My list of the top 100 wine estates in Italy contains some very famous names as well as some that deserve to be better known. What all of them have in common is a track record of producing wines that are elegant, display notable varietal character and offer a sense of place. Of course there are other factors in the wines that I look for such as pleasure as well as finesse. On all these counts, Ca’ La Bionda is a Top 100 producer.
Located in Marano in the Valpolicella Classico zone, Ca’ La Bionda is a family-owned estate that was established in 1902; Alessandro Castellani, representing the fourth generation, is the winemaker. The family owns 75 acres of vineyards and produces approximately 10,000 cases per year.
Every wine made at Ca’ La Bionda is made in a traditional style and made with great care. Start with the base Valpolicella Classico and you find a wine displaying fresh red cherry and currant aromas with a hint of red pepper backed by good concentration, round tannins, good acidity and persistence. Aged only in steel, this is a model for what a Valpolicella normale should taste like. It’s a lovely food wine – it is a fine partner for everything from salumi to lighter pastas – and the current 2010 bottling will drink well for 2-3 years.
Move up to the Casal Vegri Valpolicella Superiore and you have a wine with more intensity and complexity, while still maintaining a great deal of elegance. There are more floral aromas here with the 2009 bottling, while the 2008 also has a distinct note of tar in the aromas. By the way, Alessandro is more of a fan of the 2008, which he labels a more “typical” vintage than 2009, which is riper and a bit fatter on the palate. Both wines however have ideal acidity, which maintains freshness and balance. These are wines that should be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years.
When I visted the cellars in January of this year, Alessandro opened the 2001 Casal Vegri Valpolicella that he had recently bottled, as the wine spent 10 years in wood! Named “Decenalle” this is a remarkable project and wine – I have heard of producers keeping their Amarone in casks for an extended time frame, but a Valpolicella? The wine displayed amazing freshness with perfumes of maraschino cherry, myrtle and tar and offered a generous mid-palate, very good acidity and excellent persistence – here is a wine that not only perfectly displays the local terroir, but also a Valpolicella with more character and complexity than some of the more expensive Amarones I have tasted. That a ten-year old Valpolicella, only recently taken out of wood, can be this good is a testament not only to the quality of the vineyards and the farming by the Castellani family (as well as the class of the outstanding 2001 vintage), but also the winemaking philosophy here as well – restraint and minimal interference to let the varietal character shine through. This is a marvelous wine I highly recommend!
Of course, the star at any winery in this area is the Amarone; the current 2005 Amarone “Vigneti di Ravazzol” Riserva is an outstanding wine that as aged for five years – more than the minimum regulated by DOC laws – in large 30HL casks. Displaying aromas of maraschino cherry, currant and clove, this has a generous mid-palate and a long, long finish with excellent persistence. The balance on this wine is marvelous with round tannins, subtle wood notes and very good acidity. This is a great example of how an Amarone can be powerful and graceful all at once; this is quite approachable now, but will display more complexity over the next few years and be at its best in 12-15 years. By the way, for all you who are slaves to vintage charts and read that 2005 was an average vintage – throw out those charts! This is an outstanding offering that proves that when it comes to judging the overall character of a wine, the producer carries a lot more weight than a vintage report.
Finally, there is the Recioto “Le Tordare” from the 2008 vintage. I love Recioto with its rich raspberry and cassis flavors and light sweetness; I only wish more consumers would try this type of wine, as I’m sure they’d love it. Again as with every wine at Ca’ La Bionda, this has excellent freshness, so the wine has a clean finish, tasting less sweet than it actually is. Enjoy this lovely jewel over the next 7-10 years by itself after a meal or with some bitter chocolate.
What I truly admire about the wines of Ca’ La Bionda is the humility of Alessandro Castellani. When he comments about his products, there is never a mention of points, ratings or awards. He simply lets the wines do the talking and what they communicate is winemaking brilliance!