available. If you are ever in Piedmont, make sure you take the opportunity to try this amazing wine: and for the ultimate pairing, try it with some chocolate.
Barolo Chinato has limited availability in Australia but you should be able to buy a glass of it at most top line Italian restaurants (like Scopri) and Italian focused wine merchants like Enoteca Sileno, City Wine Store, Boccaccio Cellars and Prince Wine Store.