Day three in Valpolicella was our last day of winery tours. The first two days had been joyously filled with fantastic wine, food and Italian hospitality. Each one of the wineries we visited were so informative and friendly. As a guest of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, I received first class treatment and a behind the scenes looks at the impressive wine making techniques used to create the coveted Amarone. In my last article, “Valpolicella Day Two,” I said I would briefly highlight the technique used to create the patriarchal wine of Valpolicella.
As explained, Amarone is crafted from Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and less frequently Monlinara. All the grapes used to produce Amarone are hand selected in the first pass by skilled pickers who have been taught how to select the best grapes from each vine. Once these grapes have been picked they are dried in a single layer in wooden or plastic crates in a single layer to provide optimal air circulation and avoid crushing the grapes. The crates are stacked in racks and moved to the top of the wineries cellar in a room called the fruttaio. During the 3-4 month period while the grapes are dried to half their weight the use of an air conditioning system is allowed, in keeping with the traditional drying method, to assist in minimizing humidity that can damage the grapes. However, grape drying systems using heat are strictly forbidden. One the drying process is complete the grapes are crushed using one of two approved methods. The first method is more traditional; since the grapes are crushed in January or February the temperatures are naturally cool and the grapes remain in contact with their skins for a long time, “this method permits to obtain a wine that then requires longer ageing both in bottles and in barrels but gives strong emotions, unique characteristics and a flavor which is direct expression of the territory, even after a very long ageing.” The end result is a beautifully complex and layered Amarone. The second method is a more modern technique, offering an opportunity to obtain, youthful, softer wines with strong notes of fruits, which can soon be appreciated by the consumer and are stocked for less time in the cellar. After one of these two processes, the wine is aged in oak. Most commonly Amarone’s are aged in beautiful large barrels or casks, of the 13 wineries we visited 10 were adamant about old, large barrels only to allow the fruit to create the flavors without any influence from the oak. However, as adamant as those 10, three were equally adamant that placing some of the wine in small barriques to encourage some influence from the oak while allowing the majority of the wine to rest in large casks was the best way to produce Amarone. We saw the use of French, American and Slovenian oak. Upon completion of the barrel aging the Amarone was bottled and then fined in the bottles for additional years before it hits the shelves at retailers around the world.
So why is Amarone so expensive? First of all it takes years to produce one bottle of Amarone (We were tasting 07’s through 09’s as the current releases); second, because of the drying process the grapes lose half their weight, therefore, it takes a lot more grapes to produce a bottle of Amarone then it does say a Valpolicella Classico; third, weather. As I said in my previous article, Valpolicella Day Two, too much rain determines that the grapes traditionally used for Amarone will not be suitable and the year’s production will not include that wine. This is the case for many of the wineries in Valpolicella for the future 2014 vintage. The grapes were simply over saturated with water; therefore, negating a successful drying process. However, all is not lost, these wineries will still produce Valpolicella Classico and Valpolicella Superiore and most likely these wines will be exceptional since they will be using the finest grapes typically reserved for Amarone. Additionally, those who have vineyards in the highest elevation of Valpolicella believe they can salvage enough grapes for limited Amarone production. Please keep this in mind when this vintage is released to market and consider supporting these great winemakers by purchasing their Valpolicella Classicos and Superiores as well as save some of your hard earned dough for their beautiful Amarones.
A perfect way to describe the beauty of Amarone comes from the Consorzio web site:
Amarone is produced in strict accordance with the rules and is patiently left maturating until it becomes unique in the world and incomparable with its vivid bright colour, intense cherry, currant, chocolate, spices hints. Rich in substance, well-structured, full but at the same time soft, elegant perfectly balanced; very pleasant, soft, long-lasting to the palate, it will win everybody at the first sip. Unless other great Italian red wines for ageing, its round tannins and juicy fruits make it appreciable also when young although this is a magnificent wine for ageing. The most refined wine-lovers all around the world have learned to prize its unique accent, its character as an old but modern and up-to-date wine, able to testify the greatness, charme, authentic magic of Valpolicella.
The first winery we visited on day three was Zyme. This was their new winery, it was under construction but almost complete. I have never seen a winery like Zyme before, it was simply beautiful. Elegantly understated, modern, yet one with the land in which it was built. For example, a natural spring was found under the land during construction so they left it and incorporated it in the structure. My photos do not do this winery justice, you simply must visit it to see it with your own eyes. Additionally, the wines were as unique and pleasing as the winery. We tasted 10 wines at Zyme, including: Vino Spumante Di Qualita Brut, Veneto Bianco, Valpolicella Reverie, Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, Provincia di Verona Oseleta, Veneto Rosso 602020 Cabernet, Veneto Rosso Kairos, Amarone Classico Della Valpolicella, Amarone Classico Della Valpolicella Riserva La Mattonara, and Veneto Rosso Harlequin. Each of these wines were exceptional quality. Zyme is distributed throughout the US so if you see any one of their wines buy it. Though it was hard to select just one, I am going to highlight the 2003 Amarone Classico Della Valpolicella Riserva La Mattonara. This wine was a rich garnet with sexy viscosity. It was an elegant Amarone that offered aromas of ripe cherries and spice and delivered on the palate with restrained flavors of ripe cherries, baking spices with a hint of smoke and tobacco. This wine had a full mouth feel, rich acidity, restrained tannins and a lingering finish. It would pair beautifully with food. Though it was an older vintage it still had young vibrancy too it; however, its age was demonstrated in its cohesiveness. It was lovely and I would love to enjoy it again someday.
Our second stop took us to a great visit and lunch at Santa Sofia. We were greeted by the friendly staff and were honored to receive a tour of the grounds and winery by Giancarlo Begnoni, owner and winemaker. After our tour Giancarlo took us through a tasting of his beautiful wines then joined us for a delicious lunch. In 2001, Santa Sofia celebrated 200 years of making high quality Valpolicella wines. Our wine tasting included Valpolicella DOC Classico 2012, Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Superiore 2011, Montegradella Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore 2009, Arleo Rosso del Veronese IGT 2005, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2008, Gioe Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2007 and Recioto della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2009. We were fortunate to enjoy these wines alone in the tasting and again with our lunch. Each was delicious, particularly when paired with food; however, my favorite was Gioe Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2007. This wine was an engaging garnet with purple highlights in the glass. It met the nose with invigorating aromas of ripe red fruit and spice and delivered on the palate with ripe red cherries, spice, smoke, black pepper and a touch of licorice. It was a well-balanced wine with refined tannins and round acidity that paired beautifully with our lunch. It was a medium body wine with a medium finish. This wine was aged in large barrels for 24 months, barriques for 18 months and the bottle for 12 months. It contained 15% alcohol and will age for 10-15 years. In addition to the wine, we enjoyed Santa Sofia’s delicious olive oil. I purchased a bottle and have been enjoying it since my return from Valpolicella. I am sad to say at this time Santa Sofia does not distribute to the US; I certainly hope that changes so you can all enjoy their delicious wines. Until then, please visit them in Valpolicella.
The third winery we visited was Secondo Marco. Marco Speri is the proprietor and winemaker of Secondo Marco. He comes from a long family tradition of Italian winemakers in Valpolicella dating back to 1874. Marco, however, wanted to establish himself apart from his family’s name as a winemaker. So he sought to establish his own brand, Secondo Marco, without using his family name, though with full moral support from his father Benedetto. I can tell you Marco Speri is producing exceptional wines. This was one of the overall favorite stops along our Valpolicella tour among the group. We tasted four varietals: Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, Amarone Della Valpolicella and Recioto Della Valpolicella, but so many vintages I actually lost count. For example, we enjoyed Secondo Marco’s Valpolicella Classico from the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. Marco took us through each vintage so we could experience the beauty of the young wine and how that beauty only magnified as it aged. I really cannot select a favorite; these wines were outstanding. At dinner that night we were once again served the Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2011 with creamy polenta and wild mushrooms as well as parmesan and truffle ravioli. It was an elegant and beautiful pairing. The wine was intense ruby red with bright aromas of ripe cherries with floral notes. On the palate it was decisively structured with ripe red cherries, refined spice and a hint of vanilla. It was a full body wine with refined tannins and bright acidity that met the creaminess of the ravioli with ease. It offered a lingering mouth feel that begged for another sip. (To learn more about this delicious dinner and wine pairings read my article, “A Rustic Meal in Valpolicella”) Our group enjoyed this wine so much we opened the second bottle after dinner to enjoy as our time together was coming to an end. Any Secondo Marco wines you can find buy them immediately!
Our final wine visit of this remarkable journey took us to Salva Terra. Salva Terra was founded in the 1990’s by the Furia family. Since then they have acquired several vineyards throughout the Valpolicella region and produce wines under various labels. The property was simply stunning. We tasted four wines from the Antica Vigna line: 2013 Valpolicella Classico DOC, 2012 Ripasso DOC, Amarone EGT 2010 and Amarone 2008 DOC. Again, these four wines were all quite lovely and a great way to end our tasting adventure. Of the four I will highlight the Amarone 2008. This wine was an alluring deep purple in the glass with a rich bouquet of dried fruit and spice. On the palate this wine delivered ripe cherries and red plums with a less powerful fruit than many of the Amarones. It was a softer and more elegant Amarone, powerful but balanced with juicy acidity and restrained tannins that provided a full body yet clear wine. It was very enjoyable. Unfortunately once again these wines are not well distributed in the US but as Salva Terra continues to expand it is my hopes there wine will show up in retailers across the US. Until then if you live in Canada you are in luck and if not just book your flight now because Salva Terra is a winery you want to visit in Valpolicella.
This concludes my Valpolicella journey. I apologize this article is so long. I hope you stayed with me till the end. It was a wonderful week and I hope to have the blessing of going back and sharing more great wines and wineries with you. I would like to once again thank the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella for having me as their guest. Additionally, I would like to thank our gracious and wonderful hostess who kept us all in line and took care of us each step of the way, without Federica Shir I would have never enjoyed this wonderful week, met such great people and made some new friends!
My Song Selection: In honor of the hard working wine makers in Valpolicella and the desire for the rain to come to an end (it rained our last day there as well) the song I have chosen to pair with day three in Valpolicella is Mr. Blue Sky by the Electric Light Orchestra. Please remember to support all the Valpolicella wine makers when the 2014 vintages hit the shelves!
Let me know what song you would pair with delicious Valpolicella wines. Cheers.