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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?

Your Wish Is My Command

May 22, 2019 2 comments

Oenophiles are very generous people.

I’m not speaking in general terms here – we are only talking about the wine. But when it comes to wine, we are ready to share. We want to share the experience. We want to share the joy of what we consider a great sip of wine with the whole world. It doesn’t always work – what tastes amazing to you, might be unimaginable plonk for someone else – everyone’s palate is different. But when it works, the experience is priceless. When the person takes a sip of the wine and says “OMG”, this is the best feeling in the world. Been able to help someone to share your joy and discover something new is incredible, and I can’t really describe it – I just truly hope you get to experience it at least once.

And then there are some key words which spur oenophile into the action. “I always wanted to try that wine”. “I never tasted the wine from that region”. “Trying this wine was always my dream”. “If I can ever find that wine”. All of these are the phrases which should be used very carefully around oenophiles, as these are the trigger phrases. They make an oenophile jump of joy and immediately devise the plan on mediating the issue in whatever way possible. If you consider yourself an oenophile, I’m sure you can relate. If you are not – I hope you know at least one.

Recently at the birthday party, an old friend said: “I always wanted to drink aged wines, but I don’t know how to find them, they are probably expensive, and I don’t know anything about them”. Can you imagine my ears perked up as soon as I heard it? Oenophile’s joyous moment, an opportunity to share the wine – yes! I gave her advice as to where she can find some aged wines (Benchmark Wines, for instance), but the brain already was put to the task. When we decided to get together for dinner, the first thing I said was “I’m bringing the wines”.

Aged Wines

After some deliberation, I came to an agreement with oneself regarding the wine program – you can see the whole program in the picture above. I was happy that I had a reasonably aged sparkling wine – Guido Ferrari. I wrote about Ferrari wines many times, these are definitely some of my favorite sparkling wines. 2005 is still a baby, as this is a current vintage, but still – this is an excellent sparkling wine, and it was a sample so I had to open it in any case – sharing with friends makes me very happy.

I definitely wanted to have a Rosé as part of the repertoire, but the absolute majority of Rosé is not made for aging – and those which age well, are either impossible to find, or very expensive, or both. So yeah, no Rosé. For the white, I decided to go with another one of my favorites – barrel-aged Verdejo, 2009 Shaya Habis. 10 years is not that much in terms of wine age, but most of the white wines don’t age that well, and I didn’t have a nice Burgundy, Chablis or white Rhone to offer instead, so I think 10 years old Verdejo should be interesting enough.

Red wines generally can age. I decided to go with “middle-aged” wines, even though the “middle” varies dramatically between the wines and the regions. My selection – 1995 Estancia Meritage, a Bordeaux style blend from California, 1995 Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Portugal (one of my top dozen wines of 2018), and 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot from California. I saw that the folks on Cellar Tracker considered Estancia to be past prime for a while so this will be an interesting experience, no matter what. And the 1998 Merlot I never had before, so this is an excellent opportunity to try it. 2007 Sauternes for dessert? 12 years is not much of age for the Sauternes, but this was one of the few older dessert bottles at my disposal so this would have to do.

The above part of the post was written before the tasting. Now, it is time to tell you how the wines actually fared.

Vintage-designated sparkling wines with some age are not a simple thing for uninitiated wine lovers – many say that Dom Perignon is amazing only because they know how much it costs, not because they enjoy it. This 14 years old, 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory was outstanding in my opinion – fresh, complex, elegant, it was truly a beautiful, minerality-driven Chardonnay, enframed with some fine bubbles. You know what was the best part? To hear my friends say “wow” and “I really like it”. Mission accomplished.

1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander ValleyWe continued with 2009 Shaya Habis Rueda (100% old vines Verdejo, barrel aged). This wine is one of my favorite Verdejo renditions, typically offering lots of complexity – but I never had it with 10 years of age. The wine was still young and crisp, with minimal fruit expression and tons of minerality, tons. Again, I consider this wine a success as one of my friends literally hugged the bottle and kept drinking this wine, repeating every few minutes “wow, and I even don’t like the whites!”.

Now, it was not without trepidation that I opened 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc), taking into account the negative sentiment on the CT. But – my fears were unfounded. The wine was a perfect example of the nicely aged California wine – yes, it mellowed down and was tertiary aromas-driven, but it stayed that way during the whole evening, and it was a perfect example of what aging does to the wine – simply the next dimension. The aromatics which you can enjoy endlessly, an abundance of lip-smacking plums, touch of eucalyptus, good acidity – a great experience. And yet another “yes” vote in our wine program – everyone liked the wine. Were they simply polite? I don’t know. I hope they actually liked the wine, as I wholeheartedly did.

2007 Haut Charmes SauternesThe next wine I brought simply as a “safe bet”, just in case Estancia would not work out. While Estancia was fine, I was happy to open this wine, if anything, at least, to compare two of the wines from the same vintage – of course, from very different wine regions. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva from Bairrada in Portugal didn’t change its standing “you are drinking me too early” even for a bit (the wine was only released last year, and I was raving about it before) – elegant, restrained dark fruit and herbs – two of these 1995 wines couldn’t be any more different than they were. Again, I think people liked this wine too – but it was too far into the evening to keep track. In any case, I’m glad I still have a few more bottles left.

We didn’t open the 1998 Kirkland Merlot – will have to wait for another occasion – but 2007 Haut Charmes from Sauternes was delightful and all apricots, both the nose and the palate. Ripe apricots, candied apricots, apricot jam – all of it was in every sip – oh yeah, don’t worry, all apricots were supported by acidic core. I don’t know if this was a common expression for the aged Sauternes, but there was a lot of pleasure in every sip of that wine.

This is my story of helping friends to experience aged wines. If you ask me, this was a complete success as people got to enjoy something new and different. Have you had any of these wines? What would you open for your friends to try? Cheers!

 

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