Recently I was invited to Verona as a guest of the Consorzio della Valpolicella, to take part to a three day event culminating in the unveiling of the Amarone 2017 vintage.
For those of you not familiar with these wines, here is an introduction:
Amarone della Valpolicella (usually referred to as just Amarone) is an Italian DOCG denomination of typically rich dry red wine, made from the partially dried grapes of the indigenous Italian varieties:
Corvina offering cherry, spice, green almond, black walnut. Corvina usually makes up 45% to 95% of the final blend.
The rarer Corvinone may be used up to 50% of the final blend.
The high quality of Amarone typically uses the highest percentages of these two varieties and other small quantities of approved red grape varieties:
Rondinella adding floral aromas and fine tannins
Molinara tending to assist acidity levels.
The vineyards are to be found in the Valpolicella area in the province of Verona part of the Veneto region of northern Italy.
The wines from Valpolicella are:
Amarone made by fermenting dried grapes and ageing the juice for two years. Amarone has a very distinctive nose and taste consisting of prune, date, black pepper, soy sauce, roast meat, black walnut, sour cherry, Maraschino cherry, tobacco, smoke, liquorice, black fig, carob, cinnamon, cigar box, forest floor, cocoa, brown sugar, molasses, as well as one or two rarer finds…
Ripasso (ripassare means to pass again) is produced by putting Valpolicella Classico grapes through a second fermentation by adding the skins remaining from Amarone and Recioto production … Ah! I hear you say what’s this Recioto?
Recioto della Valpolicella refers to a dessert wine made from the grapes that were dried on mats after picking. This process turns the grapes to near raisins concentrating the juice. These wines are gloriously rich and sweet.
The wine known by the name of Valpolicella on the other hand is a youthful dry red wine produced without ageing. Its profile is a touch above medium acidity. Generally full bodied. Low to medium tannins. Highish levels of dryness. With a ABV between 14/16%*.
*Please do not be horrified at these numbers as the fruit quality and slow fermentation at low temperatures nullify any excessive alcoholic sensation.
Food pairing usually suggest heavy sauces with duck, lamb and pasta, wild boar, braised beef etc. But, as I was to find out on the second day of my visit (see below), you can discard all of this broad stroke information!
The three regions of the Denomination:
Classico which has six designations found mainly in three valleys of Negrar, Mariano and Fumare. Wines labelled as ‘Classico’ are most likely to be a blend of these designations. Amarone from Classico tends to be aromatic, elegant with remarkable finesse.
Valpantena has three designations in the valley of Valpantena. Amarone from Valpantena has a lighter body with forward fruit.
EST this stands for EAST and contains seven designations found in four valleys, named Mezzane, Illasi, Squaranto and Tramigna. Amarone from EST is bolder and richer with a higher alcohol content.
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG must age for a minimum of two years.
Amarone Riserva must age for a minimum of four years.
Finally, a little more detail in the winemaking process...
Most grapes are hand harvested, the bunches are placed on straw mats where they are left to dry up to 120 days to ‘raisin’. Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG grapes must lose a minimum of 40% water content.
After this process the grapes are pressed and commence the fermentation process at low temperatures. Sometimes this fermentation can take up to 40/50 days to complete.
After 6 months from harvest the wine is transferred into oak or chestnut barrels to begin the refining process.
N.B. Because of this process the natural residual sugar level is around 3 to 7 grams per litre. But it is still a dry wine!
The most historical and respected names in Valpolicella are:
Allegrini, Bengali, Dal Forno, Quintarelli, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Guerrieri, Rizzardi, Speri,Tedeschi, Bertani, Nicolis, Zyme, Tenuta Sant’ Antonio, Tommasi, Torre D’Orti and Zenato.
Recognised great vintages:
1983,1988,1990,1995,1997,1998, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, and 2016.
N.B. Amarone is extremely age worthy even after thirty to forty years it will still show energy and freshness.
The opening event of the three day engagement was a Gala dinner at Giusti Palace and Garden located in the east of Verona, near the city centre.
The Palace was built in the sixteenth century and the garden is considered one of the finest examples of an Italian gardens.
This was the first opportunity of meeting my hosts the International Consorzio della Valpolicella, and in particular, Nicola Padovano, the head of International Relations and Events.
The three course dinner was accompanied by a list of about 100 wines covering the different styles produced in the denomination. Our table’s host was Marco Speri, the owner and winemaker at Secondo Marco, who throughout the evening introduced the table to approximately 25 wines from various parts of the region. For me there were two standout wines from this dinner: Secondo Marco Valpolicella DOC Classico 2013 and Le Guaita di Noemi latest release Valpolicella Superiore 2012.
The evening came to a close after a welcome speech from the President of the Consorizo, Christian Marchesini.
The following day’s wine events consisted of two Masterclasses held at the grand Palazzo Verità Poeta.
The First Masterclass turned out to be an amazing twist on wine and food pairing: the speaker was the renowned wine and food critic Davide Scapin in collaboration with the 2-star Michelin chef Nicola Portinari of La Peca Restaurant. I was completely bowled over by the exceptional culinary expertise with these lighter and complex dishes and how they married with the complexities of the chosen wines. A resounding success which proves without any doubt that Amarone della Valpolicella can be a wine partner to any cuisine in the World. Here are pictures of each dish and my blind tasting notes...
Mid garnet in colour with a slight opaque undertone. Aromatics of red and purple florals, cherry and black berry fruits, mint, faint cigar box, balsamic notes, dried herbs. Cool entry. Medium bodied. Ultra fresh acidity. Balanced with a smooth texture and a linear juicy close. Points 90 TW
Mid garnet in colour. Slightly closed. Faint rose florals. Notes of red cherry, plum. Warm soft entry. Opens nervously on the mid palate showing a vertical tendency. Secondary nuances of black fruits, bramble. Fresh clean acidity assisting the structure, not yet come together. Falls short on the back end. Youthful. Needs bottle time.
Points 89 TW
Pale ruby in colour with purple undertones. Aromatics off the charts. Refined and elegant. Integrated and linear. Coats the mouth with juicy red fruits and complex texture, tip toes across the palate barely leaving a foot print. Broadens from mid palate to a long articulated close. Balanced like a ballerina. Wow!
Points 94 TW
Intense ruby red in colour. Solid core of red cherry, baked plum, damson, faint eucalyptus. Contains a bold structural element of tannins and acidity that broadswords its way to the mild palate. Full bodied. A black hole of textural depth. Secondary nuances of black berry fruits, tobacco, warm earth, liquorice and bitter chocolate. High residual sugar is counter balanced with the high quality of the fruit core. Has the power of a Ferrari and the energy of a marathon runner. To sum up: an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Points 93+ TW
The Second Masterclass was an in-depth look at the new generations making a strong presence in the denomination offering different characters of Amarone. This was introduced by JC Viens, a WSET Educator and an Italian Wine Ambassador. He chose six wines from across the region to demonstrate the versatility and evolution of this wine in young hands.
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998
Pale garnet in colour. Forward aromatic delineation, candied cherry, plum, balsamic notes and tobacco. Pleasant progression with fine tannins. Muscular yet agile. Polished and succulent. A whisker off being full bodied.
Points 92 TW
Dal Forno Romano
Amarone della Valpolicella 2003
Almost black in colour. Black cherry, oak notes, chocolate, smoke, rust. Incredible interplay with acidity and tannins defines the structure hidden beneath the core of concentration and intense energy. Very hot vintage (2003) yet, the fruit quality is undeniable. A wine of its terroir.
Points 95 TW
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2007
Medium ruby red in colour. Red cherry, underbrush, liquorice, blackberry, mint and pepper. Savoury. Resonates with youth and conveys a fresh balanced expression. Shows a glorious mouthfeel experience on the long finish.
Points 92 TW
Le Guaite di Noemi
Amarone della Valpolicella 2010
Difficult to draw back from the pulsating bouquet. Red cherry fruits vie with warm plum.
Cool entry. Silky textures wrapped around solid core fruit. Utterly compelling. Fantastic length and balance.
Points 94+ TW
Vigneti di Ettore
Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2012
Mid garnet in colour. Violet florals. Concentrated candy cherry, nuances of fig, cinnamon, plum sauce, notes of soy and balsam. Showing breadth of flavour. Bright and translucent. Long finish.
Points 90 TW
Villa San Carlo
Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2016
Medium ruby red in colour. Black cherry, prune, blackcurrant, smoke, faint tobacco and leather notes. Youthful with fine tannins and fresh acidity. Shows some of the notes of a great vintage. Needs bottle time to flush out other nuances. Terrific persistence.
Points 90+ TW
Truly memorable tastings and Masterclasses delivered by experts of these wines and this region with considerable clarity and passion.
On the final day, the International wine press was eager to review the latest vintage of Amarone della Valpolicella the 2017. The venue was the Palazzo della Gran Guardia.
The day started with an inaugural conference, followed by a blind tasting, some wines still in cask. The blind tasting gives the opportunity to see the direction of the vintage.
This revealed varied offerings: some very impressive wines, others needing to still come together. Generally I was extremely impressed by the overall quality considering the problems set by challenging weather conditions that prevailed throughout the growing season in 2017.
After the blind tasting, I tasted about 20 wines out of the 40 wines that were on offer.
This is a selection of six Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2017 I wish to bring to your attention:
Le Guaite di Noemi
Intense ruby red in colour. Forward aromas of candied cherry, warn fig and dark florals. Warm entry, expands rapidly, coating the palate with a juicy and tingling effect of black pepper, followed by secondary nuances of balsam, liquorice and baked plum. Tapers slightly to a linear close.
Points 91-93 TW
Medium ruby red in colour.Subtle bouquet of cut spring flowers.Cool entry. Showing youthful tension. Needing a little more structure, but elegant. Glides across the palate leaving a fresh mouthfeel. Comes up a little short on the back end.
Points 90-92 TW
Ruby red in colour. Red cherry, plum, dried herbs, faint showing of liquorice, warm earth.
Needing time to come together. Broadens pleasantly coming off mid palate to a semi articulated finish.
Points 89-91 TW
Deep ruby red in colour. Mixture of red and black fruits. Brown sugar, mint, slight nuances of fig and clove. Balsam notes on the close. Needs plenty of aeration. Ready to go.
Points 90-92 TW
Intense ruby red in colour. Maraschino cherry, plum, cinnamon, cocoa, dry forest floor, refined floral aromatics tend to seduce the imbiber. Showing depth, complexity and energy. Acidity is micron perfect. House style is very appealing. Long polished close.
Points 93-95 TW
A florist shop of floral aromatics. Black sour cherry, blackcurrant, plum sauce, orange peel, tannins are fresh and present which assists the structure, and counterpoint clean fresh acidity. Baking spice, Muscovado sugar and faint clove appear on the juicy long close.
Points 91-93 TW
In conclusion, I have been re-educated in my somewhat stereotypical and outdated viewpoint of the wines of Valpolicella. These are of a quality far higher than I thought previously. They have ‘terroir’ at their heart which is without doubt the most important factor in wine observation; this coupled with diversity, complexity, elegance and energy makes the wines of Valpolicella fascinating with the added factor of longevity.
They are a must in any serious wine cellar.
My thanks and gratitude to the makers of all the wines present at Amarone Opera Prima 2022, and in particular, Nicola Padovano and his team whom put together a splendid event.
Finally a special thanks to Christian Marchesini (above), President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella for the time and personal attention he dedicated to sharing his passion.