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Posts Tagged ‘Amarone’

Wednesday’s Meritage – WBC16, Up and Coming in this Blog and more

August 10, 2016 4 comments

Meritage Time!WBC16 logo

First and foremost – Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 (WBC16) is starting this Thursday, August 11th in Lodi, California. Most importantly – I’m flying Thursday morning to attend it! While wine is of course an important part of the event, what I’m really looking forward to is connecting with fellow bloggers. Being around of wine blogosphere for 6 years allowed me to make many friends. While I met some bloggers in person, many are still only virtual, and based on registration list I hope to add some faces to the names.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about wines of Lodi, which I have rather a limited exposure to. And the so called “Speed Tasting/Live Blogging” sessions are something I enjoyed very much at WBC14, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again. I will do my best to report on the WBC16 escapades, but it will not be easy, as an event gets quite overwhelming. In any case, if you are attending WBC16, I hope to meet you face to face.

Now, I need to tell you – lots of Pinot Noir is coming to this blog in the near future. I just finished working on the series of interviews with Oregon winemakers, and we all know that Oregon is a Pinot Noir capital of the United States. There is lots of passion, wit and hard work, which I can’t wait to share with you all – along with some tasting notes. Expect to see this series posted throughout September/October time.

Talking about blogging plans, we will be also talking about Italian wines. And not just Italian wines in general, but one of my most favorite Italian wines – Amarone. Cesari Vineyards, a family-owned winery in Veneto, was one of the Amarone pioneers, formed in 1936. To celebrate 80 years of producing great wines, Cesari Vineyards reached out to the group of wine bloggers, so look for the blog posts, tweets and pictures coming out under the hash tag of #IAMarone.

And we are done for today. The glass is empty – and it takes a lot more time for the refill to arrive nowadays – but the refill is still on the way. Cheers!

 

 

Wines, Wines, Wines – Worldwide Wines Portfolio Tasting

October 3, 2014 5 comments

Every fall I attend 3 or 4 different wine distributor portfolio tastings here in Connecticut. Not this year, though. This year I managed to miss all tasting except one – the Worldwide Wines. According to my friend Zak, the owner of the Cost Less Wines in Stamford, I was lucky, as the 3 tastings I missed were quite mediocre, so I ended up not wasting my time.

The tasting was done in the standard for Worldwide format – 4 hours, 110 tables, roughly translating into 500+ wines. No, nobody can possible taste that many wines in such a little time, so you really have to do two things – 1. Build a plan. 2. Follow the plan. Luckily for me, Zak built the plan, so all I had to do was to follow him. Before I will inundate you with my short, but copious notes on the wines I tasted, let me give you few of my personal experience highlights.

1. Archery Summit wines were delicious – dense, structured, powerful, in need of time and impeccably balanced.

2. Wines from Chappellet were a personal discovery – to be very honest, I’m generally not a fun of Chappellet, but this 2012 release was outright delicious, especially the Chardonnay.

3. Zaccagnini, a well known producer of the Montepulciano wines (I’m sure you are familiar with the bottles with a little piece of wood attached to them), presented a brand new wine – Riesling (!) – and it was delicious. I also re-tasted the Zaccagnini flagship Montepulciano – I have a tendency to avoid this wine because of its sleazy appearance of the bottle, but – it is for sure an excellent wine at $14.99 and definitely worth your attention.

4. I had a pleasure of tasting a RP 100-point wine  – 2010 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – and … I was not blown away. Moreover, I was not even really impressed – yes, it was definitely a good wine, but to say that it was one of the very, very best wines I ever tasted would be simply not true. The wine was good, but I would never identify it as a “100 pointer” in my book.

5. Be careful with 2011 California red wines from Napa – for sure from Napa, don’t know about other California regions. While the vintage was lauded as “beautiful and restrained”, lots of wines I tasted from the 2011 were simply green and lacked balance. They might improve with time, but based on my experience, nothing suggests that they will. I recommend looking for 2010 or go to 2012 which might be young, but perfectly delicious. Bottom line – don’t buy 2011 Napa reds unless you can taste them first.

6. You know I’m an Amarone geek – and Fumanelli Amarone 2008 was simply outstanding, round and delicious,  and a perfect Amarone value at $54.

Without further ado, let me present you with the list of the interesting wines I tasted. As usual, I’m using the +, ++, +++ and, of course, the ++++ ratings, just to make the rating process simple. Well, you will not see “+” rated wines here, and very few of “++” – the goal is to share highlights and not to drill on what was mediocre. Here we go:

2010 Pahlmeyer Merlot Napa Valley ($76) – +++, restrained
2011 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red Napa Valley ($139) – ++++
2012 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($75) – +++, round, restrained
2011 Pahlmeyer Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($80) – +++, round, excellent
2011 Pahlmeyer Jayson Chardonnay North Coast ($52) – ++-|, nice, toasty
2011 Pahlmeyer Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($75) – ++-|, nice, but QPR is very low at this price

2010 Bodegas Caro CARO Mendoza, Argentina ($43, Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend) – +++ delicious!

2012 Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ($21) – ++-|, excellent, clean
2010 Fumanelli Terso Bianco Veneto IGT ($30) – ++
2008 Fumanelli Amarone della Valpolicella ($54) – +++, round, balanced, delicious. Outstanding QPR

2013 Zaccagnini Riesling Abruzzo ($15) – +++, excellent
2011 Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo ($15) – +++, excellent

2012 Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir, Oregon ($36) – +++, great QPR
2011 Archery Summit Red Hills Pinot Noir, Oregon ($60) – ++++, outstanding!
2011 Archery Summit Arcus Pinot Noir, Oregon ($70) – ++++, power, finesse

2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Estate, Arroyo Grande ($20) – +++, excellent
2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine ($32) – +++, excellent

2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau ($20) – +++, excellent
2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneauf du Pape ($31) – +++, excellent
2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard Chateauneauf du Pape ($50) – +++, concentration! excellent

2012 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee ($27) – +++, young, delicious
2012 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($39) – +++
2012 Chappellet Chardonnay Napa Valley ($30) – +++, round, vanilla

2011 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($26) – +++, nicely green, restrained
2012 Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros ($20) – ++-|, nice, round
2010 Clos du Val Merlot Napa Valley ($22) – +++, round, excellent

2010 Santa Carolina Reserva de Famiglia Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile ($21) – +++, beautiful
2008 Santa Carolina Herencia, Chile ($60, 100% Carmenere) – +++, excellent

2010 Coho Headwaters Red Napa Valley ($33) – ++-|
2011 Coho Summitvine Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($42) – +++

2013 Hetz Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($16.49) – +++
2009 Hetz Wine Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) – +++, delicious
2009 Hetz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($59) – ++-|, nice, restrained
2004 Hetz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($62) – ++++ wow!
2009 Hetz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($175) – ++++, tannins!
2004 Hetz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($263) – ++, past prime or corked?

2012 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($35) – +++

2010 Venge MaCauley Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($51) – +++, excellent, needs about 10 years…

2012 Shafer Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley ($50) – +++, restrained
2011 Shafer Vineyards One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) – +++, perfect Cab nose
2011 Shafer Vineyards Relentless Syrah/Petite Sirah ($79) – +++, dark, concentrated
2010 Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($250) – +++, clean, round

2013 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($15.49) – +++
2012 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford ($20) – +++, acidity!!
2012 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($35) – +++, earthy
2010 Honig Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon ($62.49) – +++, dense, needs time
2007 Honig Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon ($N/A) – +++, excellent!

2010 Boyanci InSpire Cabernet Sauvignon ($47) – +++
2010 Boyanci InSpire ROMAnce Cabernet Franc ($47, Stagecoach Vineyard, 70 cases produced) – +++, tannins!

2012 Far Niente Chardonnay Napa Valley ($45) – +++, round
2012 EnRoute Les Pommiers Pinot Noir RRV ($50) – +++-|, outstanding, luscious

2010 Hooker Blind Side Zinfandel California ($11) – ++, spectacular QPR

2012 Dr Frank Rkatsiteli Finger Lakes ($16) – +++, excellent!
2013 Dr Frank Dry Riesling Finger Lakes ($16) – +++
2013 Dr Frank Gewurztraminer Finger Lakes ($17) – +++
2012 Dr Frank Semi Dry Riesling Finger Lakes ($16) – +++

2012 St Supery Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc ($36) – +++, very interesting, unusual
2013 St Supery Sauvignon Blanc ($17) – +++
2012 St Supery Virtu Estate Napa Valley ($17.49) – +++

2011 Amisfield Pinot Noir Central Otago New Zealand ($27) – +++, round, perfectly clean

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And we are done here. 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!

Top 12 of ’13

December 29, 2013 18 comments

Here we are again, on the subject of Top Wines of 2013. You already saw my second dozen (and some), and the time has come to present the top list. In case you missed my lengthy explanation about the logic of this list, let me reiterate the main point – these are my most memorable wines of 2013. May be the word “wine” is even a bit limiting – these are the most memorable wine experiences of 2013. These are the wines which are so easy to recall – when you are talking about wines, these are the wines you use as an example. These are the wines which serve as memory links, easily allowing you to re-live the moments of your life. These are the wines which give you an ultimate pleasure. Let’s go:

12. 2008 Seresin Chardonnay Reserve Marlboro New Zealand – one of the best Chardonnays of the whole year – impeccable balance of apples, vanilla, butter and toasted oak, all I want in Chardonnay, nothing more and nothing less.

11. 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Willamette Valley Oregon – probably the best Rosé I ever had. May be even calling it a Rosé is simply a mistake. It was spectacular wine, complex, living in the glass, changing from mouthful of strawberries to tart raspberries and mouthfeel of a balanced red wine. An experience.

10. 2009 Tua Rita Redigaffi Toscana IGT – Tua Rita Redigaffi is listed in my “must try wines” list – need I say more? One of the best in the world renditions of Merlot. It was a pure pleasure – both the wine and the experience.

9. 2009 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve Franschhoek South Africa – mind-blowing. Exuberant. Over the top. Spectacular. I’m out of words. If you want rediscover Pinot Noir, go find this wine and taste it.

8. 2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – truly a humbling experience and a life lesson. If you think you know everything about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, try this wine. You can thank me later.

7. 2007 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone “Campo dei Gigli” – when I’m saying that I don’t have my most favorite wine, I’m lying. Amarone is the one. But for the past 5 years or so, practically every bottle of Amarone I touch becomes a huge disappointment. Not this one. This was a pure delight and the discovery of the year. Nose of dried fruit and perfectly balanced, round, dry and silky smooth mouthfeel. Thinking about this wine makes me smile.

6. 2005 Henry’s Drive Dead Letter Office Shiraz, South Australia – If anyone remembers Tastings column at Wall Street Journal, this wine was rated “Delicious!”, which was the highest rating. When I tasted this wine, it all made sense – absolutely delicious, round, plush, silky smooth and powerful at the same time, with plenty of blackberries and blueberries which only the best Shiraz can demonstrate. I was planning the whole post dedicated to the Dead Letter Office vertical tasting, but 2008 was only okay, and 2006 and 2009 turned out to be a complete disappointment, so no post. But if you can find this 2005 anywhere, get it – I promise you lots and lots of pleasure.

5. 2010 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria – the only wine in Italy which received highest ratings in 2013 from all three wine rating publications. Once you will try this wine, you will understand why. The balance and complexity is nothing short of spectacular. Stop reading this blog, go find the bottle for yourself.

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4. 2002 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Alsace – I know that Zind-Humbrecht is considered one of the best producers in Alsace. I tasted this wine a few years back, and I was definitely underwhelmed. This year, this wine magically turned around, showing perfect balance of exotic fruit, lychees, honey, candied apricot and everything else you can to look for in Gewurztraminer, with perfectly balancing acidity. An ultimate treat.

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer

3. 2009 Casa Burmester Reserva Douro DOC – talk about “oenophile defining moments”. I had excellent Portuguese wines before I tried this wine, but the very first sip of this Casa Burmester Reserva made me go “what? seriously? wow!!!”. In a blind tasting, this wine would stand up to the best of the best of California Cabernet – beautiful fruit, texturally present, firm, powerful and impeccably balanced and elegant.

DSC_0414 Casa Burmester

2. 2005 Frédéric Gueguen Chablis Les Grandes Vignes – I remember almost making fun of someone else using the word “gunflint” in the wine description. And here I am, taking a first sniff of this wine with the first word coming to my mind … gunflint! That sensation of gun powder-like smell, the smoke was incredible – and it was very pleasant at the same time. Tremendous minerality, lemony notes and some apples, clean and vibrant acidity and perfect balance. This wine was definitely an experience.

Frédéric Gueguen Chablis

Frédéric Gueguen Chablis

1. 1970 Quevedo White Port – even people in Portugal are not aware of the aged white Port – I witnessed a few surprised looks when talking to the people about white Port which is aged. This wine might be never bottled, as I’m sure it is hard to create a category from pretty much a single barrel of wine. Nevertheless, the ultimate complexity of this wine, coupled with the visual snapshot of tasting it in the Quevedo Port cellar (cue in all the aromatics and mysterious atmosphere), makes for an ultimate experience which will stay in memory forever.

1970 White Port

1970 White Port

By the way, did you notice that 3 out of my 4 top wines (even though I’m trying no to prioritize the list outside of the wine #1) are the white wines? Quite fascinating. Do you find this list too emotional? May be, but isn’t it  the purpose of wine, to solicit emotion? Anyway, for what it worth, this completes the list of my best wine experiences of 2013. What were yours? 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!

Daily Glass: Amarone (Trader Joe’s Amarone, It Is)

October 22, 2011 13 comments

I’m continuing the quest for the best bottle of my favorite wine, Amarone (the concept of the “best bottle” also assumes great QPR). Last time we talked about Le Ragose Amarone, where I had big hopes which didn’t materialize (you can find the post here). This time, let’s talk about Amarone from … Trader Joe’s.

In the last post I told you about my discovery of value wines at Trader Joe’s in Massachusetts. Value Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay – of course. But value Amarone? Until now, my idea of value Amarone was Valpolicella Ripasso, the wine made by running juice through leftover grape skins after actual Amarone was already pressed. In general, good Amarone are hard to find for under $40, and typical range is $60 – $100 in a good wine store. And when it comes to price, same as for any other wines, the sky is the limit – the amazing Masi Amarone I mentioned in the post about Wolrdwide Tasting, would cost you about $150 (good luck finding it), and Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone would set you back by about $350 (however, I found some rave reviews saying that this wine worth every penny).

Now forget everything I told you about the prices. Here are two examples that don’t fit into the ranges I mentioned before, thanks to Trader Joe’s. First, 2007 Pasqua Amarone, $18.99 in Trader Joe’s. While lacking traditional Amarone nose of juicy raisins, this wine exhibited power and balance. Lots of dark fruit, some coffee notes, hint of earthiness,  good acidity – very enjoyable wine. Drinkability: 7+.

I liked 2008 Valpantena Amarone Conte di Bergonzo ($16.99) even more. Bright dark fruit, some jammy notes supported by overall balance, minerality and good acidity – great all around package – very drinkable and leaving you craving for more. And QPR? At $16.99, do I need to even bother? Yep, I thought so. Drinkability: 8-.

Just to conclude – yes, Trader Joe’s is a place for great value wines. Even more importantly, it is a place for excellent Amarone with amazing QPR.

What are you waiting for? Have you being to Trader Joe’s wine department already? You owe it to yourself to find nearest Trader Joe’s with the wine section in it, and go enjoy it yourself – you can thank me later. Cheers!

Searching For The Perfect Amarone

August 15, 2011 8 comments
Le Ragose Amarone Della Valpolicella 2004

Le Ragose Amarone Della Valpolicella 2004

Let me confess: I have a wine weakness. This weakness is called Amarone. Ever since I tried Amarone for the first time, which happened in 2004 when I was taking Windows on the World Wine School classes, I kept searching for the same experience. Amarone wine which we tried during the class was absolutely amazing – it had a sweet rich nose of raisins, and powerful dry body of muscular wine. Once you experience something like that, you want to do it again and again. The only small issue left – finding that perfect bottle.

Problem is  – Amarone is not a cheap wine. Of course it is not super-expensive, like first growth Bordeaux, but at about $60 per bottle, it is way outside of my daily wine budget. That complicates the search, as at such price point Amarone really becomes a “special occasion wine”.

Number of different Amarone later, you can guess that I still had high respect for that wine, as I designated it as one of the “best kept secrets of the wine world” in the post written for The Art of Life Magazine (you can find this pots here). For that blog post, I tried three different wines from Vaona Pegrandi – starting from Valpolicella Ripasso, a “poor man’s Amarone”, and then two of the actual Amarone wines – all good, but not what I was looking for. That forced me to dig out the notebook from that Windows on the World wine school classes, and find out that Amarone I felt in love with was 1997 Le Ragose Amarone della Valpolicella Classico.

Shortly after, with help of my friend Zak, I was holding the bottle of Le Ragose Amarone in my hands. Other than the fact that this bottle was from 2004 vintage, everything looked exactly the same. Except one little detail – 1997 version had 14% alcohol, 2004 – 15.5%. Finally I got to open the bottle. Swirl, sniff – practically nothing. More of the swirl and sniff – still not much. May be a hint of sweetness, but absolutely none of the jammy raisins and dried fruit, which were stuck in my memory forever from that 2004 tasting. On the palate, the wine had more of the dark fruit and may be hint of a fruit jam, but alcohol was not integrated and not balanced, hitting you after the initial taste was subsiding. Nothing changed on the second day – same limited nose, and same unbalanced wine on the palate.

I don’t know what happened with Amarone during those 7 years (interestingly enough, in 2004 I tasted wine from 1997, and in 2011 it was the wine from 2004, so both times the wine was 7 years old). Actually, it doesn’t matter what happened – I want the old Amarone back. The new one has no soul, it is simply one of many unbalanced wines, high in alcohol.

Well, I will keep searching – being an eternal optimist, I will keep looking for that perfect Amarone. True, I might be running simply after the memories which can not be brought back – but hey, at the very least, I will keep trying – new wines, it is. And if you experienced that amazing Amarone wine – any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I might even share that special bottle with you! Cheers!

Categories: Amarone, Experiences Tags: ,

[Unanticipated] Burgundy Pleasure and Other Grape Encounters

June 7, 2011 1 comment

Looking through the cellar, many bottles have their stories, memories associated with them: “Ahh, I remember I brought this bottle from Italy. And it was raining like crazy when we stopped by that small wine shop in Paris, where this bottle is from. And this one – it was our vacation in Florida (coconut wine, anyone?). Aha, this one I got as a present for my birthday… And those five? I hope they will be as good as the first one was three years ago…”.

Then you stumble upon a bottle on which you go totally blank: “No, I don’t recognize the producer or the winery. Did I bring it from somewhere? Probably not. Where could I buy it? I think I got it as a present?”. Good thing in such a case is the fact that most likely you will have no expectations, so you will take this wine for what it is.

This was exactly my experience with 2004 Albert Bichot Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne – I had the bottle for a while, but how did it end up in my wine fridge, I had (and still have) no idea. Considering the wine was 7 years old, and from unknown ( for me) producer, it could’ve been already gone in terms of quality and pleasure, so the decision was made – the time has come to open the bottle.

This 2004 white Burgundy  (100% Chardonnay, of course) happened to be in a perfect shape! Vanilla and touch of spices on the nose, hint of vanilla and lichee fruit on the palate, good acidity – very round and perfectly balanced (Drinkability: 8). Turns out it was a good choice – and having no expectations made it even better experience.

As I mentioned “other grape encounters”, let’s move from France to Italy. I recently had a chance to experience some of my most favorite wines – Amarone. You can read about it in details here – this is my post at The Art of Life Magazine. While the Amarone from Vaona was excellent, I’m still trying to find Amarone which will deliver the same mind-blowing experience I had with 1997 Le Ragose Amarone  at the Windows on the World Wine School (read The Art of Life post for the full story) – of course full report is guaranteed if I will be able to find that wine.

And another “grape encounter”, this time moving across the globe east and south, we are getting from Italy to Georgia (and I’m not talking about one of the 50 US States). Few days ago, I was lucky enough to attend Georgian Wine tasting, which I can summarize in one short word: “WOW!”.  Extensive report is coming in one of the near future posts, but for now I would like to mention great progress with unique grape count – it increased by 7! In case you are curios, here is the list of grapes and wines:

Chinuri – 2009 Pheasant’s Tears Chinuri Qvevry

Tetra – Alazanis Valley White

Goruli – 2009 Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane

Pink Rkatsiteli – 2010 Alaverdi Monasteri Rkatsiteli Qvevry Rose

Kavkveri – 2010 Pheasant’s Tears Kavkveri Qvevry

Tavkvery – 2010 Pheasant’s Tears Tavkvery Qvevry

Shavkapito – 2009 Chateau Mukhrani Shavkapito

Total grape count now reached 324, and counting. Happy grape discoveries to everyone! Cheers!