Like most cocktails, it was gin based. (Smirnoff had yet to hit their stride, substituting for all white liquors.)
Vermouth (wine and wormwood and other spices and sugar) and gin was the first martini. But there are huge varieties in vermouth. Cinzano and Martini dominate the market today, and even they vary substantially in their flavour profile. Lillet the famed vermouth used in a James Bond ‘Vesper’ (aka ‘Martini James Bond’: see the book Casino Royale) has a noticable quinine content, while Cinzano is more wormwood.
Campari is very similar to Lillet except it is a red vermouth. High quinine content gives it a distinctive taste, that many quite enjoy.
In any event, Chinato, was a form of ‘vino aromatico’, a class to which vermouths belong. It is based on barolo, with the addition of quinine, rubarb root, cloves, and cinnamon. It is the Ur-Campari, and makes for a much nicer cocktail than Campari.
The drink pictured above is a variation on the Gin & It – 50 mls gin and 25 mls chinato. As you can see it’s quite a pretty drink. Some folks add a dash of bitters. Some add twists (lemon peel used above).
Try it. You’ll like it.