Souvenir of Savona: Il Chinotto in Fiore

Il Chinotto in Fiore - The Chinotto in Bloom

Il Chinotto in Fiore - The Chinotto in Bloom

When I was a kid, I used to hope that I would find a really interesting coin in my pocket change.  Eventually it happened – in adulthood.  In some sense, it was a certainty.  Statistics win globally where luck appears to strike only locally.  You just have to stick to the plan.  As Louis Pasteur noted, chance favors the prepared mind.

Ever on the lookout for the winning lottery ticket of fragrance, I have never failed to scour the very back of the bottom shelf at Filene’s Basement, waiting for a discontinued Guerlain to arrive by slim chance.  I have left no box unexamined at Marshall’s, in the vain hope that Dolce and Gabbana By Man might show up.  I once paged through every single search image – over 500 fragrances – when Amazon put the good stuff on 50% discount, and I scanned for something at the top of my wish list.  I have even dreamed of finding famous vintage in a grocery store – at which point I alerted my fellow Basenoters using a cyber-implant of sufficiently simple operation that it was undoubtedly made by Apple.

None of that ever happened.  Yet.

Patiently, I stick to the plan.  So on my wife’s ten-year anniversary cruise in the Western Mediterranean, I was keeping one eye out for Roman ruins, pleasant cafés, and all the other stuff that her heart desires.  But my other eye was watching for one thing and one thing only.  Fragrance.  And for once, it was paying off.

In contrast with the barren wasteland of fine fragrance that is America, Europe is a verdant jungle of the good stuff.  With little or no effort, in those brief moments between crumbly columns and cappuccinos, I was able to score an entire wish list of things which qualify as “difficult or impossible to find” in America.  But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  What I had to leave behind was staggering.  Admitting any single example of the great, unobtainable, and authentic fragrance I passed up would leave no doubt as to my stupidity.  So I’ll just tell you that I was a complete idiot, and leave you with a self-serving smidgeon of doubt.

But I was smart about one thing.  When my lucky penny showed up by odd chance, I snagged it without a moment of hesitation.

We were in Savona, Italy.  A wonderful port of call, but – perhaps in my naïveté – the last place I would expect to find something really interesting in fragrance.  We had disembarked from our ship, the Costa Magica.  We were looking for women’s boutiques, or maybe a café.  We passed through a covered walkway next to some nicer stores.  And then I saw this.

Il Chinotto in Fiore - Window Shopping in Savona

Il Chinotto in Fiore - Window Shopping in Savona at Niche/Luxe Store "Nicchia"

The name of the store was promising: Nicchia.  I backed up and looked in the other store window – an attractive lady inside was helping a gentleman with some high-end fragrances.  This was good.  Because when I ducked inside, she was too busy with an important sale, to stop me as I poked around and sampled the wares.

I wasn’t interested in the Creed and Floris.  I get my Creed at my local Saks, and I had already seen plenty of Floris at the profumeria next to our hotel in Rome.  Not interested.  Instead, I went straight to the back room, where there appeared to be less luxe shelving and more brand selection.  There was a good representation by Chanel – including some things that you don’t see in America, but which are all over Rome.  No thanks.  Rescanning the room, I noticed a display right in the middle – the same fragrance I had seen in the front window display.

I picked up a test strip.  I sprayed it, took one whiff, and smiled.  At that moment I knew that I would not be leaving the store empty-handed.

And thus began my love affair with an Italian beauty of Chinese descent – chinotto.

Chinotto, a.k.a. Citrus myrtifolia, the myrtle-leaved orange tree

Chinotto, a.k.a. Citrus myrtifolia, the myrtle-leaved orange tree

Citrus is always a winner in fragrance.  Unisex and universally appealing to humans, it’s pretty hard to meet a citrus that’s not to love.  The only trouble is finding one that you haven’t already met.  When you consider that almost every hardcore fragrance lover is familiar with the Japanese yuzu, which famously appears in Caron’s Le Troisieme Homme (a.k.a., Third Man), then you know that we’ve all pretty much seen this and done that in the world of citrus.  Bored by bergamot, we are – when most of the world doesn’t have a clue what bergamot is.

Chinotto, apparently, is very familiar to Italians.  It is a type of citrus strongly resembling if not being some type of orange.  I’ll leave that debate to the botanists.  The fruit is extremely bitter when eaten plain, but when processed, it yields things which are both tasty and fragrant.  Due to its fragrance and appearance, the chinotto plant is useful as an ornamental, and is commonly seen in the French and Italian rivieras.  Chinotto is said to have been brought back to Italy from China by an Italian navigator in the sixteenth century.  It certainly sounds reasonable that chinotto is native to China – despite an additional observation of it having arisen as a bud mutation of the sour orange in Florida.

OK – so it’s a “different” citrus.  Does it actually smell different?

In a word – yes.  There is citrus and there is citrus, but in the world of things that call themselves “citrus”, chinotto is CITRUS.  In fact, I would go so far as to call it the Kouros of citrus.  Many people should love this stuff – but quite a few will say WTF, and not be wimps for doing so.

To give you an idea of what the scent of chinotto is like, consider what a drink made out of chinotto might be like.  Things like root beer, Doctor Pepper, and Coke probably don’t come to mind.  But they should.  When Italians try to describe their chinotto-based drinks (known as – what else – chinotto) – to Americans, they almost always use a cola drink as the closest point of comparison.

San Pellegrino Chinotto - The Kouros of Citrus Soft Drinks

San Pellegrino Chinotto - The Kouros of Citrus Soft Drinks

Just as the drink chinotto can be accurately described as a citrus with the feel of a cola, so too can the scent of chinotto be described.  It is dark – heavy – rich.  It is citrus which is leaving fruits and knocking on the door of nuts.  It is – for some of us, who prefer their fragrances powerful and self-assured – a revelation.

Now you understand why picking this stuff up on a single sniff was a total no-brainer.

So – now that you’re familiar with the drink, let’s talk about the fragrance – Il Chinotto in Fiore (The Chinotto in Bloom).

Just like the drink, it’s all about chinotto.  Consider them side-by-side….

Chinotto versus Il Chinotto in Fiore

Chinotto versus Il Chinotto in Fiore

Clearly, both of these look like potent stuff.  As perfumistas, experienced in the fact that color comparisons are sketchy when the containers and fill levels aren’t identical, we won’t draw too many conclusions here, and certainly no quantitative ones.  Nevertheless, you can see for yourself that both juices are quite dark.  And make no mistake about it – these colors ain’t lying.

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Il Chinotto in Fiore is the creation of Marco Abaton, one of two entrepreneurial brothers who started a niche luxe business (www.abatonbros.com) with two storefronts – one in Savona and one in New York.  Niche perfumery is apparently one of the callings of brother Marco, and this is not his first effort.  While in the store, I smelled three additional offerings, one of which I also bought (Fieno Uomo).  That one is very enjoyable, and the woman’s version (Fieno Donna) isn’t bad, either.

Turning to the product insert….

Marco Abaton, who creates and produces perfumes in Savona, has intended to celebrate his town with a refined, authentic and at the same time unusual fragrance.  A perfume based on the Chinotto fruit.  Its fresh and green head notes disclose a round, balsamic, almost spirits-like heart very reminiscent of the pleasure you feel when enjoying a bitter-sweet Chinotto-based drink.

So is it the flower or the fruit?  The name of the fragrance would indicate the flower, while the package literature indicates the fruit.  Perhaps it is both….

The cultivation of the myrtle-leaved orange [in Savona] has always been more important than other types of citruses which could be cultivated and processed much more easily.  The Chinotto plant is extremely versatile; it has high ornamental value due to its fragrant perfume and beautiful flowers, also from its bark and flowers an essential oil is extracted, highly appreciated in the process of perfume making.  The colours of its fruits vary in accordance with their degree of ripeness, from orange to yellow.  However very bitter in their original state, when expertly processed they can give candied fruit and drinks to die for.

The fragrance I purchased is certainly floral.  It’s just that the floral character is not immediately obvious.

Il Chinotto in Fiore starts off with a breathtaking balsamic citrus, something which borders on camphoraceous.  It is warm and spicy – yet clearly citrus.  Little bits of leafy greenery are present at all times – small embellishments in what is otherwise a mostly coniferous green.  Very soon, woodier notes emerge.  The lightest citrus notes of the opening depart, leaving the dark citrus notes in command.  At this point projection is very nice – close-wearing but offering some minor sillage.  Over the next few hours, the fragrance holds it’s basic character, but gradually becomes more floral and woody.  The camphoraceous aspects give way to something softer and gentler – more boozy and liqueurish than medicinal.

At this point, I knew that it reminded me strongly of something which I already loved.

What was it?  Jasmine?  Benzyl salicylate?  Yes – it was jasmine, or whatever makes us think of jasmine.  A clear, cool, and boozy jasmine.  What was it?  Where had I smelled this combination before?

Ah, yes!  That moment of recognition!

Jasmin de Nuit, by The Different Company.

Not the same, but reminiscent enough that it made me smile.  Jasmin de Nuit is one of my favorite compositions by Céline Ellena.  I am by no means offering either as a substitute for the other.  I’m just sayin’.

The show goes on like this for several more hours, approaching a strong skin scent.  Ultimately, Il Chinotto in Fiore dies down to yield a nice, cedary base.  Almost every aspect of the scent, however, still manages to hang on in some way, and thus the essential character of the fragrance remains until the end.  I wouldn’t call it linear in any of the various facets – only in the totality of what is detectable.  In the end, the woody notes – only bit players in the opening – give their finest performance, with the major characters of Act I remaining on stage to add harmony.

The whole experience?  Quite reminiscent of savoring a chinotto.

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Chinotto isn’t for everybody, and neither is Il Chinotto in Fiore.  Whereas most citrus is easy to love, this powerful balsamic brew pushes rather hard on the very definition of citrus.  You have to admit that the cola-colored citrus drink known as chinotto isn’t exactly flying off grocery store shelves in America.  Likewise, I don’t expect that Il Chinotto in Fiore will be displacing Bleu de Chanel or Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue from department-store countertops anytime soon.

Still, if you love to seek out new thrills and experiences, then Il Chinotto in Fiore is an easy call.  In fact, if you’re the kind of person who would order a chinotto instead of a Sprite, while on vacation in Italy,  then I know exactly what you’ll think about this stuff.

You might just order a bottle.  Or two.  Dozen.

Because there's no such thing as too much chinotto.

Because there's no such thing as too much chinotto.

Postscript:

While I don’t like to pimp products, I do have to admit that both chinotto the drink and the fragrance Il Chinotto in Fiore are not exactly easy to find.  Therefore, I’m including some information which will make your search easier, in you are tempted by this stuff.

In Italy:  Negozio Nicchia, Via Paleocapa 111/R, 17100 Savona, Italy, Tel/Fax: (0039) 019 838 74 53, italy@abatonbros.com

In USA: Abaton Corp., 444 Madison Ave. Ste. 1206, New York, NY  10022, USA (001) 917 674 2373, usa@abaton.com

San Pellegrino Chinotto Sparkling Beverage c/o The Chef’s Warehouse, Amazon Marketplace, www.amazon.com

Special thanks to cacio on Basenotes (www.basenotes.net) for pointing out that chinotto (the drink) is available by mail-order in the United States.  Also my thanks to the staff at Nicchia, for taking the time to show me their products, and introducing me to chinotto.  Finally, my thanks to the people down the street at Besio.  Oh yeah.  You need this stuff.

Having a chinotto at Besio.

Having a chinotto at Besio. This is why you came to Italy.

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