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Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 Leave a comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Anatomy of Flavor

July 22, 2022 4 comments

Anatomy of Flavor???

The author clearly goes on a tangent here. Everyone knows what anatomy means, and it has nothing to do with the wine. And nevertheless, let’s take a look at some definitions and see if we can actually analyze the anatomy of flavor.

Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy in a few different ways:

 

Definition number five describes anatomy as

structural makeup especially of an organism or any of its parts

Anatomy explains to us how living things are constructed. How do they move, jump, roll, smile, and cry.

Of course, the flavor is not a living being – but it is amorous, it changes, it morphs, it is perceived, and it is perceived differently every time, depending on many, many, many factors that we can spend days and days discussing.

I like definition number three more, as it is more appropriate for our purposes:

the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function

Anatomy offers a firm structure – can we apply the same to flavor and understand how our perception of it works? Mostly, and luckily, no – we can’t. We have no idea how we will perceive the flavor of the particular wine once it is open – of course, we have expectations, but this is only one of the subjective factors in our perception of flavor, one of many. Instead, I can offer you to look at how the flavor is being built.

There is also definition number six:

a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination

Anatomy explains to us how our muscles work and how they grow. Let’s see if we can take a similar look at the flavor of the wine.

We can’t do this with any random wine – if someone makes single-grape Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir wines, all those wines are not connected to each other, they are unique and different – we can not taste Syrah and make expectations about Pinot Noir (assuming these are good quality wines) – as they have nothing in common. Most importantly, they better taste differently. But – there are wines which are perfectly suitable for our exercise. Do I have an example? Of course, glad you asked, but before we talk about particular wines, let’s take a look at the region they are coming from. Let’s go to Northern Italy, to the region called Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is a winemaking region east of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, which is in turn located in Veneto. The region is influenced by the Alps to the north, Lake Garda to the west, and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968, and Amarone and Recioto received the DOCG status in 2009. In terms of DOC wine production volume, Valpolicella is the second region in Italy after Chianti.

There are a few types of wines produced in the region – Valpolicella DOC, light wines considered to be similar in style to Beaujolais, Valpolicella Superiore, which should be aged at least one year, Valpolicella Ripasso, and, the most coveted wines, Amarone and Recioto.

It is not exactly known when winemaking started in Valpolicella. Still, it is typically associated with the ancient Greeks who were famous for making sweet wines made from partially dried grapes. That tradition of drying grapes before pressing is also a requirement for both Recioto and Amarone wines – this converts grapes to almost raisins and concentrates flavors. A lot of attention is also paid to preventing any sort of rot setting on the grapes as this imparts undesirable flavors.

Talking about red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara are considered the main winemaking grapes, even though many winemakers are trying to avoid Molinara as of late. Corvina should constitute between 45% and 95% of the blend – but up to 50% of Corvina can be substituted with Corvionone, which was identified as a distinct variety and not a clone of Corvina only in 1993. Out of all Val[policella wines, Ripasso stands aside as quite unique – it is made by macerating the Valpolicella wine with the pomace (grape skins) left after making Amarone and Recioto wines, which enriches the flavor of the wine – Valpolicella Ripasso is often referred to as “baby Amarone” (or “poor man Amarone” – you take your pick).

Of all wines made in Valpolicella (most of them are red), Amarone stands apart as the most sought-after. The grapes have to dry for anywhere between 3 and 4 months before they can be pressed to make Amarone. Those dried fruit flavors are retained by the final wine, assuming it is well made. The combination of the dried fruit aromas and powerful, dry, usually high-alcohol wine creates really a unique experience – if you have not had Amarone before, this is something that needs to be experienced by any wine lover.

Also going back to our “premise” with this post – to take a deeper look at the build-up, the anatomy of the flavor, Valpolicella wines offer an almost unique opportunity. Most of the Valpolicella wines are made from the same set of grapes, sometimes even used in the same proportions. The winemaking process is what creates the difference. Base Valpolicella wine can be aged for a year to get to Superiore designation. The same base wine can be macerated with Amarone pomace to become the Ripasso. The same grapes that are used for basic Valpolicella can also dry for 3-4 months, and then become an Amarone.

Let’s go one level deeper and look at some practical examples, shall we?

Tedeschi family ancestors purchased vineyards in Valpolicella four centuries ago, in 1630. The modern history of the Tedeschi winemaking family started 200 years ago, in 1824 when the family winery was established by Niccolò Tedeschi. Today the winery is operated by the fifth generation of the family, continuing the winemaking traditions.

Tedeschi estate is located in the village of Pedemonte di Valpolicella, with 75 acres of vineyards planted on the 200 acres estate. Tedeschi firmly believe that good wines are made in the vineyard, and they focus not only on showcasing the terroir but also conduct studies to understand the soil composition in the vineyard. Another important winemaking element is the use of not only the main 3 Valpolicella grapes (Corvine, Covinone, Rondinella) but the full range of grapes including Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, and Forselina. They also produce all types of Valpolicella wines – Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

For our “anatomy” exercise, I had an opportunity to taste 3 of the Tedeschi wines – Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicela. All three wines are made from the identical set of grapes, used in the same proportions, so the difference is only in the winemaking techniques. Below are my notes with some additional information about the wines.

2019 Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore DOC (13.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 1 month, 1-1.5 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark ruby
Captivating nose of earthy dark fruit, tobacco, rocks
Beautiful fruit, blackberries, cherries, cherry pit, tart, focused, perfectly structured, perfectly balanced – lots of pleasure.
8/8+. Delicious.

2018 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (14.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, alcoholic fermentation on the marc of Amarone and Recioto for 8-10 days, 1/2 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet
A hint of dried fruit, toasted nuts
Round fruit, cherries, soft, approachable, earthy undertones, well-integrated tannins, a hint of tobacco on the finish.
8/8+, delicious.

The name Marne 180 is a nod to the marl soils where the vineyard is located and 180 is degrees of exposure, from south-east to south-west. Source: Tedeschi

2018 Marne 180 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (16.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 4 months, 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Dark, concentrated, forest underbrush
Dried fruit, cherries, intermingled layers, powerful, well structured, delicious.
8+

Can we conclude anything from our flavor research? The wines share some similarities, but this is probably all I can say. I don’t see a clear progression from one wine to another, they are simply tasty wines, each one in its own right. Does it mean that we can’t talk about the anatomy of the flavor? I think we still can, but it is definitely more complicated than it seems.

The important outcome of this research project is three tasty wines from Tedeschi which I’m happy to recommend to you for your daily drinking pleasure. And this is the best conclusion we can make. Cheers!

Seeking, Overcoming, and Finding: Amarone for the Father’s Day

June 25, 2020 Leave a comment

Let’s take this step by step, starting with seeking. What am I seeking?

If you read this blog for some time, you know that Amarone is my pet peeve. Ever since falling in love with Le Ragoze Amarone during Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine School session, Amarone has a special place in this wine lover’s heart. I generally would never admit the existence of the pivotal wine in my wine journey, but if I would really think about it, this will be the one. The combination of the dried fruit on the nose with the firm, powerful, impeccably balanced palate really created an everlasting memory. I had this experience about 17 years ago, in 2003, drinking 5 years old wine (1998 vintage) – and ever since I’m trying to replicate it. Which brings us to the next step: overcoming.

We are talking wine here, so what is there to overcome, you say? Fear. Trepidation. An attempt to avoid disappointment – over and over again. While seeking to replicate the amazing experience, over the years I tried many, many Amarone. A few times I managed to get close to that magical Le Ragoze experience – but the majority was really, really far from it. Why? Lack of balance. Let’s make it more precise: severe lack of balance. Often expressed in the form of the alcohol burn.

In the last 20 years, Amarone’s alcohol level progressed from the typical 14.8% ABV to the typical 16.5% ABV. I get it. What makes Amarone an Amarone is an additional step in the winemaking process, which is rarely used with any other wines – drying of the grapes before they are pressed. After the grapes are harvested, they are placed outside (historically, on the straw mats, but now, on specially arranged shelves) to dry under the sun, to literally shrivel into the raisins before they will be pressed – this process typically takes between 3 and 4 months. Drying concentrates sugars (and dramatically lowers the yield, which explains the high prices), and thus you can expect higher alcohol in the resulting wine. Yes, I get it – but still…

At 16.5% ABV, true mastery is required to achieve balance. True mastery is rare – and the real downside here is personal self-doubt. While tasting yet another hot and biting wine, a tiny voice in your head says “what is wrong with you? You really say you like this type of wine? Are you sure you are even remotely qualified as an oenophile? Maybe water should be your drink of choice?” So yes, tasting yet another Amarone requires overcoming this fear – who wants to prove oneself wrong time and time again?

Now, let’s continue to finding.

When I was offered a sample of Zenato Amarone I said (not without fear) “of course, thank you”. Zenato, which started producing wines about 60 years ago, in the 1960s, initially white wines in Lugano, produced its first Amarone in 1988. The grapes for Zenato Amarone wines come from the Valpolicella Classico area, grown in Sant’Ambrogio township.

So what did I found in that bottle? The first sip instantly quelled all the fears and brought back happy memories. What made that Le Ragoze so memorable was the contrast. I know, I already said it – the wine had an intense nose of the dried fruit. I don’t know about you, but I love dried fruit – especially figs and raisins. But dried fruit is sweet, and this is what I expected from the wine to be – only it was not. The wine was dry, absolutely dry, massive, concentrated, and firmly structured. It was also perfectly balanced.

Those were the memories. And 2015 Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG (16.5% ABV, $60, 80% Corvina Veronese, 10% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta and Croatina, 4 months of drying, 36 months in oak) instantly brought them back with the delicate nose of the dried fruit and dry, massive, concentrated, but a perfectly balanced body. Firm structure, a touch of dried cherries, sage – just an excellent wine overall (Drinkability: 8+/9-). Wine is all about the balance. And pleasure. Zenato Amarone delivered both.

As I opened this bottle on Father’s Day, you can see in the picture a dilemma I now will be facing – I got another glass from another kid – now I will be forced to pick and chose the glass and try to avoid playing favorites… Oh well, not the worst problem to have, isn’t it?

Do you have a favorite Amarone that never disappoints? What’s your most memorable wine? Is there a wine out there you always crave?

Top Wines of 2018

December 31, 2018 7 comments

And the time has come to summarize the most memorable wine experiences of 2018 – here is the list of about dozen of wines which made a lasting impression. The top wines list at Talk-a-Vino typically consists of two parts, as I can never limit myself to one dozen of wines – you can find the second part of the Top Wines of 2018 list here. That “second dozen” post also provides a bit more explanation behind the logic of this list. Without further ado, let me present to you my top wines of 2018:

13. 1997 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Blanc Monterey County California ($NA) – there are always those wines which you look at and say “yeah, whatever, let’s just try it before we will pour it out”. And then your thought (after the sip) is “what, wait, really?” This was one of such wines – 21 years old white wine, Pinot Blanc from California – no doubts it already turned into vinegar, right? Wrong! Whitestone fruit, good acidity, nicely plump – it was a great surprise and an excellent evening opener.

12. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva Bairrada DOC Portugal ($22 @ Last Bottle) – despite the serious age, this wine was just released, and I scored a few bottles thanks to the Last Bottle. I know that Portugal makes great wines which can age, but this wine still went beyond expectations – perfectly fresh, perfectly concentrated, perfectly delicious. I brought a bottle to share during the after-party at the Wine Bloggers Conference this year, and poured it blind for two wine pros, asking them only to estimate the vintage – they both were 10 years off, suggesting that the wine was from 2005 instead of 1995. Another interesting fact about this wine that one of the 3 grapes it is made out of, Moreto, is not even growing in Portugal anymore…

11. 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley ($32) – a pure revelation. I had no idea Napa Valley is capable of producing a beautiful Riesling. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc – of course, but varietally correct Riesling? Yes, Smith-Madrone can! It even had a touch of my beloved petrol, which always makes me very happy. Look for this wine, you will not regret it.

10. 2014 Tiefenbrunner Turmhof Sauvignon Südtirol Alto Adige ($30) – A pure stunner. Of course, Italy is best known for its reds, and when it comes to whites, it is autochthonous varieties which usually shine, such as Pecorino, Falanghina, or Verdicchio. However, I had a pleasure of experiencing mind-boggling renditions of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and this was exactly one of such a mind-boggling Sauvignon Blanc encounters. Recognizable Sauvignon Blanc in its core, but plump, complex and silky smooth. The fact that the wine comes from Alta Adige, unique mountainous region, also contributes here. A memorable wine.

9. 2002 d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia ($70) – while typically not a word to use to describe Shiraz, my key descriptor for this wine will be “finesse”. This wine was mature and elegant, offering complex earthy undertones with a touch of barnyard, and lean and clean in its overall expression. It still got time to evolve, but already offers lots of pleasure.

8. 2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling Clare Valley Australia (~$50 for current vintage) – For me, this wine was a pure encounter with the legend – in many ways. Clare Valley in Australia is famous for its Riesling, same as Hunter Valley is famous for its Semillon. Polish Hill is one of the best vineyards in Clare Valley, and Grosset is a pioneer and one of the very best producers in Clare Valley and Australia overall. To top it all off, I had this wine during the dinner with my [not virtual anymore] friend Oz in Singapore. Memorable wine? You bet.

7. 1986 Chateau Cordeillan-Bages Pauillac AOC ($54.97) – I have no idea where and how this bottle ended up in my cellar, but I’m glad it did. 32 years old Bordeaux, elegant, balanced, showing no sign of age, delicious from the first sip to the last. Also coming from the Chateau with minuscule production. Need I say more?

6. 2015 Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru Les Caillerets ($100) – The only thought I have when drinking such a beautiful white Burgundy is that I need, really need to drink more of the white Burgundy wines. Good Burgundian Chardonnay is amazing when young, and surreal once it picks up some age. This is practically the only time when I wish for an expense account to be able to drink the wines like that.

5. 2014 Revelry Vintners D11 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Washington ($80) – yet another great highlight of the Wine Bloggers Conference this year. Imagine beautiful blackcurrants weaved around a perfect, firm structure of the crunchy tannins – that was this wine. I’m really surprised at myself – on a normal day, I would definitely take Syrah over Cab – and Revelry Block 19 Syrah, which we had at the same time as this Cab, was equally beautiful – but it is the Cabernet Sauvignon which got stuck in my head.

4. Bodegas Beronia Rioja ($NA) – so this will be a bit strange, as I’m including here more of the experience than a single wine. I was lucky to be invited to the lunch with Bodegas Beronia winemaker, Matias Calleja, in New York. I love Rioja unquestionably, but at that lunch, my takeaway was a lot bigger than just a taste of another excellent Rioja – we were able to experience the effect of the type of oak on the same young Tempranillo wine, and see how American oak affects the wine versus French oak versus Bodegas Beronia own oak combination. An incredible experience in my book. And then I was able to save a business dinner with the 2011 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva, so if you need a particular wine designation for the list, it can be the one.

3. “This line was intentionally left void” – keep reading, you will see why.

2. 2010 Antica Terra Rosé Willamette Valley ($75) – OMG. Is that enough of the description? I pulled this bottle without much expectation – Antica Terra makes incredible terroir-driven wines, but 8 years for Rosé is rather too much, right? Wrong! A stunning color, and the cranberry-loaded palate of liquid granite – the only thing I could extort was that “OMG”. Back in 2012, Antica Terra Phantasi was my wine of the year – this Rosé was hair-splitting close to becoming the wine of the year again.

1. 2008 Zenato “Sergio Zenato” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ($100) – I love Amarone. I expressed my love to this great Italian wine many times on this blog – together with my utmost frustration while looking for a good Amarone (before you start cursing – “good wine” is highly subjective, personal definition). This wine was amazing, one of the very best I ever experienced – dry fruit on the nose (figs, raisins) and crisp, dry, clean, full-bodied palate of impeccable balance. A pure, pure delight.

1. 2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley ($60) – yes, I did it again – I have two #1 wines this year. I can’t do that? Of course I can – my blog, my rules. I had this wine at the dinner with friends during our annual adults getaway. This was literally a mind-blowing rendition of a California Cabernet Sauvignon – beautiful extraction, cassis with eucalyptus, anise and mint, silky, velvety tannins – this wine was screaming in my face “I am the California Cab” – and with a perfect balance of all elements, it was simply a “wow experience” – I would gladly drink it at any time.

Here it is – the presentation of the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2018 is now complete.

As today is the December 31st, and New Year 2019 is about to arrive, I want to wish you all happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year. Yes, it should be prosperous too, and I hope all your wishes will come true. Much love to all. Cheers!

 

VIA Masterclass: Amarone

February 25, 2014 4 comments

DSC_0665Continuing the subject of VIA Masterclass (here is the link to the previous post about Barolo masterclass), I want to talk about Amarone, one of the most uniquely Italian wines. The class was called “Amarone – The Velvet Underground”, and I think the name is very fitting. Let me explain.

Have you ever experienced a great Amarone? To me, the great Amarone starts with the nose which you can’t forget. As the wine is made from the grapes which had been dried under the sun for at least 90 days and thus more resembling the raisins than actual grapes before they will be pressed, it shows all those beautiful flavors of the dry, sun-aged fruit. After the aromas, which you can’t stop inhaling, comes the body – perfectly dry, perfectly full, perfectly powerful. This is what good Amarone is supposed to be. If you will think about the process, you will understand why Amarone has its price (think about the fact that most of the grapes lose about 40% of their mass – how many more grapes do you need to make the same bottle of wine?) – but if good Amarone is your wine, you will be willing to pay the price.

If you will search my blog for Amarone, you will find many posts, a lot of them complaining, hinting at my disappointment (I very rarely talk negatively about wines – I prefer not to write about bad experiences instead of bashing them). As of late, it became increasingly difficult to find Amarone as I described above, soft and velvety, but powerful and beautiful at the same time. A lot of the wines have very muted nose, and super-alcoholic, over-extracted, unbalanced body (and I just boasted about my non-confrontational style, huh).

This is where information from our Masterclass became very helpful. Yes, first we listened to the history of Amarone (discovered by accident, when the cask of Recioto, a famous sweet wine made from the dried grapes (passito) , was allowed to ferment through and became a dry elegant wine with – alas – bitter taste! Hence the name – Amarone, from the word Amaro – bitter). Then we talked about the geography and various sub-zones of Valpolicella region in Veneto – this is where Amarone is produced, with the best Amarone coming from the (not surprisingly!) hillside vineyards. Over the last decade, there was a huge increase in demand for Amarone worldwide. Think about the following facts. Consortium of Amarone producers was established in 1973 to regulate production of Amarone – so the production statistics are available from approximately that time. Amarone area plantings increased from 11431 acres in 1972 to 15723 in 2009. At the same time, all the way until early 2000s, there were about 1 million bottles of Amarone produced per year. In 2007, this number jumped to 8 (!) million, and then to the 16 (!!) million in 2008. Yes, it is great to have such a demand, but – where do you get the grapes to increase your production so dramatically over such a short period of time? You have to allow your vineyards to overproduce, and you have to lower your standards of quality and harvest the grapes from the vineyards which in the past you will never take the grapes from for your flagship wines. You see, Amarone is a top wine of Valpolicella. Amarone wines are typically made from Corvina, Corvinone, Molinara and Rondinella grapes, taken in the different ratios as each grape brings its own qualities tot he wine. Wines of Valpolicella are made from the same grapes – but it would be those which were not good enough to be made into Amarone.

To satisfy this huge demand in Amarone, there is also a push to extend the production area of Amarone, which would lead to the further deterioration of quality. In 2013, Amarone Consortium approved the increase of  Amarone production zone  by 30%, which will mainly come from the flatlands. To fight against it, 12 Amarone producers (Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini, Zenato) created Amarone Family association (Famiglia dell’Amarone d’Arte) back in 2009, with the goal of pushing back and defending traditions of quality in production of Amarone. Marilisa Allegrini, currently the Head of Amarone Family association was present at the masterclass and she had an opportunity to talk briefly to all the attendees.

Amarone Family VIAAnd then there was the tasting, of course. We went through 11 different Amarone wines, and here are the notes (this are my actual notes in its progression, like declaring the wine “best so far”).

Amarone Masterclass 1

1. 2010 Tommasi Viticoltori Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Nose: ok, traditional nose of a red wine, but not Amarone
Palate: over extracted and super-bitter

2. 2008 Begali Amarone Classico
Nose: campfire, then dark fruit with medicinal undertones
Palate: bitter, biting

3. 2009 Speri Amarone Classico Vegneto Monte Sant’Urbano
Nose: green and vegetative
Palate: bitter, over extracted.

4. 2009 Masi Agricola SPA Amarone Costasera
Nose: nice, open, hint of sweet fruit
Palate: not bad. Not too bitter, good power, clean balance. ++-|

5. 2009 Allegrini Amarone
Nose: best so far – beautiful, nice, open, fresh berries
Palate: closed, bitter

6. 2009 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Nose: exceptional – true Amarone nose – fresh jammy fruit, but very balanced – raisins, figs – wow! +++
Palate: nice, soft, round – very good.

7. 2008 Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva
Nose: nice! Fresh, open, good fruit
Palate: excellent. Best so far – nice, clean wine, powerful tannins without bitterness. +++

8. 2008 Brigaldara Amarone Case Vecie
Nose: nice, good dried fruit
Palate: good, clean, round – outstanding! Even better than the previous wine +++

9. 2008 Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Nose: nice, concentrated fruit, good
Palate: needs time, but still perfectly round +++

10. 2008 Venturini Amarone
Nose: interesting nose, but pretty closed.
Palate: too austere. Not bad as a wine, but not good as Amarone

11. 2007 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone Campo dei Gigli
Nose: dark, concentrated fruit, blueberries, raspberries
Palate: very good, but a bit bitter. It’s a bummer as I had a great experience with this wine at the tasting in September.

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That’s all I have for you for today. What do you think of Amarone? Share your experience! Cheers!

[My belated notes from ] Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event

April 18, 2013 16 comments

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri logoTwo month ago I attended Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri event in New York city. Writing this blog post late in the game has some advantages – particularly, I can refer you to the work of others. Here is the link to the excellent blog post by Stefano of  Flora’s Table and Clicks and Corks fame. Moreover, I had a pleasure of attending the event in Stefano’s company, where his expert knowledge of Italian wines was very helpful in navigating the selection of about 500 creme de la creme wines. Thus you can even compare our notes (I doubt though you will find much discrepancy in our thoughts).

Every year since 1986, Gambero Rosso publishes its guide to Italian wines and awards its prestigious Tre Bicchieri (three glasses) rating to the best wines. The event like the one we attended has the purpose of showcasing all those best wines, and it attracts a lot of attention.

I have to start from the same rant as you can see in Stefano’s post. All the wineries were arranged by the distributors and not by the region – therefore, in presence of 173 wine tables and countless number of people, my well thought plan fell apart. Yes, I understand that distributors are important, but I don’t see why all the wineries couldn’t be pulled together by the region, instead of being all over the place. In terms of overall organization, Vinitaly, which we attended about two weeks before the Tre Bicchieri event, was put together in  a lot more logical way.

Leaving that aside, lets talk about the event. I generally attend a good number of trade wine tastings. So when you start going from a table to a table, it takes time to find the wine which will “wow” you. What I didn’t realize at first was that Tre Bicchiery event was different. All the wines which you taste there already had been preselected, they were all winners of the Tre Bicchiery award, and therefore they were all great wines by definition. This was exactly my experience. Table one – wow, this is good. Table two – very good. Table three – excellent! Table four – excellent again – what is happening? How is that possible? Ahh, it is the Tre Bicchiere event, so all the wines are rather expected to be great…

Another important part of the events such as Tre Bicchieri is opportunity to meet a lot of great people there. For instance, we met Giuseppe Vajra, a winemaker at G.D Vajra in Piedmonte, who was a pleasure to talk to.

DSC_0205 Giuseppe Vajra

He gave us a taste of his 2004 Barolo Cerretta Luigi Baudana, which he was not supposed to do at the event ( this wine was not a part of 2013 Tre Bicchieri awards), and the wine was stunning.

Meeting people is great, navigating the crowds – not so much. Here is a “hail Mary” style picture – you raise your arm with the camera as high as you can, at the angle you think will fit, and then release the shutter. Here are few pictures for you, I think it gives you an idea that the event was quite busy:

DSC_0248 Another Gambero Ross View

DSC_0247 Gambero Rosso view

Another problem with the event like this? You destined to miss on some of the wines. Taking into account gross level of disorganization at the event, it is obvious that you will miss on the best wines. The list of the wines we missed includes  Masseto, Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Oreno, Bertani and more…

The real bummer in this group was Masseto, which is a part of my “Must Try Wines ” list – it is Super Tuscan made out of 100% Merlot – this is the wine which can rival Petrus. Well, may be next year…

Now, let me offer you my highlights from the event. In the format of such an event, it is impossible (for me, at least) to take any detailed notes – I’m trying to experience as many wines as possible, only jotting down a single word descriptors at the best, which often don’t go beyond “wow” or “outstanding”. Below is the list of wines I really liked (a lot, huh?), with may be one word descriptors on them (or may be not), and then I offer to your attention a picture gallery of mostly the same wines. Oh yes – and unlike the Gambero Rosso event itself, the wines below are grouped by the region. Remember I recently suggested a new scale of ratings (yuck, ok, nice, wow, OMG) – let me use it here when possible, and I promise not to bring any “yuck” and “ok” wines to your attention. And one last note – not all the wines below have “three glasses” rating – some of them are rated at 2, but I believe they would still worth your attention. Here we go.

ABRUZZO

2009 Torre dei Beati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cocciapazza  – perfect!

ALTO ADIGE

2011 Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige Valle Isarco Sylvaner Praepositus – outstanding bouquet on the nose, very nice overall

2009 Cantina Tarlano Alto Adige Pinot Blanco Vorberg Riserva – complex, beautiful, perfect minerality, wow!

CAMPANIA

2010 Nanni Cope Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco Terre del Volturno – nice acidity, very good overall. Added bonus – this wine has two rare grapes which I need to add to my grape count – Palagrello and Casavecchia

2010 Marisa Cuomo Casta di Amalfi Furore Bianco Fiorduva – my descriptors for this wine include “beautiful”, “amazing” and “balanced” – definitely a wow! wine. This is a very unique wine in many ways (outside of the fact that it is made out of three rare grapes Ginestra, Fenile and Ripoli) – I need to refer you to the Stefano’s blog post where you can learn more about this fascinating wine.

FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

2010 Livon Collio Friulano Manditocai – complex nose, nice palate

2011 Ronco dei Tassi Collio Malvasia – nice minerality, very good overall

2011 La Tunella COF Ribolla Gialla Rjgialla – perfect white fruit, clean, excellent

2011 Livio Felluga Friulano – super expressive wine, very good overall

LAZIO

2010 Sergio Mottura Grechetto Latour a Civitella – excellent

LIGURIA

2011 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino Cavagnino – mint and apricot on the nose and palate, OMG

LOMBARDY

2009 Mamete Prevostini Valtellina Superiore Riserva – very unusual nose, perfect power.

2004 Ca’Del Bosco Franciacorta Brut Rose Cuvee Annamaria Clementi – 100% Pinot Noir, nose of fresh bread and yeast, strawberries on the palate – OMG

2007 Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Extra Brut – perfect

NV Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Brut Rose – more complexity than the previous one, OMG

2006 Ferghettina Franciacorta Extra Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; wow!

2007 Cavalleri Franciacorta Pas Rose – very bread-y, excellent!

2008 Guido Berlucchi Franciacorta Cellarius Brut – wow!

MARCHE

2010 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio dei Cazstelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Vecchie Vigne – wow!

2009 Umani Ronchi Conero Cumaro Riserva – excellent!

2009 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore Roggio del Filare – roasted, gamey nose, a touch too sweet, but good

PIEDMONT

2009 Bricco del Cucu Dogliani Bricco S. Bernardo – 100% Grechetto, cherries on the nose and palate, very nice!

2008 Le Piane Boca  – a blend of 85% Barolo, 15% Vespolina – wow!

2008 G.D Vajra Barolo Ceretta Luigi Baudana – this wine comes from the a specific plot in the vineyard, called Baudana. This was a wow wine, but the next one was one level up, as it had an age on it

2004 G.D Vajra Barolo Ceretta Luigi Baudana – OMG

2008 Schiavenza Barolo Prapo – perfect fruit, open, beautiful, wow!

2009 Vietty  Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Crena – excellent

2006 Massolino Barolo Villa Rionda Riserva – wow!

2010 Villa Sparina Gavi del Commune di Gavi Monterotondo – very nice

2008 Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Sarmassa – nice, round, perfect!

2006 Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva – excellent!

SARDINIA

2009 Cantina di Santandi Carignano del Sulcis Superiore Rocca Rubia Riserva – aged for 24 month in oak, excellent.

2009 6Mura Carignano del Sulcis – 120 years old vines, growing on sandy soils, very good balance, excellent.

SICILY

2010 Pietradolce Etna Rosso Archineri – very green

2010 Pietradolce Vigna Barbagalli – nice

2010 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria – the only wine in Italy to receive top awards from all wine publications! Apricots on the nose and palate, perfectly balanced. Overall – wow and OMG!

2010 Tenute Rapitala Conte Hugues Bernard de la Gatinais Grand Cru – 100% Chardonnay, excellent, clean

2010 Firriato Ribeca Perricone – excellent! ( and the rare grape called Perricone)

TRENTINO

2006 Ferrari Trento Extra Brut Perle Nero – outstanding, off brut
2002 Ferrari Trento Brut Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore – 10 years aging on the lees, wow!

TUSCANY

2008 Famiglia Cecchi Chianti Classico Villa Cerna Riserva – very nice

2009 Famiglia Cecchi Coevo – wow!

2009 Tolani Picconero – 65% Merlot, perfectly Bordeaux in style, excellent!

2007 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino – open, fresh, clean – wow!

2009 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – tannins! very good.

2009 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva – perfect balance, wow!

2010 Tenuta San Guido Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi – excellent!

2009 Tenuta Sette Ponti Orma Toscana – OMG! depth and breadth of this wine was phenomenal

2010 Marchesi Antinori Cervaro della Sala – perfect chardonnay, outstanding!

VENETO

2010 Ottello Lugana Supweriore Molceo – parfumy, perfect!

2010 Ottello Campo Sireso – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Corvina and Lagrein – roasted notes, wow!

2009 Roccolo Grassi  Valpolicella Superiore Roccolo Grassi -very nice

2007 Vignalta Colli Euganei Rosso Gemola – Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend, classic Bordeaux profile, wow!

2005 Cantina Valpolicalla Negrar Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Villa Domini Veneti – pure chocolate on the nose, a bit too sweet and too tannic on the palate. Just ok (I know, I promised that there will be no ok or lesser wines – but I’m Amarone junkie, you will have to excuse me for that…)

2007 Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi – 16% ABV, alcohol on the nose – not “yack”, but not good [at all]

2008 Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – very good

2006 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Mazzano  – 120 days of drying the grapes, good overall (not great), too much alcohol on the nose and palate

2008 Viticoltori Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Sant’Urbano – 15% ABV; wow!

And here is the photo gallery for you – enjoy!

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Long post, after a long delay – but it is finally done. Yay! Cheers!

Daily Glass: Perfect [Monday] Wine

March 18, 2013 2 comments

Can there be such thing as perfect Monday wine? What makes Monday special? On one side, it is almost “politically appropriate” to dread Monday as “yicks, it is work again” kind of day. But if you think of it the other way, Monday is the beginning of the new week – you got seven more days ahead of you, and nothing stops you from enjoying every one of them. Of course Friday is great, the weekend is ahead of you, yay! – but you just bid farewell to the 5 days of your life, and hopefully those were the good days… The Monday is the beginning, bright and exciting – I’m ignoring the smirk on your face… So excitement is the angle I want to take, because in the simple terms, the wine I’m about to present to you is exciting!

What wine is that and was it the wine at all, or may be it was some kind of obscure drug or a head trauma which caused my brain to falter and call Monday exciting? Yes, this was the wine, delivered to my doorstep by Last Bottle wines.

DSC_0173 Zyme Valpolicella

2009 Zýmē Valpolicella Réverie (a blend of Corvina 40%, Corvinone 30%, Rondinella 25%, Oseleta 5%; 11.5% ABV), made by Celestino Gaspari. Don’t know about you, but I never heard of Celestino Gaspari before. But when I read the note from Last Bottle wines that this Valpolicella is made by the winemaker who worked before for Giuseppe Quintarelli, I was sold instantly. Giuseppe Quintarelli holds a lot of respect in my mind (never tasted his wines, but according to the general consensus, it is very hard to find better Italian wines than those made by Giuseppe Quintarelli) – so when I see the wine made by someone who worked for Giuseppe Quintarelli for 11 years, you don’t really need to convince me to buy the wine as long as I can afford it – $13/bottle sounds quite affordable to me.

What makes me call this Valpolicella a perfect wine? It is the whole package.

Color – ruby red, pretty bright.

Nose – fresh fruit, raspberries, touch of cherries, very inviting.

Palate – clean acidity and young fruit, very light at first, evolves in the glass as it breezes, showing broader shoulders, more substance, adding plums and earthy notes to those bright sour cherries which were dominating at first.

Finish – long, with lingering fruit.

Overall very balanced, very bright, well made wine – guaranteed to brighten up your Monday, no matter what. As a bonus, I think this wine will evolve with time (will I be willing to wait is a whole another question). Drinkability: 8-

In addition to this Valpolicella Réverie, Celestino Gaspari makes a number of other wines at Zýmē, including Amarone and Amarone Riserva – but those would have to go more into the dream category. Well, Monday is as good of a day for dreaming as any other day, isn’t it?

Do you have a special Monday wine? Happy Monday to all of you and cheers!

Bread and Amarone

March 5, 2013 15 comments

Puzzled by the title? Don’t be. This is simply the post about our last Valentine’s Day experience – yes, somewhat belated, but still worth sharing.

Let’s start with the picture. No pink hearts here, only roses, but take a look – what is that lurking in the fuzzy background?

DSC_0182 Roses and Champagne

Yep, a Champagne glass, the Tulip! Before we get to the bread and Amarone, let’s talk about Champagne Sparkling wine. By the way, this political correctness is very tiring. Champagne is much faster to say and to write, but no-ooo, Champagne only comes from Champagne, and everything else should be called a Sparkling Wine. It is two words versus one, and takes twice as much time to say and read! And the worst part is that the Sparkling wine in very many cases tastes much better than Champagne, and don’t even get me going on the pricing… Okay, sorry, unintentional rant, let’s cut it out and go back to what I actually wanted to talk about.

DSC_0163 Roederer 2003My definite preference is to start a holiday, especially the one like Valentine’s Day, with the glass of Cham, errr, Sparkling Wine. It creates mood. It says (loudly) “Celebrate!”. Lightness and effervesce of the bubbles simply picks you up. So this past Valentine’s day our choice of bubbly (yes, jargon – but  – it is one word! and it means any sparkling wine, Champagne or not) was 2003 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Brut Anderson Valley California. Perfectly structured, perfectly balanced, with full harmony both on the nose and the palate. Fresh bread, yeast, toasted apple, perfect acidity, long-living bubbles – all in all, one of the best sparkling wines I ever tasted. Drinkability: 8+

Now, to the bread! Let me not be original – I’m simple going to repeat the note (a huge Thank You, rather) of appreciation which is being expressed all over the blogosphere – the useful content, the advice, information, ideas which are shared by the bloggers are simply staggering. About a month ago I read the blog post by one of the fellow bloggers, Kim from She Wines Sometimes (if you are not following her blog – fix this mistake right now). The post was talking about making the bread! At home! In a simple way!

I have to admit – I love bread. When in France, I can survive on just baguette alone (okay, throw in a little cheese, will you?). But baking the bread at home was not anything I would fathom in my wildest dreams. Until I read Kim’s blog post. It sounded so easy – I had no choice, but to say – this is it, I’m making the bread!

When it comes to baking, I dread the precision of the recipes. I consider myself to be an okay cook – I can substitute ingredients, I can come up with my own recipes, where I can measure all the ingredients with very precise “I think this is enough” accuracy. It doesn’t work like that in baking. Replace baking powder with baking soda and you might end up with a complete flap instead of a good tasting product – and the same goes for many other ingredients. This is why I usually think about baking as something better left to the professionals – but then again, all the professionals start somewhere, don’t they?

I’m not going to repeat the recipe here – here is the link to the original. Of course I ended up making some mistakes. The recipe calls specifically for King Arthur bread flour. I didn’t print the recipe before going to the store, and of course I ended up with the regular King Arthur flour. At first I even forgot to buy the yeast – and the second trip to the store was in order. But, you know what? All this doesn’t matter. Because the bread tasted AMAZING!

DSC_0158 Bread

And the smell of the freshly baked bread when you just walk into the house – it is simply something heavenly (and pretty much priceless). The only thing I need to add here – Thank You Kim!

DSC_0185 Amarone CorkAnd now, to the wine. Not just any wine – Amarone! If you followed this blog for some duration of time, you know that I’m always on the lookout for the perfect Amarone, trying to replicate my moment of bliss smelling succulent raisins and tasting perfectly dry and powerful wine (here you can find a collection of my Amarone posts ). That “perfect wine” was 1997 Le Ragose Amarone, which I tasted in 2004, so the wine was 7 years old. And now it was Le Ragose Amarone again.

Looking at the cork, can you try to guess how the wine was? Did you write down your answer? Okay, good.

We opened the bottle of 1990 Le Ragose Amarone Della Valpolicella (so, did you guess correctly?). I have some experience opening old wines, and when you open a bottle of wine which is 23 years old, you expect trouble. I had my double-prong bottle opener ready, but when I removed the foil and looked at the cork, it appeared to be as fresh as it would be on the new bottle. And it actually was – the standard waiter corkscrew worked just fine!

DSC_0167 Le Ragose Amarone

And the wine was outstanding. No, it didn’t replicate my experience with 1997 – this was a lot more mature wine. But it had a perfect nose of dried fruit – not only raisins, but probably some dried cherries, fig, prunes. The palate showed mature beauty, with the fruit which is tamed, but still has perfect acidity to make it all work together – there was more dried fruit on the palate, more cherries, more prunes, leather and earthiness. Definitely was a great wine, and as an added bonus – it was only 14% ABV! All the modern Amarone are trying to exceed 16% by now, and one of the geniuses of the winemaking recently even told me that you need high alcohol to preserve the wine… ok, stop. Sorry. One rant per post. This one will have to wait for another time. All in all this 1990 Le Ragose was a great experience, so let’s live it at that. Drinkability: 9-.

That’s all I have for you for today folks. It is too late to ask about your Valentine’s day experiences by now, but did you drink any amazing wines lately? Or made bread : ) ? Cheers!

Re-Post: Best Hidden Secrets Of The Wine World: Amarone

October 18, 2012 8 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Continuing our “secrets” series, let’s talk about wine called Amarone. The reason to include Amarone as one of the “secrets” of the wine world is simple – I don’t think too many wine lovers know how great Amarone can be, to ask for it by name. I guarantee you – if you like wine, and you will happen to come across a good bottle of Amarone, it will blow you away. And, assuming that many wine lovers are not familiar with Amarone, let’s talk about it starting from the basics.

Amarone is an Italian wine which comes from the region called Veneto. Among [well] known wines produced in Veneto (which has the biggest wine production among all DOCs in Italy) are Prosecco, Soave and Valpolicella. While Prosecco is a famous Italian Sparkling wine, Soave makes dry white wines, and most of Valpolicella wines are red. Main grape varieties used in Valpolicella are Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, plus there are some other grapes which are used in production of Valpolicella wines.

Amarone is one of the wines produced in Valpolicella. What is so special about it? Let me tell you about my first experience with Amarone. I tried that wine for the first time during the Italian wine class at Windows on the World Wine School, taught by Kevin Zraly. On the nose, that wine had pure raisins, and lots of them. Based on the smell, I was absolutely sure that the wine will be very sweet. The first sip of that wine showed off very dry, full bodied and powerful red wine. The contrast of smell and taste was so amazing – it stuck in my head forever. As an interested side note, once we all smelled the wine, Kevin Zraly asked the class (about 100 students) what we’re thinking about when we smell the wine. Before anyone else had a chance to say anything, the woman in the front row literally jumped from her seat screaming “Sex!”.  In case anyone curious, the wine we tasted in that class was 1997 Le Ragose Amarone della Valpolicella.

Outside of such an interesting reflections, what puts Amarone apart from many wines is the way it is made. Once the grapes are harvested, they are put out on the straw mats (used to be straw mats, now there are other techniques) to dry under the sun. The drying process, called Appassimento, usually takes between 3 and 4 month, and leads to the grapes shrivel to literally become raisins – and then those shriveled grapes are pressed and fermented to become Amarone wines. Another interesting fact is that after the grapes are pressed for Amarone wines, the grape skin and seeds leftovers can be added to the Valpolicella wines, which helps to impart additional flavor onto the resulting wine. The wines produced using this method will be called Ripasso which will be designated on the wine label.

It is the time to open a bottle. Today we will actually open 3 bottles, all three from the same producer called Vaona, and we will be able to compare the way the wines are made and taste, progressing from Valpolicella Ripasso to Amarone of different levels.

The first wine is 2008 Vaona Valpolicella Classico Superiore Pegrandi Ripasso (Pegrandi Ripasso means that it used the grape skins left after production of Pegrandi Amarone). This wine is a blend of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara grapes and it was aged for a year in a barrel and 4 month in the bottle. The resulting wine is very smooth and concentrated, with lots of dark fruit and spices on the palate.

Our next wine is 2007 Vaona Paverno Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. It is made of the same grapes as the Vlapolicella wine (Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara). After the grapes were harvested, they were dried up in the wooden boxes for a period of 3 month, and then made into the wine. This wine is very nice and round, reminiscent of Charles Mara Pinot Noir, both in soft and round style and in masterful handling of the alcohol. This wine boasts 15.6% alcohol, and outside of reading the label, that level of alcohol can not be detected neither on the nose, nor on the palate – this is how balanced the wine is. The wine is showing some blueberries and a bit of tobacco notes on the palate.

 

 

And now we can talk about the flagship wine – 2006 Vaona Pegrandi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. The grapes for this wine come from the vineyard called Pegrandi, where the average age of vines is 30-40 years. The same Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara are used in the production of the wine, with an addition of local indigenous grape called Raboso Veronese. Once harvested, grapes are dried on the bamboo racks for more than 4 month before they are made into the wine. The resulting wine was aged for 24 month in the small barrels before the release. Again, the wine is incredibly smooth and balanced, regardless of  the 15.8% of alcohol. On the nose, it shows fruit jam and dark chocolate. It is extremely rich on the palate, with lots of dark fruit and dark chocolate notes, powerful tannins and hint of tar and tobacco – and then more tannins. This wine should truly be experienced – describing it using words doesn’t do a true justice to it.

I really hope that once you read this article, you will run into the wine store, and ask for the best bottle of Amarone – this wine should be really experienced, and who knows – you might find your wine love forever.

P.S. This post was also prompted by the recent post on Vino in Love blog about best wines from the latest Gambero Rosso (famous Italian wine guide) and his rant about Amarone at the end of the post.

Impromptu Reflection On My Favorite Subject – Amarone

August 21, 2012 2 comments

This blog post was not planned for today – nope, had totally different ideas in mind. And then the comment arrived on one of my older posts (click here to see it). And the comment was more of a question, which definitely stroke a chord – someone was looking for that perfect Amarone moment, exactly the same way as I was trying to replicate mine

Yes, I responded to the comment, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to reflect on the magic of Amarone – and practical impossibility of re-creating that magic “at will”. That full-bodied, perfectly dry but rich, voluptuous and perfectly balanced (you will have to forgive my use of double-perfect wording) which I experienced only once (I’m talking again about 1997 Le Ragose Amarone) – was almost never replicated in any of the wines I had. The only two which come close were 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone Classico, and believe it or not, 2000 Carlisle Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. I have one wine on my “must try” list – Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone – which must be magical based on what the others are saying, but this wine would really require a [very] generous sponsor…

Out of curiosity, I decided to check on the classic Amarone at the Wine Spectator web site – there are only 11 Amarone which have “classic” rating (95-100 points) throughout all the years:

Wine Vintage Score
Sorted By Score
Release Price
 Michele Castellani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Cinque Stelle 2005 96 $105
 Romano Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella 2004 96 $NA
 Lorenzo Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Ca’ Bianca 1997 95 $NA
 Lorenzo Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Ca’ Bianca 2004 95 $70
 Michele Castellani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Cinque Stelle 2003 95 $64
 Michele Castellani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Cinque Stelle 2007 95 $75
 Romano Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella 1998 95 $480
 Romano Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella 1997 95 $370
 Romano Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella 2003 95 $425
 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Mazzano 1999 95 $120
 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1988 95 $NA

As you can see, Wine Spectator is not much of a help…

Have you ever experienced the magic of Amarone? Do you have a favorite? Let me know! Cheers!

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