Posts tagged ‘zenato’

Best Italian Red Wines of the Year – Part One

Pietro Ratti, Proprietor, Renato Ratti, Annunziata, La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Continuing with my lists of the Best Italian Wines of 2011, here is the initial post of red wines, focusing on Piemonte and Veneto. In the next two posts, I will write about last year’s top reds from Toscana, Campania, Puglia, Sicilia and several other regions. Please note that this is a partial list – there are other wines that made the list (see end of post for more information).

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Conca”

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Rocche”

The Renato Ratti winery is one of the most revered in all of Barolo, a benchmark estate named for one of the 20th century’s most influential vintners in this area. Renato’s son Pietro now manages the estate, continuing production of some of the finest Barolos from anywhere in the zone. From the excellent 2007 vintage, there are two single vineyard versions of Barolo that were among the best of the year: the Conca and the Rocche. Both are from sites in La Morra, not far from the winery; both are deep in color with excellent depth of fruit and impressive richness on the palate. The Conca, displaying aromas of black plum, tar and licorice is a bit more forward than the Rocche, which is more classically oriented. Both wines are quite elegant with very good acidity and are structured for 20-25 years of cellaring, with the Rocche probably outliving the Conca by a few more years. The wines at Renato Ratti have been routinely outstanding over the past half-decade – bravo, Pietro! $80

2007 Paolo Manzone Barolo “Meriame” – Serralunga d’Alba is home to perhaps the most classically structured examples of Barolo, wines that are structured for the long haul. There are so many outstanding wines from this commune every year; this was one of my absolute favorites from 2007. Produced from grapes sourced from a 60-year old vineyard, the wine offers beautiful aromas of  bing cherry, orange zest and cedar and has balanced tannins and subtle wood notes along with excellent persistence in the finish. An excellent example of Serralunga terroir, this should peak in 15-20 years. $70

2007 Pio Cesare Barolo “Ornato” - Here is another outstanding example of Serralunga terroir. Pio Cesare, one of Barolo’s most historic producers, sources the grapes for this wine from this beautiful sloping vineyard in Serralunga and ages the wines in a combination of barriques and mid-size casks. Deeply colored with an impressive mid-palate as well as excellent persistence in the finish, this is a powerful Barolo that stands the test of time. This will offer much greater complexity in another 5-7 years and should drink well for 25-30 years from now. The finest Ornato since 2001. $100

2007 Massolino Barolo “Parussi” - For many years, Massolino has been one of the reference points for Barolo from the Serralunga commune. For 2007, the Massolino family produced their first single vineyard Barolo from outside Serralunga, this being the Parussi bottling from the cru in Castiglione Falletto. Beautiful young garnet with aromas of candied orange zest, caraway and cedar, this has a lengthy, well-defined mid palate and a beautifully structured finish with youthful tannins and balanced acidity. There is also a subtle spiciness to this wine and as usual with a Massolino Barolo, the wood influence is minimal. Beautiful complexity and first-rare winemaking in this Barolo, a lovely representation of Castiglione Falletto terrior. This should be at its best in 20 years and will be in fine shape for a few years after that. $85

2007 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo “Monvigliero” – Here is a lovely Barolo from the tiny commune of Verduno, situated at the far nothern reaches of the Barolo zone. This vineyard, at an elevation of almost 1200 feet has south and southwest-facing vines that are 30 years old, resulting in a wine of impressive richness. Aged in a combination of tonneaux and mid-size Slavnonian oak casks, this is an elegantly-styled Barolo that combines richness with finesse. This is a lovely wine that is a beautiful expression of terroir; it should be at its best in 15-20 years and will probably drink well after that. $65

2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco “Rio Sordo”

2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco “Tre Stelle”

This tiny producer in the town of Barbaresco makes some of the very finest examples of Barbaresco. The winery is situated amidst the vines of Rio Sordo; owners Italo Sobrino and Giovanna Rizzolio own a small portion of this great site. Production here is traditional, as aging is done solely in large oak casks (grandi botti), which lends not only a strong sense of the vineyard’s terroir, but also a great deal of finesse. The aromas are lovely – red cherry, orange peel sandalwood and cedar – and there is excellent persistence and a long, graceful finish. These wines will be at their best in 12-15 years. (note” Tre Stelle” is actually a new cru located within Rio Sordo. This is the only winery to use this designation for their wine.) $50

2008 Barbaresco Pertinace “Vigneto Nervo” – While most producers of Barbaresco and Barolo are private firms, Pertinace is a cooperative producer, where the various growers are also members. This is generally the finest Barbaresco from this company, with grapes coming from a cru in Treiso. Displaying currant and orange peel aromas with a hint of fig, this is an elegant, beautifully complex Barbaresco that is an excellent representation of local terroir. This wine will be at its best in 12-15 years and is a great example of what this underrated producer is all about. $45

2008 Ceretto Barbaresco “Bricco Asili” – Here is the flagship Barbaresco from one of the zone’s most celebrated producers. This cru, planted in 1969, delivers grapes of tremendous concentration and character; naturally yields are quite low. 2008 was a true Piemontese vintage, meaning that the wines from this year are more classically structured for cellaring, more so than a warmer year such as 2007 or 2000. Aged in small oak barrels (larger than barriques) the wine has aromas of bing cherry, dried rose petals and vanilla; the concentration is quite impressive and the finish is very long with polished tannins. This is a sublime wine, meant to be enjoyed down the road – it’s impressive now, but wait another 5 or 7 years and if you have the patience, try it at peak in 15-20 years. A great Barbaresco! (and only 500 cases produced.) $75

2006 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Monte Ca’Bianca”- Here is a real gem of a producer, one that delivers the highest quality with all of its wines. Their regular Amarone is quite complex and very nicely balanced; this cru bottling takes things up a notch or two, especially in terms of concentration. Black raspberry, black plum, clove and tar aromas grace this wine and the mid-palate is rich and nicely developed while there is excellent persistence and graceful tannins. Wonderful complexity with this wine- this is approachable now, but will be at its best in 12-15 years. $75

2005 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva – Zenato has been producing superb versions of Amarone for some time now, but without the press you’d expect. Perhaps this 2005 Riserva – from a very good, but not great year, will change that. Deep ruby red with inviting aromas of tar, stewed cherries, damson plum and tobacco, this is a marvelously complex Amarone with layers of fruit on the palate and a long, elegant finish. This is delicious now and will only improve for the next 12-15 years. Very classy and stylish! $100

2004 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Mazzano” - Masi, one of the leading producers of Amarone, produces several versions of this iconic red wine, ranging from a regular bottling and a riserva bottling (both of which offer excellent complexity and beautiful balance) to cru bottlings from older vineyards in the Classico zone. The Mazzano bottling from a spectacularly situated, terraced vineyard, some 1300 feet above the valley floor in Negrar, is a powerful Amarone with a strong note of bitter chocolate to go along with aromas of red cherry, tar and violets. There is outstanding persistence with very good acidity and firm tannins. This should be at its best in 15-20 years, though it may drink well for another decade after that. (Note: if you cannot find the 2004 Mazzano, look for the 2001, which is an outstanding wine and will age for another 20 years.) $140

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This is a partial list of the best Italian red wines of the year. The complete list will be in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers. If you are interested in subscribing to my publication – currently in its 11th year – email me at thomas2022@comcast.net.

January 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm 2 comments

Amarone – A new found love

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.

Maddalena Pasqua di Bisceglie, winemaker, Musella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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%.

It’s not Toscana, it’s San Pietro in Cariano in Valpolicella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

Gian Paolo Speri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

June 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment


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