Monday, February 21, 2011

Chinato, It's What Wineguys Crave

Last February, I briefly wrote about Barolo Chinato after a trip to New York City. The post was about cocktails and the Chinato had been used in a Manhattan. The Manhattan was consumed in Brooklyn, to be precise.

I had become aware of Chinato sometime in the previous year and it quickly became something of an obsession. Finally, at Christmas of '09 I acquired a couple of bottles of Barolo Chinato. One was a gift from my son Travis who brought a bottle of Vergano Chinato from the big city. It was a deep red with rich cherry tones.The other bottle was purchased from Susan's Fine Wines and Liquor in Santa Fe where my other son Michael is the assistant manager. That bottle was produced by Boroli, a Barolo producer, and was much darker with darker fruits and chocolate and creosote undertones. In Brooklyn, we acquired a bottle of Vergano Americano which is made with Grignolino. The Americano is lighter than the Nebbiolo based Chinatos and that is what we used in the drinks in lieu of sweet vermouth.

All quite delicious and though dolled out in small portions, the bottles did not last long. Well, the quality held up, but consumption, not deterioration was the problem. I grilled suppliers here in Dallas, but no one had any in stock. Chinato. It's what I craved.

You might ask, "What is all the fuss about?"

Start with Barolo wine (made from the Nebbiolo grape). Age the wine for a year in a barrel. Then infuse the aromatics and age for another four years. The proprietary recipes for the infusion always start with cinchona bark (quinine) and wormwood and go from there into clove, cardamom, cinnamon and beyond. Production has always been tiny and the cost expensive.

Chinato is sweetened and lightly fortified. Extremely aromatic with rich complex flavors, it starts sweet and moves to bitter and finishes sweet. Heavy textures finish with a light refreshing flourish.

Dr. S asked me what I knew of Chinato last week and the dormant cravings came back in a heartbeat. And what do you know, one of our suppliers had a few bottles in stock, so I procured a bottle for Dr. S and bought a bottle myself. I shared it with my colleagues and now we are all in agreement:  Chinato, it's what wineguys crave.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Still Alive

Despite the lack of evidence on these pages, I am still alive and well, eating and drinking...

Met this morning with Joe Cafaro, winemaker. He makes about a thousand cases a year of Cafaro wines, mainly Cabernet and Merlot. When the vintage is right he makes a reserve tier called Alta Tierra.

Joe's a little old school. His goal is to make wines to go with food, so he tries to avoid the high sugar, maximum ripeness, blockbuster style. He picks at lower sugar levels so his wines will be totally dry around 13.5%. And he wants good acid levels, so he picks a little earlier than most grower/winemakers! Which means his wines have a more European feel to them, and like European wines, Joe's are a little more dependent on the ripeness of the vintage.

The first few years I tasted Joe's wines he was using purchased fruit as he waited for his vineyard (planted in 1996) to mature. The northen edge of the hillside vineyard touches the southern border of the Stags Leap AVA, Joe's immediate neighbor is Shafer. For the last few years the wines have been made with grapes from estate vineyards and the quality has been much more consistent.  We tasted the current releases this morning, all from outstanding vintages and the wines were just delicious.

The 2007 Merlot featured deep juicy black fruit with velvety texture and spicy acids on the finish. It would be perfect with any meats or with rich, oily fish or seafood dish like paella or cioppino. The 2006 Cabernet shows deeper black fruit with cedar notes and integrated tannins. Rich textures and good acid keep the wines alive on the finish. Both wines are blends with small percentages of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. All the wines are vinified separately then blended.

The current Alta Tierra is a treat. 2002 Cabernets were characterized by outstanding integration of the fruits and tannins and the Alta Tierra is no exception. It exudes balance and elegance.