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  • Guest contributor
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  • Guest contributor
6 Apr 2017

The final entry we are publishing as part of our wine writing competition comes from Montana. Tomorrow, we open a vote on your favourite entries - see our guide for a summary of each one. 

I am excited to submit my articles for consideration for publication. My name is Jennifer Cossey-Hendrickson. I am 39 years old and female. I am the beverage manager and lead sommelier for a private ski and golf community in Big Sky, Montana, called The Yellowstone Club and I am a CWE through the Society of Wine Educators and Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. I appreciate the opportunity. 

THE ULTIMATE WINE EXPERIENCE ... FOR CRAZY PEOPLE

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When I told people that I was training for and subsequently running a marathon and drinking wine throughout the entire experience, they looked at me like I was crazy - and well, maybe I am, but that is beside the point. In addition to possibly being a little senseless, I am also a runner. However, when it comes to wine-country marathons I might be the worst runner in the world. For starters I am simply a terrible runner. I'm slow, I'm inconsistent, I walk, I run, I walk, I run, I have knee issues and the list goes on. All that being said, the number one reason I am a terrible wine-country runner is because I love wine country. I stop and look at everything, especially the ground. I love looking at the soil. 

You can imagine a marathon in Bordeaux might be the apex of my running inefficiencies, and you would be right. It brings out the worst runner in me. Like other pupils of the vine, I have studied Bordeaux and its soils for the entirety of my education. So, when I found myself in Bordeaux to run the Médoc Marathon, to dig my hands in the dirt was more than gratifying; it was life-affirming.

This isn't just another run through wine country. The Médoc Marathon is often referred to as the longest marathon in the world in part because everyone running is in costume but mostly because there are almost as many wine-tasting stations as there are water stations along the route.

For those of us who often enjoy a daily glass or two of wine, having some sort of exercise routine is a smart move. As a runner and professional lover of food and wine this event has been on my bucket list for a long time. For the last several years I have tried to make this trip happen but for one reason or another (like having a baby) I was not able to make it work. Last year it happened!

Though this was my first time participating in the race, the Médoc Marathon has been around for 32 years. Each year there is a theme and participants are strongly encouraged to dress up in accordance with that theme. Nearly every person running was in costume, some more elaborate than others. This year's theme was Fables and Tales. My husband and I went as King Arthur and Zoot of Castle Anthrax, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Next to the herds of individual runners (some of my favourite costumes were men dressed as Disney princesses) are the groups that run together. There was a group of men dressed up like the Loch Ness Monster - all connected with some sort of green tubing so they ran the race together - Snow White and the seven dwarfs, kings, queens and knights and a group of men dressed in Santa lingerie towing a little red wagon with wine boxes wrapped up as presents to give out along the route.

The thing that makes this run especially unique and why wine lovers flock to it from every part of the globe is because, as noted earlier, along with almost every water station is also wine. This year there were 21 wine stations. Châteaux such as Lynch-Bages, Pichon Baron, Montrose and Lafite offer samples to a thirsty crowd. Needless to say the line at Lafite for a taste was the most, shall we say, enthusiastic. People were just a little pushier and I left that station with wine running down my back. By the end of the race, everyone looks bloodied and bruised but, with a few exceptions, it was wine stains.

At many stations runners/tasters relaxed in the grass, took pictures in front of châteaux and chatted with other runners. Some were even taking a smoke break. As if 21 wines weren't enough, by the time you get into the 20-mile range the snacks start to get more adventurous, moving from traditional run bites such as orange slices, pieces of banana and crackers, to options such as corn, frozen fudge pops, steak and even raw oysters.

The wines may or may not be very good, it's hot outside, you're hot and the wines are not ideal temperature but, to me, and many of my running mates, they all seemed delicious. Are the châteaux actually pouring their best wines? Not likely. Does it matter? Not even a little. The views are otherworldly. The vineyards of Bordeaux are perfectly manicured and the race takes place in September so in certain years, the grapes are close to full ripeness and the vineyards are at their most beautiful and abundant giving generously of their beauty.

There are events to enjoy more refined moments of wine tasting leading up to and after the race, including the dinner the night before and a walk and brunch the day after. The night before the race is a dinner meant for enjoying wine and carb-loading called The Dinner of 1,000 Pastas. It is a four-course plated meal for 1,000 people with each course including pasta of some sort. Wines from 23 châteaux are brought to the table by sommeliers and moved around and shared. Following dinner is dancing and fireworks over Château Lamothe-Bergeron.

The morning after the race is a 10 km walk through more vineyards to try more wines. The walk concludes with a delicious lunch at Château Lamothe-Bergeron filled with lovely dishes and more enchanting wines.

32 years, 8,500 runners, 74 countries and 21 wines - it is obvious why this event is legendary to both runners and wine lovers alike. You don't have to be both but you should be at least one. This year's theme is 'music at 33 rpm' to celebrate the 33rd year of the race. It takes place on 9 September 2017. Six-and-a-half hours after I crossed the starting line, I finished my first Médoc Marathon. For this race, it truly is the journey and not the destination (or the time) that matters most.


THE QUESTION OF CHINATO

The question I have about Chinato is why is it not everywhere? It is so good! Chinato (key-NOT-o) has to be one of the world's best digestifs yet in most restaurants outside speciality and/or Italian ones, there is little heard or known of this aromatically infused fortified wine. In terms of flavour, it is more similar to mulled wine than port but for usage it is a great, less-sweet, less-alcoholic option to port after dinner. 

Not only is it a delicious and thought-provoking beverage, it serves the purpose of settling the stomach. The tincture was once used for medicinal purposes, much like the original Coca-Cola. Its therapeutic properties are the result of a mixture of herbs and spices - recipes that to this day are tightly guarded by the families that make the wine.

Made much like vermouth, which is produced by adding aroma and spirit to a flavourless white wine, Chinato is different in that it is made with what is known as the 'king of wine' in Italy, Barolo - although it is sometimes made with other grape varieties from Piemonte such as Moscato and Barbera. It is fortified with grain alcohol or grappa and infused with macerated herbs, spices and bitters. Ingredients often used include coriander, citrus peel, clove, ginger, vanilla, cardamom seed, rhubarb root, gentian, sugar and the bark of the Cinchona plant, which is where the drink gets its name. After the wine reaches the desired alcohol level it is aged for over a year in barrels.

Chinato is not a new discovery. For as long as there has been wine, people have been steeping it with herbs and spices both for flavour and for medicinal purposes. In ancient Egypt, wine was mixed with healing herbs, and the Persians treated theirs with spices and sometimes poppies or marijuana for a little extra kick. The Romans and Greeks used infused wine for healing and restorative purposes as well. The modern incarnation of Chinato is a little muddy and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between fable and fact but one common story goes that Dr Cappellano of Serralunga and Dr Zabaldano of Monforte developed a formula using the local wines of the area built around the widely accepted effectiveness of Cinchona bark for healing. The drink became outrageously popular, brining fortune to the doctors and fame to the wine, fixing its place in the culture and tradition of the Piemonte region.

As with all fashions, Barolo Chinato faded into memory as newer, trendier drinks came into favour. In the decades around and after World War Two, Chinato was mostly forgotten, paralleling the financial hardships of not only rural Italy but also most of the modernised world. Flash-forward to the late 1980s. Many producers started an effort to bring back the tradition of the area, including wineries such as Cocchi, Fratelli, Marcarini and Cappellano, who still make some of the most prized of the region.

The resurgence is still a work in progress. While many restaurants in Piemonte offer Chinato after a meal, most restaurants in other parts of the world are yet to offer it as an option - although others, such as Ava Gene's in Portland have embraced the ancient tincture, offering by-the-glass options - and sometimes even entire Chinato lists. There is even a New World version of the digestif. Cana's Feast Winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley makes Chinato from Nebbiolo grown in Washington State's Columbia Valley using a classic recipe, infused with over 18 plants, herbs and spices and fortified using un-aged brandy from Clear Creek Distillery in Portland.

Typically Chinato is garnet red in colour with flecks of orange throughout. The weight of the wine is more lifted than that of port and the alcohol is considerably lower, usually between 16% and 18%. Depending on the ingredients used, the flavours can range from cinnamon, clove, orange, dried red cherry and strawberry, to darker notes including star anise and cassis. It is often reminiscent of herbal sodas such as Dr Pepper and Root Beer, whose roots were also for medicinal purposes. Chinato is most expressive in its bouquet and, despite its aromatic intensity, the palate is sweet and soft, indicative of something meant to calm the stomach at the end of a meal. Considered in Italy a drink for meditation, it is layered and seductive while being comforting at the same time.

Barolo Chinato can be considered the perfect end to a meal by itself but is a fantastic accompaniment for pastries and bitter-chocolate-based desserts. The versatile drink can also be enjoyed as an aperitif, served slightly cold and over ice or warm with a orange or lemon rind to cast away the chill of a cold winter night. Mixologists have also started playing around with the elixir as a replacement for sweet vermouth or as a base ingredient in cocktails. 

So my question to you is, if you haven't tried Chinato yet, why not? It's high time to jump in and give this 'old is new' drink a try. Your stomach, your taste buds and I will thank you.