Like vermouth, quinquina is a aromatised wine that’s often overshadowed by a single brand. Most people have probably not heard of vermouth but they’re likely familiar with Martini. Likewise, even fewer people are aware of quinquina but most are probably aware of either Lillet or Dubonnet.
In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about quinquina such as how it’s made, its various tastes, different ways of drinking it, and the best brands to buy:
- What Is Quinquina?
- How Quinquina Is Made
- Different Types & Varieties Of Quinquina
- How To Serve & Drink Quinquina
- Popular Quinquina Cocktails
- Quinquina Substitutes
- Benefits Of Quinquina
- Where To Buy Quinquina
- Top 10 Quinquina Brands
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read out entire detailed guide.
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What Is Quinquina?
Quinquina is named after quinine, the active ingredient in cinchona bark that was discovered by Charles Marie de La Condamine in the 1740s to be the only effective treatment against malaria.
Therefore, it became a popular, albeit foul-tasting medicine, particularly during the height of European colonialism in the 19th century.
Indeed, quinquina was arguably France’s answer to the gin & tonic! As we detail in our gin guide, tonic water was conceived as a way of taking administering quinine. The tonic water was then combined with gin to make it more palpable as quinine is very bitter.
Meanwhile, the French instead developed an aromatised wine, which contained large quantities of quinine. Thanks to its success among the French abroad, it was soon consumed domestically as a herbal remedy following discoveries by Louis Pasteur.
Claiming that wine was the most beneficial ad hygienic beverage, Pasteur inadvertently launched a craze for tonic wines. As quinquina contained the additional ingredients used to combat malaria and other fevers, they soon became the most prevalent.
Sold by chemists and convenience stores alike, quinquina soon become available at cafés. Therefore, by the turn of the 20th century, the beverage was enjoyed more as an apéritif than a remedy.
Although predominantly referred to as quinquina, it may also be called Chinato by the Italians who also developed a taste for it.
What Is Dubonnet?
In 1846, Joseph Dubonnet formulated a quinine-based medicine as a response to a competition launched by the French government. As Foreign Legion troops stationed in North Africa refused to drink quinine, they often caught malaria. Therefore, the government sought for ways to persuade them.
To hide the quinine’s bitterness, he combined the root with strong-flavoured herbs and spices. The result was arguably one of the very first fully commercialised quinquina aromatised wines.
Dubonnet quickly became hugely successful among the troops and word of the beverage spread as officers returned to France. Its popularity continued well into the 20th century.
Indeed, Dubonnet also began production in the USA during the Second World War as nothing could be imported from Occupied France. Today, most Dubonnet on American shelves is actually made in Kentucky!
Although Dubonnet’s success has waned in Europe, it remains a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II who follows in her mother’s footsteps by enjoying two parts Dubonnet and one part gin as an apéritif before lunch.
What Is Kina Lillet?
Following his travels in Brazil during the 18th century, Father Kermann settled in Bordeaux and produced herbal remedies by combining local wines with exotic ingredients such as quinine.
Wine merchants and brothers, Paul and Raymond Lillet, were inspired by his work and opened their distillery in 1872. Given Bordeaux’s trade roots with Paris and the Caribbean, it was the ideal location to launch similar products but on a much grander scale.
Unlike its competitors such as Dubonnet, Lillet’s Kina wasn’t marketed as a remedy but a drink for pleasure. Similarly, it was produced from Sauternes grapes and was the only white wine quinquina on the market when it was launched in 1887.
Bordeaux was France’s main trading port with the Caribbean. Consequently, ingredients could be easily acquired, and the winery was strategically located at the epicentre of a major trading route between Paris and the Americas.
Following the First World War, Kina Lillet flourished, and it became a drink synonymous with the Roaring Twenties. Between the World Wars, it was often served on transatlantic liners, which caught the interest of Anglosaxon upper classes.
Its success grew after the Second World War when it was introduced in the USA thanks to Michel Dreyfus. Kina Lillet quickly became a fashionable cocktail ingredient for American bartenders but was also often found in prestigious venues like Fauchon and the Ritz.
Additionally, a red wine variant was developed by Pierre Lillet in 1962, especially for the American market to cater for its increasing interest in red wine.
Kina Lillet Rebrands & Significantly Changes
In 1985, Bruno Borie acquired the brand from the Lillet family. The following year, Lillet responded to dwindling sales by reformulating the product for the American market.
Consequently, Lillet removed quinine from the recipe and subsequently dropped “Kina” from the name as it was no longer relevant. The result was a more refreshing beverage with a fruitier taste. Given that there was no longer quinine bitter presence, less sugar was used in its production.
As a result, Lillet was not technically a quinquina anymore. Nevertheless, its unparalleled success and cultural heritage ensured that it would still remain forever associated with its family of aromatic wines.
Kina Lillet & James Bond’s Vesper
Lillet’s success and the growing popularity of cocktails coincided with Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in 1953. Although it would soon be overshadowed by the “shaken not stirred” vodka martini, Fleming invented the Vesper, 007’s signature cocktail named after the franchise’s very first Bond Girl:
“Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel.”
Daniel Craig would repeat this order almost verbatim in the 2006 adaptation:
“Three measures of Gordon’s; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.”
Unfortunately, its renaissance contains a significant anachronism as Bond requests a Kina Lillet despite it no longer having been in production for 20 years. As a result, a Vesper concocted with Lillet Blanc lacks the necessary bitterness and is much fruitier than intended.
Nevertheless, it launched significant renewed interest both in the cocktail and quinquina too as enthusiasts began searching for a suitable substitute. We even suggest several Kina Lillet substitutes for producing an authentic Vesper cocktail below.
Ironically, Fleming didn’t actually try the cocktail when he penned it. Indeed, he said that he found it unpalatable when he did finally sample it himself!
How Quinquina Is Made
How quinquina is produced may vary depending on the brand. However, most aromatised wines tend to follow a similar process to vermouth where grape must pomace or fresh grape juice is combined with neutral alcohol to produce mistelle.
Occasionally, the juice is briefly aged before being transformed into mistelle yet this is quite rare. Usually, the mistelle is produced soon after pressing. As a result, any further fermentation is prevented, and the juice retains its sweetness and fresh fruity flavours.
In most cases, the grapes are a blend of the same colour. For instance, French Dubonnet will use Grenache Noir and Carignan for its rouge and Grenache Blanc and Macabeu for the blanc. Meanwhile, Lillet continues only to use Sauternes for its blanc.
The mistelle is then blended with a base wine, which has been carefully selected to provide a specific flavour profile as well as ensure yearly consistency.
Afterwards, the connection is aged for usually around a year in oak casks. Unfortunately, few brands will advertise the period spent ageing, which is one reason most of our favourite quinquina listed below are marked as “N/A”.
Meanwhile, more base wine is naturally infused and macerated with various aromatics, including the cinchona bark and orange peels. This produces a concentrate, which is then blended with the aged wine described above.
Typical Alcohol Volume Percentage
Although quinquina doesn’t have a legal categorisation, EU law regards it as an aromatised wine. Therefore, it must have a minimum alcohol content of 14.5% and no more than 22% ABV.
Typically, modern quinquina tends to hover around the 16% ABV mark. However, this can vary slightly depending on the brand. Indeed, it’s quite rare to find a quinquina above 19% ABV with the exception of American Dubonnet.
Different Quinquina Types & How They Taste
Since quinquina isn’t a strict category of beverage in itself and part of a much larger family of aromatic wines, producers have some freedom to produce their varieties. While most follow a similar process as the one outlined above, you can stumble across different types.
Although often associated with quinquina, Americano is technically a particular its variety of aromatised wine. Produced primarily by the Italians as well as the French, traditional Americano uses gentian root instead of quinine to deliver its distinctive bitter flavour.
Earlier, we quickly mentioned that quinquina is occasionally produced in Italy under the name Chinato. Typically, wineries that produce Chinato are best known for vermouth. Given that the process is quite similar, it’s quite easy for them also to make small batches of Chinato too.
One specific variety of Chinato is Barolo, which is made using only the red DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) grape. Since this grape is native to Italy’s northern Piedmont region, it’s no surprise that local vermouth producers also use it for their blends.
What Is The Difference Between White & Red Lillet?
As we highlighted above several times, quinquina can be made with red, white, or even rosé wine. In most cases, quinquina will be produced from a blend of grapes of the same colour.
To better understand the differences of flavour between rouge and blanc quinquina, we’ll take a closer look at the three varieties of Lillet.
Firstly, Lillet blanc is made solely with sauternes, a prized grape known for producing sweet, syrup dessert wines. The result is a citrus honey nose with an oily mouthfeel.
Although Lillet rosé is a little rarer, it is one of Lillet’s best sellers. Produced from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillion grapes, it offers a red fruit nose with hints of orange blossom and grapefruit. On the palate, it’s refreshing, lively and fruity with a harmonious albeit tart flavour.
Meanwhile, Lillet rouge is produced using Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. It has a ripe forest fruit nose, which follows on the palate alongside vanilla, spices, and candied oranges.
Wine enthusiasts may notice that all of the grape varieties used by Lillet are local to the Bordeaux region, which is another added benefit of their strategic location.
How To Serve & Drink Dubonnet & Lillet
Purists would argue that there are technically two ways of drinking quinquina: the American way and the French way.
Firstly, the French will often enjoy quinquina as an apéritif before a meal. This consists of serving the quinquina chilled to just over 6°C (43°F) and then serving it on ice with a slice of citrus peel.
Meanwhile, there is also a popular method in Germany, which is a long drink consisting of a blanc quinquina topped up with tonic water. Cucumber, strawberry, and mint leaves are then used as a garnish.
Finally, the American way is essentially enjoying quinquina such as Lillet or Dubonnet as part of a cocktail. Indeed, it’s a celebrated taste modifier that requires just a small amount to provide additional flavour to a concoction.
Popular Quinquina Cocktail Recipes
As mentioned above, quinquina is a vital cocktail ingredient that’s often enjoyed in small quantities as a taste modifier. As we’ll later explain, quinquina can commonly be used as an exciting alternative to vermouth.
Nevertheless, below is a small selection of our favourite quinquina cocktail recipes.
James Bond’s Authentic Vesper Recipe
When describing James Bond’s Vesper above, we used a quote, which you can use as the basis of the recipe. However, we’ll break it down again here:
- 3 Measures Gin
- 1 Measure Vodka
- ½ Measure Blanc Quinquina
You can shake over ice until very cold, but we suggest stirring and straining over ice into a martini glass with a lemon peel for garnish.
As we mentioned above, Lillet today is not an authentic quinine. Therefore, one of the substitutes we suggest below should be used instead. In this case, we’d recommend either Cap Corse or Cocchi Americano.
Alternatively, you can still use Lillet Blanc but instead, add a portion of Angostura bitters to counteract the flavour imbalance.
Similarly, Gordon’s gin is now somewhat weaker than when the recipe was first written. Consequently, we’d suggest choosing between Citadelle and Beefeater gin.
Corpse Reviver N°2
Another victim of Lillet’s reformulation, the Corpse Reviver N°2 is a famous Savoy recipe. Again, we suggest using Cocchi Americano or Cap Corse instead of Lillet Blanc for an authentic experience.
Simply shake equal parts gin, lemon juice, curaçao such as Cointreau, blanc quinquina, and a dash of absinthe. Instead of adding the absinthe in when you shake, you can alternatively add it to the glass and swirl it until it leaves an even coating.
The Queen’s Gin & Dubonnet Recipe
Ever wanted to drink like Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second? Simply stir two parts Dubonnet rouge and one part Gordon’s gin then strain it into a glass followed by a slice of lemon and precisely two cubes of ice!
Quinquina Substitutes & Similar Drinks
As we’ve mentioned above many times, there are a lot of similarities between quinquina and vermouth. Indeed, they can occasionally be used interchangeably when making cocktails.
Bear in mind, however, that they don’t taste the same. Therefore, when switching between the two, you will be modifying the cocktail’s flavour. In some cases, this might be precisely what you want. Indeed, using vermouth instead of quinquina will remove the bitterness if it’s undesired.
Meanwhile, using quinquina instead of vermouth will undoubtedly add a subtle bitter punch if you feel that a cocktail lacks substance.
Modern-Day Kina Lillet Substitutes
Additionally, we’ve also explored Lillet’s reformulation and the repercussions on many cocktails. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just affect the Vesper and the Corpse Reviver but also many other concoctions.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can recreate Kina Lillet as it was initially intended. Firstly, you can simply add cinchona bark to a bottle of Lillet Blanc! While this does sound a bit risky, cinchona bark is easy to find in most health shops these days.
You can leave the two to infuse for several weeks in a canning jar until you’re happy with the flavour and then simply strain the contents back into the bottle.
Alternatively, Lillet Blanc can be combined with Angostura bitters, which results in a similar taste. Alternatively, you could opt for a different quinquina that is still loyal to their original formulae. For instance, Cocchi Americano and Cap Corse are both excellent choices detailed below.
Finally, Réserve Jean de Lillet is a limited small-batch production by Lillet. This premium variety does contain quinine and therefore does have a similar taste to the original.
Are There Health Benefits To Drinking Quinquina?
Interestingly, quinine is still used today to treat malaria. Although the synthetic chloro-quinine is more commonplace, cinchona root is still just as effective as it was before.
Theoretically, quinquina today can still offer the same health benefits as before. However, many brands have either drastically reduced their doses of quinine or instead use grey cinchona root, which offer a milder bitterness without any health benefits.
Supposing that some of the quinquina brands continue to produce their aromatised wines according to the original recipes, then they may indeed provide a variety of health benefits.
This isn’t limited to treated malaria either. In fact, it can function as a general anti-fever agent as well as an antiarrhythmic agent to prevent ventricular arrhythmias.
Gluten, Carbs, & Calories In Quinquina
Given that wine is gluten-free, quinquina should be of no concern for people with any sensitivity to it or sufferers of celiac disease.
However, some varieties of quinquina use high quantities of sugar. For instance, 8 ml (3 Oz) of Lillet blanc will contain well over 107 calories. Similarly, a shot includes 7.8 grams of carbohydrates.
Nevertheless, it appears to be slightly less calorific than even dry vermouth, so it presents itself as a good substitute. Finally, don’t forget to bear in mind the other ingredients if you’re enjoying your quinquina in a cocktail!
Where To Buy Quinquina
Thanks to Lillet’s fame, it’s usually quite easy to find in most large cities. However, given that it’s often overshadowed by vermouth these days, it may be harder to find than Martini.
Similarly, we were a little dismayed that some of our favourite online retailers didn’t have much to offer either. For instance, Reserve Bar only sells the three standard versions of Lillet but no other varieties of quinquina.
Nevertheless, Drizly sells quite many different brands thanks to its partnerships with local merchants. As a result, it’s currently our favourite destination when looking for more obscure options to stock up our bars.
Lillet & Dubonnet Prices
Given that most Dubonnet in the USA is now produced in Kentucky, it’s by far the cheapest quinquina to buy. Usually, a bottle shouldn’t set you back more than around $16. However, if you’re looking for an imported French Dubonnet, you may struggle as it’s almost impossible to find.
Meanwhile, Lillet is always imported, so it’s a little more expensive. You can expect prices to be set around $25 or more if you opt for the small-batch reserve bottles.
Top 10 Best Quinquina Brands
As we mentioned earlier, we will provide you with the top 10 best quinquina brands that you can buy online:
- L.N. Mattei Cap Corse Qinquina
- Cocchi Americano
- Lillet Reserve Jean De Lillet Blanc
- Dubonnet Rouge Aperitif
- Byrrh Grand Quinquina
- Alessio Vermouth Chinato
- Cocchi Barolo Chinato
- Fratelli Alessandria Barolo Chinato
- Bonal Gentiane Quina
- Maurin Quina Le Puy
Scroll down to see them all or jump ahead using the links above.
If you were expected Lillet, don’t forget that quinine has been missing from its ingredients ever since they dropped “Kina” from the name. Therefore, while we do love it, it isn’t our favourite authentic quinquina!
Cap Corse has been produced using Louis Napoléon Mattei’s recipe since 1872. Like many quinquinas, it was originally developed as a remedy. However, it has grown to become both a local and international favourite as both a shot and a Lillet substitute.
"An authentic and historical quinquina, Cap Corse in an unforgettable addition to your Vesper cocktail."
As we mentioned above, a number of Italian distilleries also produce quinquina under the name “Chinato”. First released in 1891, Americano is an aromatised wine that features a steeped blend of herbs and spices, which includes quinine, gentiane, and orange peels.
Interestingly, a traditional Americano should only contain gentiane root and not quinine. However, Cocchi’s Americano features both. Nevertheless, a growing number of cocktail enthusiasts often turn to Cocchi’s Americano as an authentic quinquina in order to enjoy Vespers as they were originally conceived.
While the regular blanc is not technically a quincuina anymore, Lillet also produces a Réserve de Jean de Lillet that does feature cinchona bark. Made from French sauternes that has been aged for one year, it includes a variety of botanicals and several types of orange peel.
While we prefer the Réserve, we appreciate the price difference and the value in the more affordable Lillet Blanc. As mentioned above, the regular blanc isn’t technically a quincuina anymore. However, it’s still a great option when on a budget.
Arguably the first quinquina to enter the market, Dubonnet is best known for its red creation derived from RubyRed, rubicabernet and Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Needless to say, this is a very different beast to white quinquinas that most people know.
While it’s great for cocktails, it’s often sipped neat, which is said to be both Queen Elizabeth II and her mother’s preferred refreshment. Bear in mind that most Dubonnet sold in America today has been produced in the USA since the Second World War.
Although they do still taste different, the American counterpart has been reformulated to have a closer resemblance to its French predecessor. Nevertheless, you can easily tell them apart just by their alcohol content. While the French version is 14.8%, the American variety is 19% ABV.
Founded by brothers in 1866, Byrrh is the fruit of Simon Violet’s recipe, which consisted of Roussillon grapes to produce an aromatic wine. Effectively riding the fortifying tonic bandwagon of the era, it was released in 1873 and sold by chemists, convenience stores, and was available in cafés too.
A fruit-forward aromatic wine, it is produced using quinine, coffee, bitter orange, colombo, and coca with Muscat Mistelle wine.
Indeed, the family was well-known for their ambitious development and even holds the record for the largest functional oak barrel, which was capable of holding over a million litres!
Imported by Tempus Fugit Spirits on behalf of Hotaling & Co, this genuine Piedmont vermouth is produced with additional quinine. As well as the Cinchona bark, it includes a variety of herbs and botanicals including grande and petite wormwood.
Given its rich bouquet of aromatics, the ABV has been reduced in comparison to their Vermouth di Torino Rosso in order to reveal their complexity and flavour.
Another vermouth from Cocchi, this particular chinato is a far more upmarket alternative to the Americano. Rather than just combining gentiane and quinine, it also features cardamon and rhubarb root.
Indeed, Cocchi’s barolo chinato is a traditional beverage that’s best consumed as a mulled wine. Traditionally, it was used solely as a medicine but still served to guests as a gesture of wishing them good health.
Like the Cocchi variety above, Fratelli Alessandria’s creation is produced by adding DOCG Barolo wine to a hygro-alcoholic infusion of herbs and spices. 35 differents varieties have been used including vanilla, ginger, liquorice, cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, rhubard, and, of course, quinine.
Enjoy it neat and ideally with some dark chocolate!
First founded in 1865 by a local monk called Hippolyte Bonal, Bonal Gentiane Quina was produced in Saint Laurent-du-Pont until it was acquired by Dolin. Today, it is manufactured in the same distillery as Dolin’s celebrated vermouth.
Using fortified mistelle, it is infused with gentiane and quinine, which produces a bittersweet yet vinous tartness that is reminiscent of prune, figs, and liqourice.
Maurin Quina is probably mostly famous for its poster than the actual beverage itself, which was designed by Leonetto Cappiello and features a devilish green fairy.
Although Maurin Quina went out of production in 1906, it was relaunched by the historical Pagès distillery, which is best known for its verbana liqueur under the Vedrenne group. Unlike other quinquina, Maurin combines white wine and cherries, which is steeped with quinine to produce its distinctive flavour.