Up for consideration in this post is the Italian soda Chinotto, a somewhat unusual tonic which combines the bitter chinotto fruit with some additional herbal flavors. It's kind of like an Italian amaro (envision a blend of Campari and Ramazzotti) in a refreshing soda format.
Let me take this opportunity to note that I like Italian sodas in general. They seem to master the fine balance between sweet and sour or bitter and are usually made with high quality ingredients such as cane sugar and high percentages of fruit juice. My favorite grapefruit soda, Villa Italia is from Italy and the San Pellegrino Aranciata (orange) and Limonata (lemon) sodas are both excellent.
Ok - getting back on topic, from Wikipedia:
The chinotto is a small, bitter citrus fruit that grows on the chinotto tree, which is also called the "myrtle-leaved orange tree" (Citrus aurantium var. myrtifolia). This tree grows to a height of three meters and can be found in Malta and in the Liguria, Tuscany, Sicily, and Calabria regions of Italy.
The chinotto fruit is an essential flavor component of most Italian bitters (i.e., amari) and of the popular Campari aperitif. Its name is derived from China, where the tree was thought to have originated.
I've only found Abbondio and San Pelegrino brand chinotto soda in the U.S. San Pellegrino is available at Bevmo, while I usually source the Abbondio at my local Giuliano's Italian deli (I recently found it at Hi Time as well). Both companies appear to lay claim to inventing chinotto soda. Wikipedia states that San Pelegrino claims to have invented it in 1932 while Abbondio's website states: Chinotto was born in the 1940's from an original Abbondio recipe. Blended with a secret ingredient, it has a marked, fresh and unmistakable taste. Much like the debate over who invented the Mai Tai, I'm sure we'll never know. In any case, I sat down with a 200 ml bottle of each for comparison.
My tasting notes:
Nose - fragrant bitter herbs, caramel, licorice
Taste - Bitter citrus, herbs, caramel. Fizzier, brighter and more citrusy than the Abbondio.
Nose - Herbs and caramel.
Taste - Herbs and more pronounced dark burnt sugar. Delicate bubbles.
The final verdict: Too close to call. They're different styles and appeal to the palate in different ways. The San Pellegrino is lighter and more citrusy. The Abbondio is darker with more caramel and herbal flavors. Both are fantastic and worth trying to any serious soda aficionado.
Finally, there is an interesting WSJ article on Italian sodas which contains some good discussion as well as a couple of interesting cocktails containing chinotto soda. I've tried and enjoyed the Dela Mela which is basically a chinotto and apple brandy highball (yes, yet another great opportunity for me to use the indispensable Laird's apple bond!)