Posts tagged ‘amarone’
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Chicago was host to the Wines of Veneto for several events, including a sit-down seminar featuring 10 Venetian wines, a dinner at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush and two Prosecco tastings, one at a Treasure Island retail outlet and one at a steakhouse (Benny’s Chop House), just north of downtown. These events were part of a tour about the wines of Veneto that were also organized for Los Angeles and New York.
I was pleased to be invited to be part of the seminar on Monday morning; joining me were Nathan Woodhouse, from Ionia Atlantic Imports, a company that represents numerous artisan producers from Italy and Benny Woodhouse, owner of Benny’s Chop House. Moderating the seminar was Aurora Endrici, a sommelier from Italy. Aurora is an extremely knowledgable individual and an engaging speaker. Everyone at the events loved her outgoing personality and warmth; I greatly enjoyed working with her and hope to have the opportunity again in the not too distant future.
The seminar was a natural for me, as I had recently visited producers in both the Soave and Valpolicella districts in late May and early June, so I was understandably excited about the wines (please see my recent posts on Soave and Amarone). Wines from those areas are quite well known in America and were included, as well as Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the province of Treviso. But it was the inclusion of other wines – offerings not that well known in many markets outside Veneto – that were real eye-openers for myself and the attendees.
The most exciting wines for me were two reds: Tai Rosso and Bagnoli Friularo. Tai Rosso is produced from the Tocai Rosso grape, the name of which had to be changed according to EU regulations that now protect the name “Tokay”, which refers to a wine from Hungary (the same refers to the Friulano grape, a white that was previously known as Tocai Friulano. It is grown primarily in Friuli and the Veneto; in the Veneto, the white grape is known as Tai and the red as Tai Rosso).
We sampled a 2010 bottling of Tai Rosso from the Colli Berici DOC area in the province of Vicenza. This variety is thought to be an offshoot of Garnacha from Spain or Cannonau from Sardegna. The grape has very light amounts of anthocyanins, resulting in a red wine that looks more like a rosato than a rosso. The wine was lovely with wonderful fresh cherry and currant fruit as well as tart acidity and light tannins. In some ways, it resembled a Bardolino in its delicacy and freshness, but the Tai Rosso not only has a lighter color, but also more spice. It could be enjoyed at cellar temperature, although I’d love it this time of year slightly chilled- foods such as salumi, lighter pastas or soups would be wonderful pairings.
The Friularo from the Bagnoli DOC in the province of Padova was a completely different style of red, one with much deeper color (deep ruby red), richer tannins and with a structure meant for 10-12 years of aging (this was a 2005 bottling, so wines from bigger vintages, such as 2004 or 2007, would be capable of longer aging). The grape is known as Raboso in other parts of Veneto, but in this DOC, it is labeled as Friularo. This was a marvelous wine, one with flavors of plum and cacao and one that had a beautifully defined mid-palate and layers of flavor. 100% of the grapes were dried for four months before fermentation (a la Amarone), giving the wine a gorgeous texture in the mouth and excellent persistence. This was a wonderful find for everyone at the tasting.
Other wines presented at the seminar included a Raboso from the Piave DOC in the province of Treviso, the marvelous dessert wine Torcolato di Breganze, produced from the Vespaiolo grape and a lovely sparkling wine known as Fior d’Arancio Spumante from the Colli Euganei. This is made entirely from the Moscato Giallo grape, as with the more famous Moscato d’Asti wine of Piemonte and like that wine, the alcohol is quite low (5.5%). It has gorgeous apricot and honey aromas and a sensual delicacy and light sweetness that are irresistible. Endrici mentioned that this is a difficult sell, given the worldwide success of Moscato d’Asti and that even in the local area, producers have a difficult time finding customers for this wine. How nice then for the Veneto group to come here and present this wine!
I commented that the wines of Veneto are a microcosm for the entire Italian wine industry, as this is a region known for many types of wines, from sparkling (Prosecco and Fior d’Arancia Spumante) to whites (Soave, Lugana) to lighter reds (Bardolino, Tai Rosso) to more full-bodied reds (Bagnoli Friularo, Amarone) to dessert wines, both white (Torcolato, Recioto di Soave) and red (Recioto di Valpolicella). Every color of the viticultural rainbow can be found in Italy and you really don’t need to go any farther than Veneto to enjoy this wide range of offerings.
This was a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved to understand the broad spectrum of Venetian wines and I am delighted to have had the occasion to be introduced to several wines I rarely have the chance to taste during my travels. Learning about the wines of Veneto is just one more reason why Italian wines are so extraordinary, given their distinctiveness and of course, their amazing quality.
A personal note of thanks to several individuals for making these events happen and for their assistance with my role this week. Thank you to Aurora Endrici, Paolo Doglioni and Fabio Coronin from Centro Estero Veneto, Augusto Marchini and Fred Marripodi of the Italian Trade Commission in New York City and finally, Patrick Capriati of the Italian Trade Commission in Chicago.
Vineyards at Negrar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Collio in the Friuli region as well as the Soave and Valpolicella zones in the Veneto region. I’ll write a bit about all these areas; today I begin my accounts with Valpolicella, where several wines, including Amarone – one of Italy’s most iconic reds – are produced.
One of the purposes of my journey was to research the 12 producers that make up the Famiglie dell’Amarone (Amarone Families) project. I’ll be writing a feature article on this group for the Autumn issue of Quarterly Review of Wines – look for this issue in mid-September.
More on Amarone in a bit, but let me first discuss the Valpolicella zone, located just north of the splendid city of Verona. Valpolicella literally means “valley with many cellars” – it’s a district with hundreds of producers squeezed in a relatively small area. The western half is the DOC area, while there are many fine producers who make wine from the eastern section as well. The western part is comprised of three valleys: Fumane, Negrar and Marano; in addition, important towns for production include San Pietro in Cariano and Sant’Ambrogio. Many of the most famous producers of Valpolicella and Amarone are located here; these include Masi; Allegrini; Begali; Brigaldara; Venturini; Nicolis; Tedeschi and Tommasi. Excellent producers in eastern Valpolicella include Musella and Tenuta Sant’Antonio.
Valpolicella is a blend of several grapes, the most commonly used being Corvina and Rondinella. Molinara is still used in some wines, but it is not as popular as in the past. Other grapes include Corvinone (larger bunches than Corvina), Dinadarella (incorporated in a few blends, but often better used to produce a rosato, as with the example of Brigaldara), Negrara and Croatina. A few years ago, the DOC regulations for Valpolicella were changed and small percentages of non-local varieties are allowed; I sampled two different bottlings of Valpolicella with 5% Sangiovese, if you can believe it!
The major varieties – Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Croatina – are also used to produce Amarone; a final variety that is being used by a few producers today is Oseleta, a grape type that adds color and tannins to the final wine along with good natural acidity. What makes Amarone so special and so different from a normal bottling of Valpolicella is the winemaking process. The grapes for an Amarone are picked one week prior to those for a Valpolicella and these grapes are then allowed to dry in special rooms – either on bamboo racks or in plastic trays called cassette - for anywhere from three to four months. This process of naturally drying the grapes takes place before fermentation and is known as appassimento. During the 90-120 days, the grapes shrivel and lose 20%-30% of their natural water, resulting in extremely concentrated grapes. As the natural sugars increase during this drying period, this means that a typical Amarone will have between 15% and 15.5% alcohol and in some years, even as much as 16%.
A third wine between Valpolicella and Amaone is Ripasso. Literally meaning “repass”, the original production for this wine included passing fresh grapes over the skins of the previous year’s Amarone skins. This would give a more “raisiny” character to a traditional Valpolicella, resulting in something of a “baby Amarone” for lack of a better term. Today other methods are often used and the wines range widely in style, from elegant and fruity (such as the wonderful bottlings from Begali or Brigaldara) to a more powerful, Amarone like wine (such as those from Masi, Allegrini and Tommasi).
Finally, there is Recioto della Valpolicella, which is sweet. This is the traditional wine produced for more than one thousand years in this area; the dry Amarone is a recent innovation, having only been produced since the 1950s. The sweet Recioto – and versions vary from off-dry to medium-sweet, offer gorgeous aromas of black raspberry and dark chocolate and are ideal partners for a variety of foods at the end of a meal, from a chocolate dessert to aged blue cheeses. I love Recioto and drink it whenever I can- it’s really a shame this isn’t a greater success in the market. One producer told me that when producers in the Valpolicella area get together, they all want to try each others’ Reciotos, which should tell you how seriously they view this wine. Among my favorites on this recent trip included Allegrini, Masi (two very different bottlings), Speri, Brigaldara and Tenuta Sant’Antonio.
Getting back to Amarone, I entitled this piece “A new found love.” It’s not that I abandoned Amarone, for I’ve always loved it, it’s just that after visiting twelve outstanding producers in four days, my love was rekindled. This was especially true of the 2006 vintage, which the producers there rated as great. Now I have read enough reports of so-called “great vintages” from all over Italy (as well as the rest of the wine world) and I’m usually a bit skeptical. These great vintages often result in wines that are too intense, too tannic, too oaky, etc., etc. – you get the picture. But not so with the 2006 Amarones, as these wines offer impressive concentration, remarkable fruitiness and beautiful balance. Given the press, many of these wines were already gone during my tastings, but I did taste several that I rated as outstanding, the four finest being the ultra-elegant Speri, the beautifully structured Riserva from Musella, the polished and very approachable Zenato and the sublime Begali “Monte Ca’Bianca”.
The 2007s are now upon us and I was very satisfied with the Tommasi, a classic style made in a traditional manner- the tannins are polished and there is excellent acidity- the wine is a beauty! I also enjoyed the more modern, powerful Allegrini as well as the Masi “Costasera”, which is more of a middle ground as far as style. I also tasted a few Amarones from 2005, with the Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Campo dei Gigli” offering the best balance and complexity.
Finally, there were a few special older bottlngs. Everyone knows that with a powerful wine such as Amarone, several years are needed for the wines to display their finest characteristics. This was certainly true for the 1999 Tedeschi “Capitel Monte Olmi” and the 1997 Venturini. For these wines, aromas of molasses, dried cherry and tobacco were among the most common and the wines had a more refined quality about them. But new release or 12 or 14 year-old bottle, my thoughts this past week with Amarone were all about love.
Without further ado, here is a partial list of my choices of the best Italian red wines of the year. A full list (along with the best whites of the year and a list of the best producers) can be found in the next issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. For subscription information, click here.
2007 PRODUTTORI DEL BARBARESCO BARBARESCO
There are so many wonderful bottlings of Barbaresco from the excellent 2007 vintage; given space limitations, I’ll only mention one. This is the normale Barbaresco from this great producer, a blend of several different vineyards within the town of Barbaresco. The 2007 vintage for Barbaresco was all about finesse and not power; this wine has gorgeous aromatics and beautiful acidity along with the subtle oak and ideal balance this producer is so well known for. This should drink well for 10-12 years. Also among the finest wines of the year were the 2005 cru bottlings of this producer from the Rio Sordo, Pajé and Montestefano vineyards.
2006 ELIO GRASSO BAROLO “GAVARINI CHINERA”/BAROLO “GINESTRA CASA MATE´”
So many outstanding bottlings of Barolo from 2006 – again with space limitations, I have room for only a few. Here are two wonderful wines from this ultra consistent Barolo producer in Monforte d’Alba. Both of these wines offer impressive concentration and a distinct spiciness that emerges from the local terroir. These are both aged in large casks, so oak plays a supporting role and does not dominate. 2006 was an old-fashioned, classically structured vintage for Barolo, so these wines should peak in 25 years plus. Purchasing an Elio Grasso Barolo is always a wise choice, especially from the 2006 vintage.
2004 IL POGGIONE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO RISERVA
Hardly a surprise here, given the long-term excellence of this producer combined with the excellent 2004 vintage. This wine is from the I Paganelli vineyard, planted in 1964 and displays the concentration and complexity of these older vines. Medium-full, this has layers of fruit and a lengthy finish with subdued wood notes (grandi botti aging), lively acidity and polished tannins and offers exceptional harmony. This should drink well for 20-25 years.
2004 STEFANO ACCORDINI AMARONE “IL FORNETTO”
This excellent producer releases this special bottling only in the finest vintages; this 2004 certainly lives up to that entitlement. Medium-full with an explosion of fruit, this offers flavors of red raspberry and fig with light raisiny notes and has a rich finish with youthful, but refined tannins and lovely balancing acidity. Look for this wine to drink well for 12-15 years. It may be difficult to find this wine, but if you are lover of Amarone, you need to taste this!
2002 FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI RISERVA “PIANO DI MONTEVERGINE”
Taurasi is Campania’s contribution to the list of Italy’s most accomplished red wines and Feudi is one of leading producers of this wine type. This is from a site very close to the town of Taurasi; planted more than 25 years ago, this is an outstanding Aglianico vineyard. Medium-full, this is a beautifully structured wine with excellent persistence and silky tannins to accompany the delicious black cherry and candied plum fruit. As I wrote in my review in my Guide to Italian Wines earlier this year, “2002 was not a year that led itself to greatness in this area, but this is an accomplished bottling.” As this bottling is a bit lighter than a typical vintage (though still quite rich), expect this to peak in 12-15 years.
Think of the wines of the Veneto region and chances are you think of Amarone. Think of great Amarone producers and chances are you think of Masi. This winery, managed by the Boscaini family since 1972 (although this family’s history with local vineyards dates back to 1772), is truly one of the benchmark producers of Amarone, thanks especially to the work over the past 20 years of its president Sandro Boscaini.
Boscaini is a true visionary, one of the individuals responsible for the current style of Amarone – one that reflects terroir and elegance at the same time. He’s also a warm, thoughtful person, always happy to see you and answer your questions. He’s a brilliant oenologist and an engaging speaker, someone who sees his work at Masi at his life’s endeavor; undertakings that will go a long way towards redefining Amarone in today’s – and tomorrow’s – marketplace.
Along with a regular Valpolicella and Ripasso wines (a term coined by Boscaini and his father back in 1962), Masi produces four bottlings of Amarone under their own label and one additional Amarone for the Serego Aligheri estate. The standard Amarone is labeled Costasera (“evening coast”), as the vineyards face southwest and receive the evening sun. This is a perfect example of the Masi style – rich, with a generous mid-palate, good weight on the palate and an restrained finish with moderate tannins. The current 2006 is quite a success and though it will be a much more complete wine in another 5-7 years, it is approachable now. I recently tasted the 1999 version of this wine and it is in lovely condition; it should drink well for another 3-5 years.
There is also an Amarone Riserva, which is a relatively new category. Masi was one of the first producers to release this wine; their initial bottling was from the 2003 vintage. Boscaini has decided to incorporate the Oseleta grape for this Amarone; the variety is not commonly used by most producers of Amarone. But for Boscaini, Oseleta is ideal for producing an Amarone with ideal structure and longevity. “As oseleta has a higher tannin level than other varieties used for Amarone (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, for example), it is perfectly suited to create a wine meant for greater aging potential than our regular Amarone,” he explains.
But it is the cru bottlings of Amarone that are the most renowned and complex Amarones made at Masi. There are two of these single vineyard offerings: Campolongo di Torbe and Mazzano. Each is full-bodied and towers above the regular Costasera bottling in their richness and intensity. While much of this has to do with smaller yields from single sites, the extra 2-3 weeks of drying the grapes (appassimento) is another factor for the robust quality of these wines.
Boscaini has made the wise decision to ferment and age these wines in large Slavonian oak casks, which helps preserve the local terroir of each wine, something that might not be evident if the aging were in barriques. The terroir is noticeable, as each wine displays very different flavor profiles; the Campolongo has aromas of currant, dates and figs, while the Mazzano has much stronger notes of tobacco and cumin. Both wines are brilliant statements of what a producer can accomplish with Amarone – make a powerful wine with great complexity and yet achieve finesse and balance throughout. The 2004 offerings of these wines have recently been released. I just tasted the 2001 releases of these two wines at a lunch and can report that they are magnificent with rich, balanced tannins as well as ideal acidity, which will assure that these wines will drink well for another 12-15 years; though I think the 2001 Mazzano will be in excellent condition for at least another 20 years.
For Boscaini, aging is especially important for Amarone. “In five to seven years, Amarone yields fruit; after 15 years, older Amarone loses its fruit, but offers greater complexity and concentration and more intriguing spice.” If that isn’t an advertisement for the glories of Amarone, I don’t know what it is. How grateful we can be for the work of Sandro Boscanini and his team at Masi for producing such exemplary bottlings of Amarone!
Soave has several identities, from simple sipping wine to a long-aging white with distinct minerality and outstanding complexity. Unfortunately too may consumers only associate Soave with the first description; yet the truth today is that there are dozens of the area’s producers that are crafting glorious bottlings. First and foremost among those is Leonildo Pieropan.
The Pieropan family has winemaking roots in the Soave area from 1890; here at their palazzo in the town of Soave, Leonildo Pieropan, Senior, was creating the lovely dessert wine, Recioto di Soave. Today his grandson Leonildo is considered one of the stalwarts of this area, working “with the precision of a Swiss watch,” as written in a brief introductory text in Duemilavini, the wine guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers (A.I.S.).
While Pieropan produces two special bottlings of Soave, there are many who will tell you that his Soave Classico normale bottling is his finest; it certainly is his most representative everyday Soave offering. It is produced from 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave in most years and offers textbook aromas of honeydew melon and yellow flowers backed by lively acidity and a touch of minerality. It is beautifully balanced and has excellent complexity; all of this is especially nice, considering the $15 retail price in America (and I’ve seen it for less in some areas.)
There are two other special Soaves made at Pieropan; Calvarino and La Rocca. Calvarino, produced from an estate vineyard of volcanic soils, is 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave; Pieropan has opted for this blend as it was a typical one from decades past in this area. The wine receives no wood aging, as Pieropan opts to let the perfumes of the varieties emerge. This wine ages beautifully, usually drinking well for 10-12 years. I recall tasting the 1989 bottling at the winery in 2006 – it was sublime!
La Rocca, also made from a single vineyard (the oldest vines here are 50 years old), is 100% Garganega that has been aged in mid-size and large barrels for one year. This is a lush, almost fat Soave with great concentration and a well-structured finish. This is also a wine for cellaring; generally the wine is at its best from 10-12 years of age. This is a very individualistic bottling, yet it is without doubt a Soave; today there are a few other producers in the area that have used La Rocca as a model for their top offering.
What strikes you about each of the three wines is the combination of richness, yet at the same time elegance. While the La Rocca is a very powerful rendering of Soave, it never goes over the top, maintaining its finesse. This is an admirable quality, and one that certainly matches the character of Leonildo Pieropan, a confident, assured individual, who is also down to earth. I met with him at this year’s VinItaly wine fair and was impressed by his easy-going, charming ways. I spoke with him about the refined qualities of his wine and he replied with a quote that I think befits his winemaking philosophy quite well. “Elegance is one of the most difficult qualities to transmit in a wine. But when you understand it, it is the one that brings the greatest pleasure.” A lovely thought and one I think many other wine producers believe in as well; yet I’ve never heard it professed as eloquently as I have from Leonildo Pieropan.
There is also a stunning example of the famed dessert wine, Recioto di Soave, that Pieropan labels Le Colombare. A few years ago, Pieropan opted to produce local red wines as well; the first effort a wine called Ruberpan, an IGT blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Croatina from the Val d’Illasi hills. Now comes the exciting news that he has added Amarone to his production. I tasted the inital 2006 release (this will be available in the autumn of 2010) and as you might expect, this is a rich, yet restrained offering of this famous Venetian red. There’s that elegance again, this time in a wine most people think of as powerful. But as this was made by Leonildo Pieropan, would you expect anything else?
Few wines produced anywhere in the world have captured wine consumers’ imaginations as has Amarone. Rich and powerful, this is a red wine that is appealing upon release, but offers an entirely different sensation when consumed a decade or more after the vintage.
Amarone is produced in the Valpolicella zone, just north and west of the city of Verona in the Veneto region. In fact, Amarone is a Valpolicella – the full name is Amarone della Valpoicella (if it is produced from grapes grown in the Classico zone, then the word Classico is attached as a suffix).
As it is a Valpolicella, it is made from the same varieties as that wine. There are three major ones: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Most examples of a Valpolicella or Amarone are primarily Corvina and Rondinella, as Molinara has become less and less important in most bottlings. There are other varieties as well, such as Corvinone (a clone of Corvina), Oseleta and Rossignola; regulations also allow for small percentages of Sangiovese to be included in the blend, though this is rare.
What makes an Amarone different from a Valpolicella? Basically it is the production method. Grapes destined for an Amarone are harvested earlier than those for a regular Valpolicella (usually 7-10 days early) and are then put in plastic boxes or on straw or bamboo mats in special temperature controlled rooms to dry. This drying period lasts 3-4 months and during this time, the grapes lose as much as 40% of their natural water content. This causes the grapes to shrivel in size and by the end of the drying period, they look more like raisins than grapes. This process of making Amarone by naturally drying the grapes is known as appassimento.
After that, the grapes are then fermented and then aged in barrels. Here, a winemaker has a choice. Traditionally, producers used only large wooden casks known as botti grandi to age their wines. But over the past two decades, many producers of Amarone, as is the case with several other famous Italian red wines, have opted to age their wines in small oak barrels, usually French barriques.
The difference is striking, as the wines aged in large casks offer more red cherry, dried herb and cedar notes, while the barrique-aged versions tend to display more black fruits along with the vanilla and toasty notes of the small oak barrels. The debate rages on whether the wines aged in small barrels can age as long as the traditionally made wines, but it will take many more years to answer that question. To sample the difference between a Amarone aged in large casks versus one aged in small barrels, try a bottling from Bertani (traditional) and Allegrini (modern); both producers are highly respected.
One of the natural by-products of the appassimento process is that Amarone will have a slightly higher percentage of alcohol; this occurs during the months of drying. Thus look for most Amarones to have 14.5% or 15% alcohol. Naturally, a wine like this needs very rich food, so pair Amarone with game birds, stews or roasts.
While it’s fine to serve these wines young (the 2006 bottlings of Amarone are on the market currently in 2009), you will enjoy your Amarone much more if you age the wine for a few years. This may be difficult for many consumers as a newly released bottlings offers ripe cherry fruit and a light raisiny quality along with an illusion of “sweetness.” This is a dry wine, so the sweet edge comes from the glycerine of the sugars in the dried grapes. This sensation is what gives Amarone such an unusual flavor and makes this such a popular wine.
If you can get by that young flavor sensation, you will find a wine offering greater complexities at 5-7 years of age (or older). The young fruit and sweetness are diminshed and what comes across are dried herbs and fruit with round, elegant tannins. The wine loses its brashness and becomes more finesseful. So at 7-10 years of age, instead of pairing an Amarone with robust foods, try matching it with duck breast or grilled chicken. There are other possibilities of course, but it is striking how different an older Amarone tastes than a newly released version.
Here is a short list of some of the finest producers of Amarone:
- Igino Accordini
- Stefano Accordini
- Ca’ La Bionda
- Corte Sant’Alda
- Dal Forno
- Santa Sofia
- Tenuta Sant’Antonio
- Tenute Galtarossa
- Villa Monteleone
There is also a sweet wine made in the appassimento process produced from the same grapes that is fermented so that some residual sugar remains. This is a recioto (full name Recioto della Valpolicella) and is made by most Amarone producers. This is the traditional wine made for more than 2000 years; in fact it was not until the 1950s that Amarone as we know it today was first produced. Today the dry wines (Amarone) are the norm, while the historically famous sweet recioto is not seen as much currently. This is a shame, as the recioto is absolutely delicious with raspberry and black plum fruit and moderate sweetness. It can be enjoyed on its own or is ideal with a blue cheese (Gorgonzola) or with a raspberry or chocolate dessert (yes, Recioto della Valpolicella is a wonderful wine with chocolate!).
One final note on Amarone. As it is a time consuming and costly process to make the wine, Amarone will be expensive. Look for most bottlings on retail shelves in America to cost between $50 and $80, with a few nearing $100.