Cocchi Americano is an Italian aperitivo wine that has been produced since 1891. It has a white wine base that is fortified with a bit of brandy. Cocchi Americano is then sweetened and flavored with bittering agents such as gentian and orange peel. The distinctive bitter finish comes from cinchona bark which provides the same quinine flavor as tonic water.
This aperitivo was brought to my attention in a local craft cocktail bar Grunauer. I was talking about the Vesper cocktail. This cocktail was made famous in Ian Fleming's first Bond novel Casino Royale. In the book the recipe specifies Kina Lillet which is an aperitif wine similar to Cocchi Americano.
However, in 1986 Kina Lillet was reformulated into a less alcoholic and less bitter wine and renamed Lillet Blanc. This was done to make it more approachable but it also left a void where the previous product had been. There was no substitute for the original Kina Lillet and it's generous cinchona bark flavor profile.
Well, actually, there was a substitute but you just couldn't obtain it in the U.S. In 2010, that changed, and the Grunauer bartender informed me that he had just gotten a bottle of Cocchi Americano. He explained that it is a much more worthy substitute for the original Kina Lillet than the bland Lillet Blanc. Talk about excited! I ordered a Vesper immediately and found indeed the Cocchi Americano provided a more complex flavor profile being both sweeter and more bitter than Lillet Blanc. The sweetness is present initially and it is quickly balanced out by the quinine bitterness of the finish.
I have since replaced Lillet Blanc with Cocchi Americano in my bar. Though the Cocchi is slightly sweeter than the Lillet, you can use it in the same proportions as the Lillet due to the increased bitterness.
For those that have tried Cocchi, what do you think? Superior to Lillet Blanc or not? Try commenting below to let us know.