(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently joined a group of journalists from around the world who were invited by the Consorzio Valpolicella to take part in the annual Anteprima Amarone event in Verona. This tasting is an opportunity for writers specializing in Italian wines to taste the soon-to-be-released examples of Amarone from several dozen producers; this year the featured vintage was 2008.
As in many wine districts throughout Italy, temperatures have been increasing slightly over the past several years; in the Valpolicella district, just north of Verona, this was certainly the case in 2006 and even more so in 2007. Thus a cool – read more typical – growing season with moderate temperatures that characterized 2008 in this area was a welcome change to most producers. This has resulted in wines that have very good acidity, impressive concentration and beautifully defined perfumes. Stefano Cottini, proprietor of Scriani in Fumane in the Classico zone of Valpolicella, says that 2008 was “a very easy year. Nature gave us a beautiful growing season. All we had to do was wait for the grapes to come in.” Cottini believes that his 2008 Amarone will age longer than many recent vintages thanks to the ideal structure of the wine.
Tasting through more than 40 different examples of 2008 Amarone, I had mixed feelings about the wines. Indeed these wines do have very good acidity and with some of the wines, excellent structure. This is not a vintage for short-term enjoyment such as 2007, but one that demands time in the bottle; I’m guessing that many of the finest Amarone from 2008 will peak in another 12-15 years. This estimate on my part (some wines tasted here were barrel samples) means that 2008 is a middle-weight vintage, not as rich as 2006 or 2001, but one that offers better aging potential than 2007 or 2005.
A few highlights of this tasting. First and foremost are the wines of Antolini, a small estate in Marano, operated by brothers Pier Paolo and Stefano. I first tasted these wines four years ago at the Anterprima event and placed their 2004 Moropio bottling as my top wine; this was also the case this year with their 2008 version – talk about consistency! The 2008 Ca’ Coato Amarone is a beautifully made wine with lovely aromas of red cherry, strawberry and red roses with excellent persistence and very good acidity, while the 2008 Moropio takes things up a notch. This offers similar aromas – there are strong notes of strawberry preserves- along with perfect harmony of all components as well as outstanding complexity. This is already an impressive wine and should turn out to be a great wine!
The Stefano Accordini “Acinatico” displayed its usual excellence; black cherry, myrtle and sage aromas are backed by excellent depth of fruit and persistence. The 2008 Bertani “Villa Arvedi” has lovely fruit and tobacco aromas with very good concentration and impressive persistence with an elegant entry on the palate. Note that this is not the traditional Bertani Amarone – that 2008 version will not be released for another three years.
The Ca’ La Bionda Ravazzol is a first-rate wine with notes of cherry preserves and a hint of chocolate; there is excellent depth of fruit and persistence with very subtle oak and elegantly styled tannins. This traditional producer is one of the most underrated in this zone and after meeting proprietor Alessandro Castellani, it is easy to understand why as he prefers to talk about his land and his wine rather than awards or points. What a refreshing attitude!
Two other excellent wines that are definitely worth seeking out are the 2008 Corte Sant’Alda and the 2008 Massimago. Both wines are from the eastern reaches of the Valpolicella zone near the town of Mezzane, outside of the Classico district and interestingly, both estates are managed by women. Marinella Camerani is the boss at Corte Sant’Alda and has been crafting lovely Amarone for 25 years now; her 2008 has inviting aromas of morel cherry, violets and red plum and has a generous mid-palate, excellent persistence and beautiful structure. Look for this wine to be at its best in another 12-15 years although it will probably drink well for another few years after that. Camerani did not produce a 2007 Amarone, so her selection process is strict and it shows in this wine.
Camilla Rossi Chauvenet, Massimago (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
At Masimago, 27-year old Camilla Rossi Chauvenet has made quite a name for herself in this area, even though she only started producing wines from the 2004 vintage. I was impressed by the roundness and varietal character of her 2007 Amarone, but her 2008 is a better wine, with better integrated oak as well as a longer finish and greater overall complexity. I told Camilla that I thought her 2008 was an improvement on her 2007 and she agreed with me, stating that this is undoubtedly a better Amarone. Keep an eye out for this producer, as her wines will be available in the US very soon.
Finally, high marks as well for the 2008 Amarones from Scriani, a medium-full wine with lovely balance along with the bottlings from Valentina Cubi and Santa Sofia; the former a ripe, forward style of Amarone with elegant tannins while the latter is a more subdued version that is one of the best I’ve tried from this long-standing estate in several years.
One final note on this tasting. There were almost two dozen of the best producers that are members of the Valpolicella Consorzio that did not participate in this event. While each winery had their reasons for not showing their wines (the wines not being “ready” was the most common I heard), it is a shame that this tasting did not represent the majority of the finest producers of Amarone. While I did taste some impressive wines at this event, I hoped for more. Let’s hope this situation can be rectified for next year’s anteprima.