Valpolicella: Love is a Many-Cellared Thing
he Japanese say that what you do on New Year's Day is a wish for your year (and possibly your life) to come. While not quite an actual year-long wish, I spent my New Yearâ€™s Eve at the New York Metropolitan Opera Gala watching a stunning production of Romeo and Juliet, which perhaps portended a favorable outcome for my arrival in Verona a few weeks later.
Love is a Many-Cellared Thing “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,” I found a lovely and welcoming city
with bustling shops, beckoning restaurants and majestic bridges. Starting at the imposing Bra Gate, the city’s cobble-stone streets put you in mind of another time, reinforced as you pass the Roman amphitheater. Other hints of this classical connection include the Porta Borsari, an ancient Roman gate still standing in the middle of town. Beyond the Piazza Bra, marble sidewalks guide you along the shopping thoroughfare, pulling you deeper into the city where you eventually arrive at the beautiful Piazza delle Erbe, with its frescoed houses, the old town hall and, at its center, the Madonna Verona statue and fountain. In many ways, this is the city of love. Nearly synonymous with the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, visitors are encouraged to tour Juliet’s house and tomb as well as send her letters in aid of their own romantic peccadillos. But, despite the gimmicky feel to these attractions, there is something about Verona that stirs the romance within. Or, perhaps, at least, the romance for life and adventure.
cellars” and with the profusion of wine production here, it is easy to see why. An area dedicated to viticulture, local archeological evidence of these vines dates to 40 million years ago, while records of wine production in the Veneto area indicate a history as early as the 5th century BCE. The region is bound by Lake Garda and the Adige River, both of which influence the climate among the nearly 20,000 acres of vineyards. The regional soils are primarily made up of limestone, thanks to the presence of ancient sea creatures, but some volcanic soils do exist in the area as well. Given the high calcium content of these soils, the grapes generally retain high acidity, along with diverse aromas.
And, this love pervades throughout the city. Heading home late one night after dinner, I cannot pass through the gate without seeing Romeo’s lament, “There is no world without Verona’s walls, but purgatory, torture, death itself, hence banished is banish’d from the world, and world’s exile is death…” Aside from romantic love, Verona also courts business – specifically the business of wine. Home to VinItaly, Verona hosts the largest wine fair in the world, bringing the world of wine to its door each year. Moreover, Verona serves as a gateway to the Valpolicella wine region, the name of which translates as the “valley of many
Today, the region encompasses several different wines within its borders: Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto, but traditionally, there were just two wines: Valpolicella and Recioto. Amarone came much later, while Ripasso was simply a way for the farmers—who would use the left-over skins from Recioto —to make wine for their families. But, it all started with Recioto, considered to be the father of all Valpolicella wines. In fact, if Amarone is the new kid on the vineyard block, Recioto is quite ancient. Contemporary Recioto wines appear to have been developed from the fourth century BCE as a sweet, red wine made with dried grapes. The use of such a production method was likely a way for the Romans to raise the alcohol level of their wines, rendering them more stable and thus more easily transported throughout their empire.
All Dried Up While the Romans dried their grapes over heat, more modern measures focus on drying out the grapes over a period of months through a more natural reduction in water content called appassimento. After a careful selection during harvest – primarily looking for healthy grapes with loose berries and thick skins – the grapes then undergo another critical step in their development.
In this regard, close attention is also paid to the weather postharvest, since, unlike in the production of other wines, winter weather will also influence the quality of appassimento wine. Cold and dry conditions are necessary for proper drying of the grapes; if the weather is wet, it becomes increasingly challenging to create a quality wine due to issues of mold and rot.
In general, Reciotos are sweet, but not sticky; they offer a nice freshness and are not cloying. They are decidedly dessert wines, but can also pair well with other, more savory foods given their acidity and structure. But, as we heard repeatedly, Recioto is a wine produced for its own pleasure since it is a wine without a market, other than consumption by locals. Moreover, they are very challenging to produce because The drying period runs from Sep- you must stop the fermentation, by cooling the temperature of the tember through January, at which must, at the correct moment. Othpoint the grapes become more erwise, instead of creating Recioconcentrated, having lost a considto you will create Amarone. erable volume of juice. Further, the regulations dictate a maximum of 65% of the yield (and even lower in less favorable vintages). When making Recioto della Valpolicella, the drying process is fur- To that end, legend has it that a batch of Recioto was left midther increased to build up more fermentation and continued to fersugar in the grapes, since, unlike ment until it was dry and someAmarone, it is a sweet wine. what bitter. Hence the name of this new wine, Amarone, from the Traditionally, the grapes were word amaro. But, the wine wasnâ€™t placed on bamboo mats or in wooden bins, practices which are officially recognized until 1968 when it was awarded its initial both still in use. However, more wineries are turning to plastic bins DOC designation. Amarone later received a promotion to DOCG as they can use the same bins for status in 2010. harvest, transport and drying, thereby reducing the impact and Typically, Amarone wines possess disruption to the grapes. Addicomplex cherry, red currant, choctionally, the plastic bins provide olate, tobacco, dried fruit and more aeration and are more hyspice aromas and flavors, along gienic since they are much easier with full body, elegance and balto clean. ance. The main grapes associated Once the drying period is complet- with these wines are the indigeed, pressing takes place followed nous Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta and, more recentby a month-long fermentation. ly, Spigamonti, all of which are Due to this complex and timewell-suited to the drying process consuming production process, necessary for crafting Amarone. the wines are big and bold with high alcohol (many of the wines In particular, Corvina has always we tasted were 16% abv) and robeen the prized grape here given bust flavors. its good acidity and color, plus it
does extremely well during the drying process. Specifically, as the grapes dry, the water loss happens very slowly compared to other varieties and specific genes are activated, increasing transresveratrol stilbene compounds. In addition to the appassimento requirement, these wines must be aged for at least two years before they are released. Beyond the legal requirements, most of these wines need additional time in the bottle to develop and come into their own. Although it does vary from vintage to vintage, the general rule of thumb is to age these wines for 10 to 15 years before enjoying them, although many producers now make wines that are ready to drink.
While less renowned than either Recioto or Amarone, it is the simple Valpolicella wines that are perhaps the most honest about their origins. Unlike its vinous siblings â€“ Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto â€“ these wines are not aged nor are they heavily influenced by dried
grapes. Thus, like the purity and innocence of young love, the fresh and fruity character of Valpolicella wines captivates the palate time and time again. Just as two brighteyed lovers, the bright acidity of these youthful reds offer low tannins that are very versatile, easy to enjoy with bread and salami; pasta; tuna, salmon or sardines. And, on a hot summer’s day, they can take a slight chill, making them even more refreshing.
As You Like It: Classico & Superiore
this wine on international markets, both in the EU and abroad, had led to increased demand and increased production, with some negative results. The category was defined back in 2010 as that which required refermentation on the Amarone or Recioto skins. But, despite this delineation, the perception is that there is a lot of poor quality Ripasso being produced and then sold at a low price point, diminishing the value and reputation of this wine.
In recognition of this problem, the Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella Consorzio decided it was necessary to The basic Valpolicella designations clarify the rules in December 2016, include: Valpolicella, Valpolicella with more precise rules and reguClassico and Valpolicella Superilations, with an eye toward ensurore. The Classico wines are those ing quality. produced from the historic area, closest to Lake Garda, where the temperature and climate are tempered due to the maritime influence. Here, the diurnal variance is “What’s in a reduced and the grapes develop greater anthocyanins in this westname? That which ern part of the region. Accordingwe call a rose by ly, the Classico denomination has a any other name better reputation than the more general Valpolicella DOC. Howevwould smell as er, as wineries look to expand, the sweet” only available options are in the eastern part of the region as seen – Juliet (Act II, in the recent land acquisitions in Scene 2) Valpantena by Tedeschi and Santa Sofia. The Superiore version of Valpolicella requires a year of aging and must also be made from grapes that have reached a higher ripeness level (and thus higher potential alcohol) at the time of harvest.
Lost Love for Ripasso
Then, there is Ripasso, often seen as a poor man’s Amarone. Since 2008, the tremendous success of
prohibited the use of declassified wine. Rather, producers must use the marc (used grape skins) from wine that was meant for Amarone or Recioto. For some, these measures toward improving quality come too little, too late and many producers have stopped producing Ripasso altogether. What happens with the future of Ripasso remains to be seen.
Everything Old is New Again
Among other issues, several topics came up repeatedly during my visit. Specifically, there seems to be an intentional return to traditional methods both in the vineyard and in the winery. Historically, there was an emphasis on adopting “trendy” techniques such as the importation of the Guyot and other trellis systems to the Valpolicella vineyards, eschewing the more customary use of pergolas. However, the merits of the pergola system are being recognized once again.
In particular, this system protects the grapes while also maximizing their exposure to sun. At Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi, we were told, “Here, the preferred system is the pergola since it helps achieve ripeness and avoid humidity isConsues, but it is harder to work since sequently, the wine now has a new you are working overhead and name, with the inclusion of Superi- without machines.” A like-minded ore. This inclusion in the name and sentiment was shared at Stefano on the label means that these Accordini and at Scriani. wines must now come from a higher quality of production – Similarly, the adoption of brand higher minimum quality parame- new barrique barrels seems to be ters – namely, a potential alcohol losing favor as vintners return to of 11% abv and an actual alcohol of the larger botti. But, barriques 13% abv in the finished wine. Ad- have not gone the way of the dodo; ditional quality measures have there were still many of them in
evidence in the cellars. As with most things, the shift from one extreme to another generally leads to equilibrium and there were several places using a blend of wine from both barrique and botti as perhaps the best of both aging techniques.
trench” Project. To date, low impact pest control measures have been implemented for 2,000 hectares (approximately 25% of current plantings) and growing. Moreover, 15% of the vineyards are organic and 3% are biodynamic.
AMARONE by the VINTAGES While there is some difference of opinion in scoring the vintages, the past 10 years have generally been quite good. 2003 – 3 to 4 stars 2004 – 4 to 5 stars 2005 – 3 stars 2006 – 4 to 5 stars 2007 – 4 stars 2008 – 4 to 5 stars 2009 – 4 to 5 stars
2010 – 4 stars 2011 – 5 stars 2012 – 4 stars 2013 – pending Vintners were generally pleased. It had been a hot and dry season, with the exception of a wet and rainy spring. After harvest, which is equally important in the production of Amarone, the cold temperatures resulted a slow drying
While the focus of our visit to Verona was on the debut of the 2013 vintage of Amarone, the days leading up to Anteprima Amarone provided a wonderful introduction to the people and the territory. Over a period of three days, we visited a variety of Finally, there was an interesting Curiously, the emphasis on orwineries ranging from small famdiscussion surrounding the ganics in the winery is more chal- ily-run farms to larger, corporate reemergence of a nearly extinct lenging. By the very nature of estates. Despite their differences, grape variety, Oseleta. There their production, Amarone wines all were in common pursuit of seemed to be two schools of possess high levels of alcohol – growing great grapes and making thought on Oseleta: those who some as high as 17% abv. While great wine, in their own way. love it and those who don’t. the lighter, more refreshing styles were under 16% abv, these Among those on Team Oseleta, are still relatively high levels Salvaterra was extremely proud compared with other wines. Beof their Oseleta plantings, feeling cause of these higher alcohol levthat its small berries give good els, it is not possible to produce tannins, which are important to Amarone entirely with nonAmarone. cultured yeast – or rather, if you do, the ambient yeast are now a Meanwhile, Valentina Cubi derivative from the cultured called Oseleta the Sagrantino of yeast used previously. Valpolicella, further adding that, “It’s like Petit Verdot, but all of Some wineries are using a combithe bad aspects of Petit Verdot. nation of indigenous and culIt’s become a trend over Molinara tured yeasts such as at Montrésor, at some places, but not here.” where winemaker Corrado EridaWhether this variety gains ni noted that they carefully ground in the vineyard, time will source their yeasts, starting first tell. with indigenous yeasts and then adding their cultures. The indigeRegardless of the specific grapes nous yeasts can take the fermenplanted and trellis system used, tation to 10% abv within 20 days, the overall focus has been on re- but the second set of 20 days, the ducing chemicals through the cultured yeast bring the alcohol Consorzio’s “Reduce Respect Re- level up to 16% abv.
process. Consequently, the wines are higher in acidity with low pH and high tannins. 2014 – Considered to be a very challenging vintage – cold and rainy until September; many vintners didn’t make Amarone. 2015 – Vintners are very optimistic. 2016 – This is expected to be very good in terms of quality and quantity.
Within the village of Fumane, Scriani’s vineyards are situated at the top of a hill at 250 to 550 meters above sea level. Here, the pergola trained vines yield an annual production of 100,000 bottles. Owned by Stefano Cottini and his wife, the pair represent the third generation of the Cottini family to own and work the land. However, because Cottini is such a common surname in the area, the winery was given a new name 17 years ago: Scriani. This is actually a nickname derived from the word scrivere (Italian for “to write”) since the family previously served as the village scribes. The family initially started with a mere 1.5 hectares of vineyards, eventually growing their Valpolicella holdings to 14 hectares. They now own another 15 hectares in neighboring Custoza. Their vineyards are an average of 35 years old. During a visit to the winery, it was clear that this is a family affair. Visitors are greeted by three Malamutes – mom, dad and the pup. And, the Cottini’s 21-year-old daughter is now actively involved with the winery, in the office. Their two sons are still in school and thus too young to join family business just yet. In the vineyard, Stefano explained that the pergola training system is especially good for the Molinara grape because it permits the grapes to stay dry. While the Molinara grape has fallen out of fashion these days, he
still prizes the grape for what it can add to Recioto (softness and sapidity), but does not use it for his Valpolicella wines. Once inside the winery, the Cottini’s prefer large oak casks compared to barriques, but do concede to using these smaller barrels in an effort to age the wine more quickly and get it to market. Scriani produces a full range of wines from Valpolicella Classico, Superiore and Ripasso to Amarone and Recioto, along with an IGT wine called Carpanè. This latter, 100% Corvina wine is produced from grapes grown on a hill on the west side of the village with this name. We initially tasted the 2012, which showed beautifully, but were then treated to the 2006, which underscored the real ageability of this wine. I also enjoyed the Scriani 2004 Amarone, which was displaying some nice development, as well as the Recioto Maddalena 2012, named for Stefano’s mother. This wine was quite balanced, with medium sweetness and notes of plums, dried cherries and berries. It could pair equally well with dessert or cheeses. As Stefano noted, Recioto needs good balance to produce a great wine. “People think we add sugar
to the wine, but, of course, we don’t.” He further advised that the market for this wine is mainly local. But, given the tiny quantity of wine yielded after drying the grapes, he only has 2,000-3,000 bottles to sell each year.
Stefano Accordini: The Wine World A
ike many families in Valpolicella, the Accordini family has been in the wine industry for several generations, passing down the winery from parent to child. Tiziano Accordini, the present owner of Stefano Accordini, previously worked at the fire station before taking over for his father in 1985. His brother, Daniele, also works in wine, but, at the local co-op. Today, Tizianoâ€™s nephew is involved in Stefano Accordini and the two hold a brainstorming session every Saturday. The winery, newly built in 2014, is located within Fumane and has a total of 28 hectares, with 250,000 bottles produced annually. An additional four hectares, east of the village, will be added over the next five years, thereby increasing their production capabilities. Overall, Tiziano noted that technology has been very helpful, leading to better health of the grapes. However, he recognizes that in some cases, modern advances havenâ€™t always been the best choice. To this end, he is returning to the pergola system, not only to preserve tradition, but also because he truly likes the results that this training system provides. Similarly, he has shifted his use of oak, limiting the use of barriques and admitted that there had been too much oak used, especially 20 years ago. I was a big fan of his wines from the very beginning of our tasting. I really enjoyed the fresh, lean, tart cherry character of his Valpolicella Classico 2015, but it was the Aciniatico Ripasso 2008 and its rounder, broader, complex expression that was my favorite before we turned our attention to Amarone. His Aciniatico line is named for the name given to the area by the Romans and has been trademarked by the family. For Tiziano, 10 to 20 years of aging is perfect for Amarone, but he gave us the opportunity to taste the 1981 and 1995. The 1981 (the year Tiziano was married) presented beautifully with complex notes of dried fruit, figs and dried flowers, yet with still plenty of life in it.
According to Tiziano While my colleagues liked the 1995, I was less impressed due to its volatile acidity, which Tiziano acknowledged. His top of line Amarone, Vigneto il Formetto, is only made in the best vintages. This single cru Riserva wine is made from a vineyard originally planted by Tizianoâ€™s grandfather, now 80-years-old. Both the 2010 and 2001 were gorgeous. Of the two Reciotos we tasted (2013 and 2015), the 2013 was fuller-bodied with spice and cocoa, while the 2015 was very elegant with slightly less sweetness on the palate. Â™
Monte del Fra: Monk of the Hill Founded by two brothers (Eligio and Claudio Bonomo) in 1958, Monte del Fra (Monk of the Hill) is situated within the Custoza denomination, very close to Lake Garda. This large winery, at one million bottles of annual production, has 137 hectares. Today, Eligio and Claudio’s children are now involved, including Marica, Massimo and Silvia. Monte del Fra produces 20 different wines, with 12 of those being their main focus. In particular, the winery has a long history of white wine production in Custoza, Soave and Lugana, and with lighter reds such as Bardolino. But, as Marica explained, it had a “midlife crisis,” so they decided to produce Amarone in 2000. After making wine with rented vineyards for several years, the family purchased Lena di Mezzo in 2006, a cru named for a river in Fumane. Interestingly, their consultant is from Valtellina, with significant experience producing Sfurzat wines, which also undergo a drying process. Marica advised that the mission for their appellation wines is to show elegance, drinkability and terroir. In addition, they generally use larger oak for Amarone stating that they don’t believe in the global trends for oak, alcohol and jammy fruit. We first tasted four vintages of the Monte del Fra Amarone in keeping with Marica’s belief that, with a mini-vertical tasting, we would better understand the philosophy and terroir of the winery. I preferred the 2010 and 2009 to the 2011 and 2012, since the oak was less evident on these wines and some secondary characteristics were beginning to develop. We then tasted two vintages of the Scarnocchio cru with grapes sourced from a higher portion of the Lena di Mezzo vineyards.
Valentina Cubi: She Will Sell No Wine Before It’s Time While firmly rooted in the present, Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi owes its start to the Vason family and its history. Previously, the Vason family was known for its Recioto until the death of Albano Vason, who died during World War II. It was Albano’s son (and Valentina’s husband), Giancarlo, who was able to reenter the industry with the purchase of an estate near Fumane in 1969. With a dedication to quality, Giancarlo modernized the estate and focused on growing great grapes and making wine, which he sold to other companies. But, when his wife (Valentina) retired from her career as an elementary school teacher, she decided to devote her new-found time and attention to the estate, with the intention to bottle the wines herself. In 2003, the first Valentina Cubi wines were produced. Among his important contributions, Giancarlo focused on tearing out white grapes from their vineyards. But, Valentina has redoubled the efforts in the vineyard with a shift to organic viticulture, driven by the idea that, “If I can produce wines without ruining the environment, this was the goal.” The initial conversion started slowly at first, experimenting with three hectares back in 2007, with the recognition that converting all at once would be too risky. Among the early challenges was a “fight” between Valentina and her agronomist,
Monte Crosetta and Rasso. Fermentation is conducted in stainless steel, with natural yeast and without temperature control, but she admits that the only truly natural wine is vinegar.
who had been trained using conventional methods (aka lots of spraying). At Valentina’s urging, he took a course about the dangers of repeated chemical use and has now seen the light, fully embracing the conversion to organics. By 2010, she had produced her first organic wine and by 2014, the winery had obtained organic certification. Despite these victories, Valentina acknowledges the market consequences of making such wines, knowing that while the market should be willing to pay 20-30% more for organic products, this isn’t always true, especially if the organics are simply touted as part of marketing. Even Valentina, who feels that her organic wines are fruitier and fresher than her nonorganic wines, notes that the differences are not overtly obvious. Rather, the biggest difference is in the amount of time and risk taken in their production. Current production is at 45,000 bottles annually, with the hope to grow to 70,000 in the future. Her 13 hectares are divided among several crus: Casterna, Monte Tenda,
many other producers are selling more recent vintages. Although she showed the 2013 during the Anteprima event, it will not be ready for many years.
In general, I was really pleased When it comes to aging her wines, with these wines and their eleValentina says, “I don’t like oak. gance. My favorites among the We are moving from barrique to tasting included her Iperico Valpolarge botti.” Her preference is for licella Classico 2014, Arusnatico Slovenian oak because it is more Ripasso 2013 and the Morar Amaneutral. Additionally, they don’t rone 2010 and Morar Amarone filter and generally they try to re- 2007. I also tasted the 2003 during spect the nature of each wine. To the Anteprima Amarone event, this end, all of the wines have their which was fabulous, while the barown names because, like people, rel sample of the 2013 reinforced they have their own temperament. Valentina’s decision to hold back her wines. Aside from her Valpolicella wines, Valentina makes two IGT wines, In this regard, I found the 2013 to one which brings together Sangio- be a bit disjointed, with nice freshvese and Cabernet Sauvignon (qb – ness and fruit character, but somefrom her surname Cu-bi) and the what overwhelmed with oak. I beother which is made without sullieve it will be great with time. fites (sin Cero). Meanwhile, the 2003 was a lovely Stylistically, Valentina’s wines are wine with a developing nose of extremely elegant. There is less dried fig, floral, roses and cherries concentration and less oak, permit- along with well-integrated oak, ting them to more effortlessly pair resolved tannins, bright and lively with food. on the palate, with lots of spice, dried fruit and long length. Moreover, Valentina is committed to holding her wines until they are actually ready for release. Consequently, she is currently selling the 2007 and 2010, while
SALVATERRA: IN THE LAND OF STONES Established in 1999, Salvaterra is jointly owned by a family and investors. The vineyards are situated at 500 meters in altitude with 11 hectares planted over several different plots, the most prized being those planted in Prun (near Negrar), a place known for its stone quarries. The winery itself is situated in Cengia in San Pietro in Cariano, on the site of an historic property originally owned by the Giona family. Here, a Venetian villa (Villa Giona), dating to the 15th century still stands. The villa was restored during the 17th century by the architect who designed the set of the Aida opera, which explains the two sphinx statues on the property. Currently, the villa serves as a hotel with 18 rooms available to rent. Prior to 1999, the property was owned by Allegrini who planted a high density vineyard to produce a Super Venetian wine. Accordingly, it was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. The new owners preferred to produce Valpolicella, not IGT wines, so the vines were over-grafted with local varieties to speed up the conversion as replanting with new vines would have meant that that the vineyard wasnâ€™t producing for three to four years instead of the two years it took to get the new varieties on line. Inside, they have made a huge investment in the winery, most recently in large oak botti from Garbellotto. Yet, they still have an allegiance to barriques as well, with 278 American oak barriques in the cellar. The Salvaterra company also has 200 hectares planted in Padua, producing a Prosecco DOC, which was very fresh and pretty and a nice change to all of the reds we had been drinking. Afterward, we shifted back to Valpolicella wines. While the basic Valpolicella wines were very nice, I was more impressed with their Amarone 2009 and Amarone Riserva 2007. Â™
At 2.5 million bottles produced annually, Giacomo Montrésor is one of the largest producers in the region. It is also one of the oldest, having been founded in 1892 by Giacomo Montrésor. In spite of its size, Montrésor is still a family-run company and is presently in the hands of the third and fourth generations. We had the pleasure of meeting Giorgio Montrésor (3rd generation). Going back even further, the family’s roots trace to Count Montrésor, an advisor to the Duke of Orleans, who fled France in the 16th century for political reasons, heading first to Germany and then eventually settling in Verona. And, the company is extremely proud of this heritage and its link to Edward Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” with the belief that the Montrésor mentioned in Poe’s story is, in fact, Claude de Bourdeille, Count of Montrésor. While the vast storage facilities found at the property give some credence to this assertion, to everyone’s knowledge, no one is actually walled in within the cellars. Rather, our visit to the cellars provided a wonderful illustration of the confluence of music and wine, as Vittoria Sassi, Export Manager, noted that, “Wine is music in the bottle,” asked us to close our eyes and then proceeded to sing a beautiful aria showing off the cellar’s great acoustics. With its long vinous history in the region, Montrésor was one of the first producers to make a “drinkable Amarone” not a sweet version, during the 1960s. In fact, their previous winemaker was very instrumental in helping the consorzio in developing the wine’s definition. As we were advised, prior to this period, the wine was more of an after-dinner drink with alcohol in the 17+% abv range that one drank like a liqueur. After the tour, we headed to the tasting, where Vittoria showed off a bottle of their first Amarone, presently insured for $50,000. We asked to have a taste, but were told by Giorgio that we asked too much. J We started off with their Primo Ripasso 2014, made with only the first pressing of the Amarone grapes in the refermentation, hence its designation. Only 4,000
bottles of this wine are produced annually and a special label has been designed that slides out of the sleeve on the front of the bottle for the consumer to keep as a souvenir. This was a very elegant wine with good structure and concentrated, layered fruit. I also enjoyed the 2010 Amarone, produced from a single vineyard, Capitel della Crosara, planted with 50-year-old vines. We also tasted the 2003 vintage, which was also quite nice, displaying developing aromas and flavors. We concluded the tasting with the Il Fondatore Amarone 2003, named in honor of the founder and incorporating his traditional recipe. As we departed, Giorgio proudly shared a bottle of Arran single malt whisky with us that had been finished in MontrĂŠsor casks, which we heartily enjoyed on the bus en route to our next stop. Â™
Pietro Zanoni: Small Production, Big Wines
e arrived at Pietro Zanoni toward the end of a long day, more ready for a nap (partially due to the aforementioned whisky) than a winery visit, but we politely gave Pietro and his wife our undivided attention at they welcomed us to their hilltop location. In addition to their warm hospitality, our attention was rewarded with their well-crafted wines.
I was especially taken with the Zanoni Pietro 'Campo Denari' Valpolicella Superiore 2013, which is sourced from 50-year-old vines in the Campo Denari – which translates as field of money, so named for the Roman coins found in the vineyard. These vines are grown on basalt soils and the wine itself is made with dried grapes that give the wine more structure, body and power.
The husband and wife launched their venture in 1998 and presently produce 20,000 bottles annually. Their grapes are sourced from several different crus scattered throughout the local hills. They are not certified, but practice organic viticulture, which gives them flexibility as needed. In addition to their winemaking, they produce a lovely olive oil, which they graciously shared with us.
Other favorites included the Amarone 2013 and Recioto 2011. As Pietro suggested, “The goal of Recioto is a lot of sugar and a drinkable wine.” I really liked his Recioto, which displayed a nice, grippy texture and bright acidity with lots of chocolate and black cherry aromas and flavors.
A Blend of France & Italy: Marchesi Fumanelli In its current iteration, Fumanelli dates to 1998, but this family-owned winery can mark its viticultural heritage to 1470 at its Squarano hilltop property. The estate was built by the Fumanelli family in the 17th century, on land that was previously inhabited by the Romans. A dolman and stones from the Roman period were found on the site, with fragments from a temple dedicated to the Goddess Flora adorning the façade of the current structure. In more recently his-
tory, the winery’s facilities first housed the German troops and then the Americans troops, during the war.
In fact, Federico underscores that, “Fumanelli is not just a business but it is also a lifestyle; we drink our own wines. You have to make wines you personally like to drink.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel that all wineries adhere to this philosophy. He characterizes their style as being balanced and elegant, not overwhelming and attributes to this to their Amarone as well as their other wines. He noted that another aspect of their winemaking is a pursuit of the French philosophy, which shapes the way they choose to craft their wines, particularly their white Terso Bianco 2014, an IGT Veneto, made with a 50%-50% blend of old vine Trebbiano and Garganega. Half of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften its acidity. It was redolent of yellow peaches, with slight citrus notes, medium to full body and long length. Federico further added that they need to copy the French in the way they sell and market their wines as well as the their focus on quality.
Federico’s only reservation seems to be a preference to age the wines longer, but admits that market presThe winery is currently managed by Armando Fusures mean that the wines must be sold upon release, manelli with his son, Federico Pirola Fumanelli, acrather than held back. Moreover, when he does try to tively engaged in the managerial side of the business. store wines away for aging, if he doesn’t hide them well, his father drinks them with his friends. HowevToday, Fumanelli has 23 hectares planted, but only er, with their decision to use hand-selected, Portuproduces 30,000 bottles annually. Instead, they sell guese corks at 60 cents per cork to improve the quali50% of their grapes, which are always in demand ty and longevity of the wines, they can be aged by thanks to the good terroir in which they are grown. the consumer. They are generally pleased with their limited production, preferring not to grow beyond the current size. They produce two Valpolicella Classico Superiore wines, the first of which includes a small percentage
of Teroldego and the second, called Squarano, has 40% of its grapes dried for eight to ten weeks. This gives it more concentration and a fuller body. Made since 1999, we tasted both the 2014 and 2012, proving that it can develop with time. Fumanelli doesn’t produce a Ripasso because, in their estimation, the market has ruined this wine. As Federico bemoaned, “There is a lot of inexpensive Ripasso IGT on the market; people are tired of this product and it has lost its image.” Their red IGT Veneto is called Pralongo, a combination of several different clones of Merlot blended together with Corvina and Teroldego, but in the future, Federico would also like to make a single vineyard, small production (1,000 bottles), bold statement wine with 100% Corvina.
I especially enjoyed the Octavius Amarone Riserva 2010, which is produced only in great vintages. It was extremely complex with cherry, vanilla, dried leather, dried cocoa and hint of fig; with full body; ripe, grainy tannins; spice; woodiness; and long length.
A pioneer with pAssion at
sAntA sofiA The Santa Sofia property dates back to 1560 when the original villa was built by estate owner, Marcantonio Serego. Serego hired the renowned architect, Andrea Palladio, to build his grand house and its surrounding gardens. The on-site chapel is dedicated to Sofia, giving a name to the estate and serving as a symbol of the winery that exists today. While the villa itself is privately owned, visitors are welcomed to the winery and cellars, where the tufa bricks of the 14th century and the smaller, red bricks of the 18th century can be seen in the ceiling of the adjoining buildings.
Winemaking on the property dates to 1811, but present-day owner, Giancarlo Begnoni arrived in 1964, after completing his wine training in Conegliano in 1960. Today, he is joined in the family business by his son, Luciano, and daughter, Patrizia. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Anna Caprini, who handles External Relations for Santa Sofia, as well as by Giancarlo. He was so passionate about telling his story that Anna had to kindly ask him to stop and slow down so that she could translate for him. Philosophically, Giancarlo stated that, “We have only one enemy – oxygen; but, we also need it to develop the wines.” He added that the two main points of wine here are to 1) age it in wood and 2) age it in bottle, both for a lengthy period of time. But, despite his emphasis on aging, he is not a lover of barriques. Instead, he mostly blends the barrique-aged wines with those aged in larger wood vessels. In their tasting room, Giancarlo showed us the winery’s historic bottles, pointing out that, after 1968, it was easier to identify Amarone as such based on the label. Additionally, a few of the older wines are in Bordeaux bottles instead of the traditional Burgundy bottles. As Santa Sofia continues to grow and expand, they now make wine in the Soave area (we tasted the Soave Spumante, which was slightly off-dry, cleansing, with pleasing floral notes) and, more recently, purchased 30 hectares in Valpantena at the Briago estate. Although their vineyard holdings in the Classico area are only planted on pergola,
in Valpantena they have chosen to use Guyot, with 15 hectares planted so far. Since the winery does not have catering facilities, we were treated to lunch at Osteria di Bebi, a traditional osteria. Historically, the osteria would serve as a central meeting point for the town as people would come for television and the use of the telephone. In addition, its parking lot hosted the cherry market each season. During lunch, we enjoyed regional cuisine, while Anna shared Venetian food traditions with us. Several dishes featured Monte Veronese cheese, which is similar to Asiago, but differs in that it is unpasteurized. In addition to tasting two versions (unaged and aged), the cheese was also part of the tortellini filling. As elsewhere in Italy, pasta is important, but in the Veneto, it is always egg-based pasta. It was a pleasure to taste the Santa Sofia wines with our meal. I really enjoyed the Valpolicella Superiore Montegradella 2014. The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Montegradella cru, a site consisting of 24 hectares, named for an iron tool used to cook polenta or meat over the fireplace; it is a very hot, sunny site. The grapes are then partially dried for 40 days, resulting in a soft wine with concentrated, dried cherry notes. Another favorite was the Amarone 2011, which had been aged in Slovenian oak. It was a lighter style of Amarone, still a bit tight, with good fruit and spice character. Anna suggested that Amarone doesnâ€™t pair well with grilled meat since the meat disappears in the intense flavors; instead it is better with aged cheeses or a hearty beef stew. We tasted it alongside the two Monte Veronese cheeses. We finished the meal with the Recioto 2011, which spent two years in barrique. It was medium sweet with a slight grip on the palate, along with cherries and blueberries. The wine was paired with a regional specialty, a crumbled almond cookie known as sbrisolona. Â™
Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Here's drink: I drink to thee. ~Juliet (Act 4, Scene 3)
We concluded our visits with a stop at Caâ€™ Rugate winery, which takes its name from a volcanic hill within the Soave Classico appellation. Here, four generations of the Tessari family have perpetuated the family legacy with a stunning array of whites, reds, sparklers and dessert wines. The family owns 72 hectares of vineyards with 40 hectares in Soave Classico, 30 hectares in Valpolicella (but not the Classico area) and a scant two hectares of Durella, the latter of which are planted adjacent to the winery. This indigenous white variety is used in the production of sparkling wines. We tasted the Amadeo 2012, a Traditional Method sparkler with 42 months of aging on the lees. This 90% Durella/10% Garganega blend has no dosage added. Its pretty nose displayed aromas of fresh flowers and yeast, with a dry palate, high acidity with pear, spice, and floral notes, culminating in long length.
The winery also houses an on-site museum featuring the tools of the wine trade, all of which previously belonged to the Tessari family, including a 150-year-old torcio press. The winery was founded by Fulvio Tessari who only recently passed away at age 100. Fulvio’s dad died when Fulvio was only three years old and it was his mother, Adele, who raised the family and made wine to support her family. Today, Fulvio’s son, Amedo, and Amadeo’s son, Michele, are actively involved. They admitted to being more expert in white wines, but further added that, philosophically, they have transferred their white wine expertise to their red winemaking with the focus on making wines that are not too big. It was a treat to taste through their Soave wines before resum-
ing our foray into the reds. The Monte Fiorentine 2015 Soave Classico was first made in 1988. It is 100% Garganega, sourced from 50-year-old vines grown on volcanic soils and produced solely in stainless steel. Floral notes and minerality pervade the nose, while apple and yellow plum are more prominent on the palate. The winery recently conducted a vertical back to 1996, which confirmed the longevity of this wine for them. Monte Alto 2014 Soave Classico, also made from 100% Garganega, is aged in a combination of barrique and botti and is unfiltered. It offers a slight woody aroma and toothpick character on palate, but the wood is integrated, not overwhelming. This wine has brighter fruit of peach and citrus, along with a mineral undercurrent. The Studio 2013, an IGT Veneto wine, is the culmination of a search to find the perfect balance of grapes, which ultimately turned out to be 60% Trebbiano di Soave and 40% Garganega. Hence, the depiction of the ballerina on the striking label. Half of the wine is aged in big barrels for 9 to 10 months, with some vanilla evident on the nose. On the citrus-dominant palate, the oak is noticeable, but well-integrated, with minerality in the finish. Returning to reds, we tasted the Valpolicella Superiore Campo Lavei 2014, the grapes for which are grown in the Campo Lavei cru, known for its limestone soils. With 40% dried grapes, this wine offers up aromas of cherries and raspberries, with a slightly sweet attack, but is overall dry on the palate with tart cherry and spice. It is well balanced, but powerful, with long length. The Amarone Punta Tolotto 2013, named for the vineyard where the grapes are grown, was elegant yet intense with cherry fruit, tobacco leaf, spice, dried fruit and fig. The medium+-bodied palate displayed good balance and complexity with long length. Finishing up on not one, but two sweet notes, we first sampled the Lâ€™Eremita Recioto 2013. It has a very floral nose, joined by a slight spice note, with rich, dark chocolate notes. The medium sweet palate has a nice tannic grip and long length.
Lastly, we experienced the La Perlara Recioto di Soave 2014. Produced similarly to Recioto della Valpolicella, but with 100% Garganega grapes from the Soave zone, this is a meditation wine, equally enjoyable on its own or with cheese or cantucci cookies. The intense nose shows apricot and a hint of almond. It is very lively on the palate with zingy acidity to balance out the residual sugar, with long length. All in all, it was the perfect conclusion to our Veneto tour. Â™
Anteprima Amarone 2013: Here C
Comes the Wine The formal portion of the Anteprima Amarone event consisted of a seated blind tasting at the Palazzo Barbieri Comune di Verona with sommelier service of all 83 wines from the 2013 vintage. This was their big reveal, as journalists from around the world descended upon Verona to taste, critique and make their pronouncements. Resigned to our Herculean task, my colleagues and I began tasting the wines one by one until we had tasted through the first 28 samples. With the daunting mission of tasting another 55 wines, we switched tacks and asked to taste only those wines that had already been bottled. In other words, we would taste the wines that had been deemed ready by their makers and leave the barrel samples for other palates to suffer. We just couldn’t handle the overly oaked, unfinished character of these nascent wines and didn’t feel that we could do them justice. We tasted another 26 wines, bringing our total tastes to 54, which we felt was a sufficient sample to judge the wines. Overall, the wines indicated that 2013 is a good vintage. There was some nice fruit on these wines, with bright acidity and sufficient tannins. Many were too oaky for my palate, but there were a few that stood out among the rest. As we left the room, we were given a “cheat sheet” that revealed the producers of each sample. My favorites from the blind tasting were Villa San Carlo, Giacomo Montresor, Albino Armani and Stefano Accordini, and I also liked Fidora, La Collina dei Ciliegi and Degani.
With the need to clear our heads and reset our palates, we left the building in search of a pizza lunch, which we found, thanks to a recommendation to try Da Salvatore. Thus fortified and refreshed, after lunch I returned to the palace where I participated in the event’s walk-around tasting. I visited several tables, which provided the opportunity to meet additional producers and taste a few more wines. Each producer had a sample of their 2013 wine, along with a second vintage of their Amarone at their stand. Admittedly, these were short visits that mostly consisted of a quick tasting, but I was especially pleased to meet Camilla from Massimago having heard about her from a colleague.
“This “Thisbud budofoflove, love,by bysummer’s summer’sripening ripeningbreath, breath, May Mayprove proveaabeauteous beauteousflower flowerwhen whennext nextwe wemeet.” meet.” –– Juliet Juliet(Act (ActII,II,Scene Scene2) 2)
One of the most iconic names in Valpolicella, Bolla was founded in 1883. With an annual production of 11 million bottles, it is one of the largest producers with 188 hectares of vines. 2013 (barrel sample): Oak and cherry aromas with pronounced tobacco and oak, long length. 2011: Faint aromas, but good cherry fruit and bright acidity on the medium+-bodied palate with tight tannins.
Established as recently as 2003, Gamba is owned by the three Aldrighetti brothers: Giuseppe, Giovanni and Martino, with Martino serving as winemaker. They have 14 hectares of vineyards and an annual production of 70,000 bottles. 2013: Bright cherry aromas with high acidity, very fresh on the palate with spice and cherries. 2010: Shy nose, but very fresh and elegant with lots of fruit on the palate.
Camilla Rossi-Chauvet fell in love with wine at age 19 when she took a wine tasting course, but she didn’t think about pursuing a career in the industry until several years later. In fact, she originally planned to work in Africa after studying agronomy in school. But, she realized that her family’s lands weren’t being used to their highest purpose. Her grandfather was a magistrate and her mother was a notary, so the grapes were sold to others. but no one was focused on producing the best grapes or the best wines. When she shared her idea with her parents, they were fully supportive and thus, Massimago was established in 2003. Today, Camilla serves as CEO, while the 60,000-bottle production is headed by winemaker Guido Busatto. The company’s 12 hectares are organically farmed. 2013: Spice notes dominate the nose, the wine is beautifully elegant with good cherry fruit on the palate.
2011: This wine delivers more fruit character along with more resolved tannins and hints of spice.
Villa Crine was founded by the current owner’s grandfather in 1893. The winery produces 30,000 bottles annually with its 8 hectares of vines. The estate includes the historic Villa Crine. 2013 (barrel sample): An intense nose of cherry and spice, the wine delivers ripe fruit, power and good acidity on the full-bodied palate. 2010: With floral and fruit aromas, this wine is still quite fresh, but appears to be more resolved and put together than the 2013, which seems unfinished.
As the name suggests, Zonin dates to 1821 and comprises seven generations of the Zonin family. The company has 2,000 hectares under vine, distributed throughout several Italian regions. 2013: Cherry and spice on the nose, slightly sweet on the attack, but dry overall, with a very lush, but fresh palate; very drinkable now. 1998: Developing aromas of dried fruit, spice and dried flowers; the spice lingers throughout the long finish, as the fruit fades a bit at the end.
Founded in 1818, this small producer has 9 hectares of vines and produces approximately 25,000 bottles annually. It is presently owned by Luigi and Angelo Aldrighetti. While the company has been around for two centuries, it wasn’t until the current generation got involved that the company began to make its own wine. Rather, the Aldrighetti family originally sold their grapes to other wine producers, but it was Luigi’s dream to make his own wine. This dream was eventually realized after the passing of his father. His son is now following in his father’s footsteps and his daughter, Silvia, is also actively involved in the venture. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Silvia at the gala dinner on Friday night, where we became fast friends and I had the pleasure of enjoying her family’s wines. 2013 (barrel sample): An intense and powerful nose redolent of cherries, with concentrated flavors of cherries, oak and spice on the structured palate. 2010: Fresh and elegant, with ripe, textural tannins, bright cherry fruit, spice and oak with long length.
In Pursuit of Excellence: Amarone Families As noted, Amarone has a relatively short history compared to other notable wines. Yet, despite its youth, it has made an impact on the market as a highly-regarded wine and an important commodity. And, as with other wines, there are differing goals and opinions on what is best for the denomination, among those who produce it.
membership is restricted to familyowned wineries that have been producing Amarone wine for a minimum of 15 years and that export their wines to major global markets.
early arrivals an insider tip as to which was the “warmer” side of the table.
Despite the chilly climate, we were warmly greeted by Sabrina Tedeschi, Giuseppe Rizzardi, AlI first encountered the Amarone berto Zenato, Ilenia Pasetto of VenFamilies at a standing-room only turini and Elena Caccia, Coordinaseminar held in New York in 2011. tor & Communications Director of But, more recently, I had the opAmarone Families. Consequently, while there are portunity to meet with several many Amarone families members at an intimate dinner The evening included a wonderful (lowercase f) in the region, Amaduring my trip to Verona. array of food, fabulous wines and rone Families (capital F) was estabgreat company, all within the feslished in 2009, by several of the Not surprisingly (see next page), tive atmosphere, and served as a leading wineries in an effort to we met at Antica Bottega del Vino. lovely ending to our visit to Veroprotect their collective investments While our visit was still a few na. The evening was so convivial and uphold the reputations of weeks off from VinItaly, the resthat I chose to sit back and relax, their vaunted wines. They were taurant was packed on a Saturday rather than take notes, preferring extremely concerned about the night and our hosts selected the to get to know Ilenia as a person overproduction of Amarone ofcellar as the setting for our dinner, instead of a producer. There will fered at less than premium prices in good company with thousands be time to refocus on these wines and produced following only the of bottles of wine. The only prob- when Sabrina Tedeschi visits New minimum of requirements. lem was the cold temperatures – York in March to share the Amagood for wine preservation; less rone Families and their wines with Banding together to take up the comfortable for people – but we the Wine Media Guild. cause of quality Amarone, this pri- were provided with blankets and vate consortium of Amarone pro- the server who seated us gave the ducers issued a manifesto and imposed quality control measures on its members that are more stringent than those of the regular appellation laws.
Currently headed by President Sabrina Tedeschi (of Agricola Fratelli Tedeschi), the organization’s membership roster has shifted slightly since its initial founding and presently includes: Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Masi, Musella, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant'Antonio, Tommasi, Torre D'Orti, Venturini and Zenato. Aside from reading like a “Who’s Who” in Amarone wine, such
Antica Bottega del Vino With crowds that gather outside for hours in the hope of snagging a table, Antica Bottega del Vino is the place to be and be seen during VinItaly and has been a fixture in Verona for centuries. The tavern first opened in the 1500s and was on the brink of closing in 2010 when it was purchased by the Amarone Families organization and Antica Rinomata Riseria Ferron. This joint ownership of wineries and a rice producer are the perfect combo for a restaurant known for its Risotto al Amarone. Â™
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