Marolo Chinato: an indispensable ingredient

Marolo Chinato
Marolo Chinato

I’ve recently undertaken a relatively extensive Red Vermouth Tasting and one of the products I came across whilst researching this was Marolo Chinato. This is not strictly vermouth but a product with very similar characteristics and so I thought I’d try it out in some classic red vermouth cocktails.

What is Chinato?
Chinato is wine that has been steeped with cinchona bark and flavoured with a variety of other roots, fruits, herbs and spices. It is typically served as a digestif.

Marolo was started in 1977 by Paolo Marolo, with the aim of taking a rustic, local product and transforming it into a distilled art. The Chinato is made at the Santa Teresa Distillery using two “Bain Marie” (water bath) stills, one filled with white pomace and the other with red. The product is infused with cinchona bark and a variety of other rinds and herbs, such as gentian, cinnamon, rhubarb, clove and coriander. Finally, the Chinato is aged in acacia and oak barrels before bottling. Marolo also make a range of aged and non-aged Grappa.

Marolo Chinato

[Served neat at room temperature]
A very dark red, in a similar way to red vermouth, but this has an even deeper colour.
Taste: Hints of cinnamon and thyme initially, with some sweetness; this is followed by a more bitter edge. Overall, the drink was complex and herbal, with a similar lasting finish to tonic water.

With Chocolate
I’ve noticed that quite a few Italian winemakers have started to talk about pairing their wines with chocolate and so I decided to try it with the Chinato. I would suggest using dark chocolate, between 60-75% cocoa. The dark, clean bitterness of the chocolate goes well the rich complexity of the Chinato; a very good match.

[25ml Dry Gin, 25ml Chinato, 25ml Campari; Add ingredients to a tumbler add ice and stir]
This was a superb shade of dark crimson and a wonderfully smooth drink. The flavour of the gin came through first, then the deep, herbal warmth from the Chinato, before the final bitter finish from the Campari; at the very end there was a sweet lift that neatly rounds off the drink.

[50ml Rye Whiskey, 25ml Chinato, 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
This was less sweet than most Manhattans, so would be a good option if you prefer your cocktails on the dry side. There were dry, herbal notes throughout, with a very long, warm finish. If you’d like the drink a little sweeter, I would suggest adding a Maraschino Cherry. Really rather good.

[25ml Gin, 25ml Chinato, 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters, 2 Dashes Triple Sec; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
The juniper of the gin is a good match for the bitter cinchona and gentian of the Chinato. (This is not too much of a surprise as it is cinchona that makes tonic water bitter and we know how well that mixes with gin)
It was a similar recipe to the Manhattan and the dry herbal notes were there. However, the drink was less woody and less smoky; these characteristics were replaced by the clean smoothness of the gin.

Fruit Cup
[20ml Gin, 15ml Chinato, 15ml Ginger Wine; Add ingredients to a tall glass, add ice, fruit garnish and 150ml of lemonade or ginger ale]
Like a refreshing fruit cup, but more herbally intense and rather complex, with a touch of bitterness at the end. I think this is a great way to enjoy the Chinato and a long drink is a nice summery alternative to a Manhattan.

Rob Roy
[50ml Scotch Whisky, 25ml Chinato, 2 Dashes Angostura; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
This cocktail is essentially a Manhattan made using Scotch instead of Rye, so your choice of whisky can really change the drink. In order to try something that was a contrast to rye whisky, I decided to go for a smoky Islay.
If you like peaty whisky, then I think this will be a good cocktail for you: the intense smokiness of the whisky was still prevalent, but this was intertwined with the bitter herbal elements of the Chinato, making it a drink that was absolutely packed with flavour.

Swiss Family
[30ml Chinato, 5ml Pastis, 2 Dashes Angostura; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
The strong anise from the pastis complements the herbal aspect of the Chinato in this cocktail; it tasted like a complex, full-bodied cocktail, even though it was just Marolo mixed with Pernod. Excellent!

For anyone who is interested in the early days of cocktails and vintage drinks, red vermouth is an indispensable ingredient, whether it’s in the Classic Manhattan or in the ancestor to the Martini, The Martinez. But in sticking with the tried and tested brands of vermouth, you can easily overlook some alternatives that, whilst not strictly vermouth, can produce a similar effect whilst also adding a little something extra to your mixing; Marolo Chinato is certainly one of these.

By David T. Smith

Summer Fruit Cup