Quinquina & Americano: The Complete Guide
Updated: Jun 26, 2022
There are several categories under the umbrella of aromatized wine. Vermouth is the most common, but quinquina and Americano are closely related. Production is generally similar between all three categories, but the bittering botanicals differ. While vermouth's defining botanical is wormwood, quinquina calls for cinchona and Americano must use gentian.
It's interesting to note “vermouth” comes from the German “vermut” which means wormwood (its defining botanical). The word “quinquina” can be traced to the Peruvian cinchona tree, the bark of which contains quinine. Meanwhile, “Americano” is derived from “amaricato,” the bittering of alcohol through the maceration of herbs and spices.
The French aperitif Quinquina was popularized by Kina Lillet and used in cocktails such as the Corpse Reviver #2 and the Vesper Martini. Today, Lillet Blanc (not to be confused with the original Kina Lillet) is the most recognizable quinquina globally. However, Dubbonet's historical cocktail roots showcase the wide breadth of the category.
In keeping with the tangled history of vermouth between the French and Italians in the Savoy region, Americano could be considered the Italian response to French quinquina.
Beyond the bittering botanicals, there are no labeled categorizations for sugar content to denote dry or sweet quinquinas or Americanos. Unlike vermouth, where you'll find defined regional styles like Vermouth de Chambery or Vermouth di Torino, there are no protected geographical styles. Outside of standard EU law on aromatized wines, there are also no specific designations for coloring and/or sweetening agents, fortifying spirits, or wine grape sourcing.
As a result, products labeled under the categories of quinquina and Americano can vary widely. For the most part, there are two styles: light and dark. These two styles mirror the relationship between sweet white vermouth and sweet red vermouth (rather than the stark contrast between dry vermouth and sweet vermouth). Unlike vermouth, some of the darker styles use red wine grapes, whereas vermouth is almost always made with white wine grapes and then colored with caramel.
This guide aims to provide tasting notes and information on every quinquina and Americano on the U.S. market. When possible, I've provided recommendations on similar bottles within the category.
If you're new to the world of vermouth and aromatized, fortified wines, check out my Introduction to Vermouth post to learn some basics, introduce yourself to some of the terminology used, and get a general overview of how these guides are structured (and why). Then join me back here to get into the details!
Producer: Distillerie Bonal, imported by Haus Alpenz
Wine Grapes: N/A
Known Botanicals: at least 3 – gentian, cinchona, and bitter orange
Nose: raisin, hay, cacao, fig, toffee, beet, gentian, licorice, mushroom
Palate: raisin, cacao, fig, red berry jam, orange, tobacco gentian, quinine, tarragon
Finish: lemon, raisin, gentian, mushroom, toffee, fig, butterscotch, ash, licorice
Additional Notes: Cola brown with a red tint. Very earthy with a pronounced, acidic bitterness on an exceptionally bright palate. The full ride lasts a long time as each sip unfolds very slowly. An absolute delight. Most comparable to Cap Corse Rouge or Byrrh.
Byrrh Grand Quinquina
Producer: Pernod Ricard (owns Caves Byrrh), imported by Haus Alpenz
Wine Grapes: Carignan, Grenache
Known Botanicals: cinchona
Nose: gentian, cinchona, cherry, raspberry, peach, raisin, orange, cinnamon, tarragon, toffee, pear
Palate: cinchona, black cherry, pear, raisin, tobacco, gentian, ash, clove, lemon, tarragon, dark chocolate
Finish: raisin, clove, orange, cinnamon, cedar, cinchona, galangal, black cherry, coffee
Additional Notes: Burgundy appearance. Sweetened and fortified with Muscat, Carignan, and Grenache mistelle. Very bright on the palate despite its rich, oxidized stewed fruit and sherry flavors. Perfectly balanced cinchona backbone. Most comparable to Bonal or Cap Corse Rouge.
Cocchi Americano Bianco
Wine Grapes: Moscato
Known Botanicals: at least 13 – gentian, cinchona, wormwood, bitter orange, elderflower, Chinese rhubarb, star anise, achillea, rose petal, juniper, quassia, mace, and coriander
Sugar: 210 g/l
Nose: rosemary, juniper, lemon, gentian, cinchona, cedar, grapefruit, orange
Palate: cedar, cinnamon, grapefruit, wormwood, gentian, orange, vanilla, clove
Finish: wormwood, lemon, rosemary, cinchona, apricot, cinnamon, vanilla
Additional Notes: Golden straw color. A sweeter, fuller body to balance the more pronounced bitter notes. Arguably the easiest of the quinquina/Americano family to mix with classic cocktails, providing an excellent substitute for Kina Lillet.
Cocchi Americano Rosa
Wine Grapes: Brachetto, Malvasia
Known Botanicals: at least 14 – gentian, cinchona, rose petal, bitter orange, saffron, vanilla, coriander, mace, quassia, juniper, achillea, star anise, Chinese rhubarb, and ginger
Sugar: 190 g/l
Nose: cinnamon, vanilla, gentian, clove, apple, cherry, plum, lemon, orange, stewed strawberry
Palate: cherry, banana, wormwood, lemon, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, vanilla, gentian, clove
Finish: cinnamon, vanilla, strawberry, banana, orange, raspberry, gentian, allspice
Additional Notes: Rosy red color derived naturally from its red wine base. Medium body. Tons of ripe berry notes. Dilution tempers the marked sweetness and highlights the brighter, more acidic fruit notes. Closest to Dubonnet Rouge or Maurin Quina, though still heavier than either.
Contratto Americano Rosso
Wine Base: Cortese
Known Botanicals: 25 total including gentian, cinchona, ginger, mint leaves, hibiscus flower, hawthorn flower, nettle leaves, angelica roots, bitter orange peel, rhubarb roots, sage, sweet orange peel, aloe, juniper, carnation
Sugar: 200 g/l
Nose: gentian, raspberry, roasted pineapple, orange, cherry
Palate: cinchona, balsamic vinegar, gentian, vanilla, maple syrup, allspice
Finish: mesquite smoke, gentian, vanilla, nutmeg, bay leaf, cola
Additional Notes: Dull reddish brown. The sweetest fortified wine Contratto produces. Bright and bitter with a surprisingly drying finish considering the sugar content. Has a slightly savory edge to it which I found fussy in classic cocktail applications. Plays a bit more like a digestif than an aperitif.
Origin: France, USA
Producer: Heaven Hill
Wine Grapes: Rubired, Ruby Cabernet, Muscat of Alexandria
Known Botanicals: at least 6 – cinchona, black currant, black tea, cinnamon, green coffee beans, chamomile
Nose: strawberry jam, currant, cassis, quinine, raspberry, cherry, black tea
Palate: cherry, currant, cranberry, grape, black tea, cinchona, plum, lemon
Finish: currant, banana, strawberry jam, black pepper, black cherry, cinnamon, black tea
Additional Notes: Ruby red color. The original Dubbonet is produced in France by Pernod-Ricard, while the U.S. bottling is produced by Heaven Hill. The recipes, from the wine base to the botanicals, are completely different. Heaven Hill reformulated the U.S. bottling under Lynn House and vastly improved upon the American release. The current formula is spicy and tannic with a drying finish. Most similar to Lillet Rouge or Maurin Quina.
Wine Grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscatel
Known Botanicals: cinchona, sweet orange, bitter green orange
Sugar: 97.5 g/l
Nose: peach, apricot, grape, grass, sage, lemon
Palate: apple, melon, peach, lemon, cinchona, orange, honey
Finish: peach, cinnamon, orange, cherry, lemon, grass
Additional Notes: Light golden color. Very light body. The least assertive profile of any quinquina on available on the US market. This is the standard for cocktails calling for Kina Lillet, though the formula was changed in 1985 to reduce both the sugar and quinine. Cocchi Americano and Cap Corse Blanc make for more full-bodied substitutes, but I find Kina L'Aero D'Or to be so much more intensely flavored they're almost hard to compare.
Wine Grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscatel (Merlot and Cabernet from Lillet Rouge used for coloring)
Known Botanicals: cinchona
Sugar: 70 g/l
Nose: orange blossom, grapefruit, raspberry, cinnamon, apple, lemon, lychee, sage, strawberry
Palate: apple, lemon, allspice, underripe peach, oak, lavender, strawberry, grapefruit, raspberry, sage
Finish: grapefruit, lavender, raspberry, cinchona, vanilla, peach, cherry, lemon, oak
Additional Notes: Rose color derived from the addition of Lillet Rouge. Lots of underripe fruit on the palate. Dilution brings out the bitter notes. Incomparable within the category.
Wine Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet
Known Botanicals: cinchona
Sugar: 92.5 g/l
Nose: black cherry, raspberry, black pepper, apricot, guava, red currant
Palate: blackberry, black currant, cinchona, lemon, strawberry, licorice, peach
Finish: blackberry, vanilla, black pepper, black currant, lemon, raspberry, cinchona
Additional Notes: Ruby red appearance. Very light body. Earthy and jammy, drinks like spicy, semi-sweet red wine. If I didn't know I was drinking a fortified wine, I could mistake it for a sweet Cab or Merlot. Faint herbal notes are hard to place. Most similar to Dubbonet Rouge.
Mattei Cap Corse Blanc
Producer: Mattei, imported by Haus Alpenz
Wine Grapes: Vermentinu, Muscat
Known Botanicals: cinchona, cedrat
Nose: calamansi, lemon, sweet potato, elderflower, cedar
Palate: lemon, gentian, cinchona, tomato, cinnamon, sweet bell pepper, raisin
Finish: marshmallow, cinnamon, tomato, cinchona, gentian, oregano
Additional Notes: Dark straw yellow. A savory, umami bomb. This bottle is sweeter than Lillet Blanc, but not as heavy as Cocchi Americano or Kina L'Aero D'Or. Amazing on its own, but trickier to mix with as its unique profile makes it a difficult 1:1 substitute for cocktails calling for Kina Lillet.
Mattei Cap Corse Rouge
Producer: Mattei, imported by Haus Alpenz
Wine Grapes: Vermentinu, Muscat
Known Botanicals: cinchona, walnut, cedrat
Nose: cinnamon, vanilla, raisin, orange, fig, tarragon, apricot, black pepper, faint gentian
Palate: apricot, black pepper, date, fig, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, black currant, nutmeg, lemon, honey
Finish: cinchona, nutmeg, white pepper, vanilla, sage, tarragon, black cherry, lemon, wormwood, white raspberry
Additional Notes: Rusty reddish-brown color, turns opaque when chilled. Subtle drying bitterness throughout. Dilution tempers the bitterness and brings out lots of oxidized notes, including plenty of raisin with some cherry cola. Most similar to Bonal or Byrrh.
Producer: Maurin, distributed by Pacific Edge Wine & Spirits
Wine Base: N/A
Known Botanicals: at least 4, cinchona, almond, cherry, lemon
Nose: almond, cherry, cinchona, white grape, lemon, anise, apricot
Palate: cherry, lemon, cinchona, white tea, marzipan, fig, cinnamon, almond, peach
Finish: cherry, amaretto, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon, banana, apricot, white tea
Additional Notes: Dull cherry red color. Fortified with cherry brandy and sweetened with cherry juice. Very light body with a quick, bright attack which cedes to a warming, but fairly dry finish. Stemmy and tannic. Mostly cherry and almond from nose to finish. Most comparable to Dubbonet Rouge within the quinquina category.
Tempus Fugit Kina L'Aero D'Or
Producer: Tempus Fugit
Wine Grapes: Cortese
Known Botanicals: cinchona, orange, wormwood
Nose: gentian, marzipan, orange, cinnamon, clove, ginger, vanilla, pea
Palate: gentian, wormwood, cinchona, orange, cinnamon, clove, blackberry, white grape
Finish: gentian, wormwood, cinchona, lemon, nutmeg, clove, elderflower
Additional Notes: Rich golden straw appearance. Deceptively confectionary nose with a bracingly bitter palate and finish. Dilution dampens the nose and tempers the finish but brightens the palate while drawing attention to the fruitier notes. Many claim this to be the closest approximation to the original Kina Lillet.
Notably Missing: Dubonnet Blanc, Imbue Petal and Thorn, Lillet Blanc Gran Reserva, Lillet Rouge Gran Reserva. Will accept donations of any missing vermouths.
Check out the individual regional Vermouth guides for more detailed information on regional styles and recommended bottles:
The Complete Guide to Dry Vermouth
Sweet White Vermouth
The Complete Guide to Sweet White Vermouth
Sweet Red Vermouth
The Complete Guide to Sweet Red Vermouth
Quinquina and Americano
The Complete Guide to Quinquina and Americano
Tasting Guide to Gentian Liqueurs
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