Quinine Your (Apéritif) Wine

Ironically, the most interesting thing I tried at the San Francisco Bay Ministry of Rum Festival in Oakland Sunday wasn't rum. Instead, it was two relatively new (to the U.S. at least) apéritif wines from rare-spirit resuscitator/importer Eric Seed's Haus Alpenz company. The first, Bonal Gentiane-Quina, is a style called quinquina. Bonal has been produced in France since 1865, and like vermouth, it's an herb-infused wine, but in this case, it also gets a dose of gentian and cinchona (a.k.a. quinine, the stuff that gives tonic water its bitter flavor), so it tastes a little sweet up front then finishes pleasantly bitter and dry.

The second was Cocchi Americano, a light apéritif wine from Italy with a Moscato d' Asti base infused with herbs, fruit, and also cinchona and gentian, for, again, an herbaceous, slightly sweet drink but with the complexity of the bitter, tonic-water-flavored finish. It's in the class of spirits known as chinati. Either would be great bottles to bring to a summer picnic, and bartenders are jumping on them—check out this excellent article with cocktail recipes from Paul Clarke.

Bonal Gentiane-Quina and Cocchi Americano, about $20 each