Mauro Vergano worked for many years as a chemist for one of Italy’s top pharmaceutical companies, developing flavours and aromas. A lover of drinks, he has long made them for friends to enjoy and behind an unassuming door in the town of Asti he now makes tiny quantities of Vermouth, Chinati and other treasures which are in high demand amongst those in the know. These drinks are known as vini aromatizzati, wines that have had various aromatic ingredients added to them. Mauro begins with base wines full of healthy fruit. Fresh, clean, balanced wines that provide the perfect jump-off point for the flavour juggling that ensues. Mauro will add to the base wine some sugar, raw alcohol and any combination of citrus, quinine, wormwood and other botanicals. As is plainly obvious by this small list of ingredients, in the wrong hands this could go horribly wrong. However, Mauro must be something of a genius as each and every one of his creations displays astonishing balance and length.
Chinato is perhaps Piemonte’s most famous digestif. Traditionally made with aged Barolo, it takes its name from the bark of quinine (or “China”) tree, which is the chief botanical here. Vergano prefers to use a younger wine from Barbaresco, the tannins not as firm, the perfume a little more lifted. The china bark lends the wine tea-like tannins, while herbs and spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander, bay, ginseng and rhubarb provide warmth and real interest. There is no better way to end a meal.