Posts tagged ‘valpolicella’
At the end of one year or beginning of another, “best-of” lists are quite common; I’m no different, as I’ll include a few of these posts soon. But for today, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite Italian wines I enjoyed during 2012. Some of these will be included in my year’s best list, but many will not. The difference between “best” and “favorite” is rather arbitrary to begin with anyways; quite often all of us get too caught up in the “best”, as we believe that having these wines will enhance our lives. Perhaps, but more often than not, my “favorite” wines are the ones that best fit the moment, whether it’s an ideal match with the meal I’m enjoying or simply a wine that delivers great character for the right amount of money.
Enough with the philosophizing, on to the list!
2011 Jankara Vermentino di Gallura – Vermentino is a successful white along the coast of Tuscany as well as in Liguria and Sardegna. This Jankara version is from the latter region and it’s a textbook example of what this variety is all about, with its expressive aromas of jasmine, grapefruit and green apple, excellent richness on the palate and vibrant acidity. This relatively new producer made a nice version of this wine from the 2010 vintage, but this 2011 is far superior! This has an especially lengthy finish and is ultra clean with excellent complexity; pair this with just about any type of shellfish. ($26)
Emanuele Rabotti, Monte Rossa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Monte Rossa Franciacorta Blanc de Blancs Brut “P.R.” - I tasted so many wonderful bottlings of Franciacorta during my visit to this district back in November, with many different styles from Extra Brut to Rosé. Here is one my my favorite Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay with a very fine and persistent stream of bubbles along with beautiful melon, pear and acacia aromas and flavors. Medium-full with excellent persistence, this has good acidity, lovely varietal character and ideal balance. It’s also delicious, whether enjoyed on its own or with risotto or lighter seafood. Every cuvée from this first-rate producer is something special!
2011 Giovanni Manzone Dolcetto d’Alba “Le Cilegie” -This renowned producer from Monforte d’Alba crafts some pretty special examples of Barolo – his 2008 “Bricat” is outstanding – but he also puts a great deal of effort into his other, more “humble” wines such as this beautiful Dolcetto. This has classic aromas and flavors of red plum, boysenberry and black raspberry fruit along with a hint of lavender on the nose and it’s a juicy, fresh and absolutely delicious wine! Medium-bodied, this has moderate tannins, balanced acidity and it’s nicely balanced and above all, such a pleasure to drink. What a great partner for lighter pastas or a simply prepared roast chicken. If more people were not as serious about “great red wines” that can age for decades and more excited about a purely delicious wine such as this – one that’s a real crowd pleaser – Dolcetto would be one of the most popular wines – red or white – in this country. ($25)
2008 Zyme Valpolicella Classico Superiore – Today in the Valpolicella district, Amarone has become so famous and so revered that Valpolicella has become somewhat of a forgotten wine. Thankfully, there are numerous producers who still produce an excellent example of Valpolicella; this version from Celestino Gaspari offers delightful bing cherry fruit along with hints of tar and cedar in the nose, while there are moderate tannins and very good acidity and overall balance. This is a medium-bodied red that’s so typical of what a well made Valpolicella should be – a wine to be enjoyed with lighter red meats or risotto or stews tonight or over the course of the next year or two.
(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.
Bamboo racks at Masi used for appassimento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently visited the Valpolicella district (see vineyard photos here) and was able to see up close the appassimento process at several cellars. This process is the method in which two of this district’s most iconic red wines – Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella – are produced.
The production method is simple. Grapes meant for these two wine types are harvested about a week before those destined for a traditional Valolicella (similar grape varieties, such as Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone are used.) The grapes are then placed in a temperature and humidity-controlled room where they will be dried for a period of three to four months. During this period, the grapes will shrivel in size, losing 30-40% of their natural water. These super concentrated berries will then be the basis for Amarone and Recioto – Amarone being dry and Recioto being sweet.
Semi-dried grapes in a cassette (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Traditionally, the grapes have been dried on bamboo racks (or racks made from other wood); Masi is the most famous producer that continues to use these containers. However many wineries have now switched over to plastic boxes (usually yellow or brown) known as cassette. These boxes can be easily stored one on top of the other and are placed in a warehouse where giant fans dry the grapes. This is more cost effective and many producers prefer this, as they believe this will avoid mold on the grapes.
Whatever option a producer selects, the appassimento process delivers a wine of great concentration and richness on the palate – a typical Amarone is 15.5% to 16.5% alcohol – that results in a singular wine that can be paired with particular foods (veal or game birds are ideal with Amarone, while the sweet Recioto can work with blue cheeses or blackberry or raspberry tarts) or enjoyed on its own, a style of wine known in Italy as a vino da meditazione.
Corvina grapes during appassimento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
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.
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.