Last week I attempted to present the complexity of the various denominations that exist within this fine wine region of the Veneto, in North-Eastern Italy. Here I will talk about a few of the producers there, following my recent visits and tastings.
This poorly framed and hastily taken shot of a relief map of the Valpolicella region explains quite a lot about the importance of site selection in this region. I always think that « site » is a much more suitable term than the very vague and tendentious term « terroir ». As you can see, it was taken at the Guerrieri Rizzardi estate, which has an interesting garden but whose wines did not impress me and so are not commented in this article. The section of hills to the left, just by the Lake of Garda, is devoted to the denomination Bardolino, which you can see is separated from that of Valpolicella by the river Adige that flows down from the Alps. Although made mainly from the same grapes, the styles of Bardolino is curiously different, lighter and slightly peppery according the the few that I tasted.
The 4 Castagnedi brothers who run this fine estate. Paolo, who did the honours so well on our visit, and who is in charge of the winemaking, is on the left.
Tenuta Sant’ Antonio
I first encountered the wines of this producer a few years ago when I was part of a press trip to taste the Anteprima sessions of the Amarone wines in Verona. I remember especially liking this producer’s wine and later visited their premises, situated on a hilltop with spectacular views all around. You have to mean business to get there, but it is well worth the winding road uphill. This year I returned, taking a group of 3O with me. This winery belongs to a family called Castagnedi, of which four brothers currently managed all aspects. They produce a wide range of wines exclusively from their own vineyards which are divided amongst two neighbouring appellations: Valpolicella and Soave.
White wines (so NOT Valpolicella)
Scaia 2017 : made with the local variety Garganega, together with some Chardonnay, this is light, crisp and fresh, finely perfumed, quite delicious and retails for just 8,5 euros a bottle at the winery.
Soave 2017 : mainly Garganega with some Chardonnay. Just 4 grams of residual sugar, this is more rounded but just as fine. 8 euros.
Telos 2016 (no added sulfites) : a proof that one can make excellent wine without adding sulfites of one is very careful, technically speaking, at all stages. This is also a Garganega/Chardonnay blend. Rounded and nicely perfumed with a silky texture. Good intensity. 10 euros
Soave Superiore Monte Ceriani: 100% Garganega. This has more substance, as well as showing that touch of bitterness on the finish that one finds in so many italian wines, both white and red. It also has more complexity and greater length that the other Soave, so it justifies its title of « Superiore ». Not much more expensive either at 9 euros.
See my article of last week for details of the intricacy of the various techniques used in Valpolicella and the appellations that correspond to these. One should also of course remember that within these technical and administrative boundaries, the individual style decided by each wine maker and the vineyard characteristics combine to create an infinite set of nuances that at times seem to cross these boundaries.
Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Monte Garbi
Lovely flavours of bitter cherries combine with with lots of delicacy in the wine’s texture. Very good length. At 12 euros, this is an excellent buy and a very good introduction to the Ripasso style.
Telos Rossa 2014
As mentioned in the white wine section, the Telos range is made without any added sulfites. The technical mastery of the Castagnedi brothers ensure that this is achieved without any deviation. The nose is especially lively, intense and with a slightly peppery edge. It makes me wonder whether this sharpness of focus is partly the result of the lack of added sulfites….to be investigated at some point). It also brings up the bitterness in the wine, perhaps to a point that makes it less agreeable to many. The tannins seemed a bit harsh also. I preferred the previous wines. Bring back the sulfites please! 11 euros
Valpolicella Superiore La Bandina 2013
This wine spent 24 months in large barrels (500 litre hogsheads), and at least another 12 months in bottles before being first put on the market. The nose is magnificent and the texture is fine. Good intensity and excellent length. 16 euros
Telos Amarone 2011
This « no added sulfites » range seems to be sold outside the Soave or the Valpolicalla designations: at least the wines are labelled and listed as such. The wine is clearly powerful in its aromas and flavours, with a fabulous quality of fruit. Full-bodied and refined at the same time Excellent length, but for me the balance tips just a shade on the alcohol side. It certainly has lasted perfectly without the protective cladding of sulfites. 25 euros
Amarone di Valpolicella, Selezione Antonio Castagnedi
The first impressions on the nose reminded my instantly of bitter chocolate and made me want to combine these two substances. Firmly structured, powerful and warm, with that unique (to Amarone) combination between rich fruit flavours and bitterness. I think that I preferred this wine to the one with no sulfites. 25 euros
Amarone di Valpolicella, Campo dei Gigli 2012
A single vineyard wine. Quite lovely, full of energy, intense and refined and showing the best overall balance of the Amarones tasted here to date. This is not to be missed by amateurs of the genre and is still well worth the higher price tag of 47 euros.
Amarone di Valpolicella Riserva Lilium Est 2007
This wine, which is only produced in the very best vintages, is aged in various containers for at least ten years before release. This is therefore the latest vintage available. It shows a slight whiff of volatile acidity on pouring, but who wouldn’t after ten years waiting in the sidelines? Nothing over the top, just enough to add a bit of lift and edge to the aromas. Huge richness and complexity. It has enormous length and its tannins are still surprisingly powerful. There is probably some of the Osoleta grape in the blend, which could explain this. I would keep this for another 5 or ten years before drinking it. One for collectors perhaps. 85 euros.
Recioto della Valpolicella, Argille Bianche 2011
Here, with the sweet but unfortified type of wine from the region, the nose is just packed with aromas of black chocolate and dark cherries. On the palate there is a magnificent and quite unique association between bitterness and sweetness. Splendid balance and, naturally, considerable length. 24 euros (half bottle).
Seen at the Serego Alighieri Estate, which still belongs to the descendants of Dante but which is managed by Masi: these beautiful 5OO litre hogsheads made of cherry wood. They finish their top wines in these after 18 months spent in oak barrels of the same size. They cost even more than the oak equivalent as the trees have not been grown with this usage in mind, so there is far more wastage on account of knots and so on. They add roundness and a certain perfume to the wines they hold, in particular Amarones.
This is certainly the best-known producer of the region, at least on export markets where it has pioneered the various types of local wines, especially in markets like Canada, the USA and Japan, and several others as well. Masi has conducted a lot of research into the drying process and used long, bamboo-slatted trays that are placed on racks and rotated in their air-conditioned drying chambers to ensure that there is not difference between the levels. It was interesting here to taste dried grapes from several of the local varieties they used, and to note that the Osoleta variety, which cannot exceed 10% in the blends, is almost totally dry and raisined at the end of the process. Its impact in terms of tannins is thus considerable and it seems to be used rather like salt and pepper to adjust this tannic aspect of the wines.
a rack of the grape drying trays at Masi’s cellars. The slats are made of bamboo, which is rounded so as not to break the skins, hard on the outside and very resistant to liquids.
Rosso Veneto, Campo Fiorin 2014 (50th anniversary)
For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, and which seem to have much to do with marketing considerations, Masi has taken some of its wines, including this one, out of the Valpolicella designation. The acidity is quite pronounced the tannins are of average intensity but the bitterness shows that this has used the ripasso technique. Very dry finish. Decent wine, but a touch austere for my palate on that day.
Amarone du Valpolicella Classico, Costasera 2012
Moderately powerful in the impact of its alcohol, but extremely refined in both flavours and texture. It has excellent structure from fine, sinewy tannins. A very refined example of Amarone.
Bacchus lives! one of several in fact, sculpted in the wonderfully strange Villa della Torre which has been bought and gradually restored without destroying the spirit of the place by Allegrini. This is well worth a visit, and so are the wines.
Allegrini is another well-known producer on export markets, but who uses, when compared to Masi, a slightly different approach to the technique for drying grapes for those types of the Valpolicella range that use them. This involves shallow plastic crates with just one layer of healthy bunches. As always, no grey rot at all is permitted as this would rapidly spread and spoil the process and the flavours. They do not air-condition their drying rooms, preferring strong ventilation which is helped by large built-in fans.
White wine (just one tasted)
Soave 2016. 80% Garganaga, 20% Chardonnay. Perhaps the best of the Soaves tasted on this trip, with a possible exception or two among those tried in wine bars but not noted (Pra, Pieropan, for example). Manages to combine good liveliness with a certain form of smoothness (the signification of the word « Soave » could be « suave »). Fine and relatively lingering on the palate. This is vibrant and clearly defined.
Valpolicella Classico. 70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella. Complex spicy and smoky hints on the nose that mingle with bitter cherries and something more earthy. Very good, simply delicious, with lively fruit flavours and excellent length. This is certainly the best of the « basic » Valpolicellas that I tried during this trip.
IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre. 40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, 5% Sangiovese. This unconventional blend removes it from the Valpolicella denomination, but it does use the Ripasso technique, « re-invented » as they say at Allegrini. In this instance, 70% of the wine is fermented directly after the harvest, and the remainder comes from bunches that are dried for 4 months before being pressed and the resulting juice blended into the base wine, thus restarting a fermentation. The difference being that skins are not used in this second « ripasso » process. The wine has plenty of intensity, but the tannins are far lighter than with the traditional Ripasso technique. Fine, juicy and long. Very good.
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014. The nose is magnificent ! Intense aromas of cherries and something a little yeast-like. Its very smooth and voluptuous texture wraps all this richness, like Sophia Loren dressed in satin. A lovely example of an Amarone. Gave this 17/20.
Other wines tasted in restaurants and wine bars
Quite a few were tried but I find it almost impossible to take notes when concentrating on other things like conversation, ordering the wines and ensuring that things run smoothly for the group that I was conducting in this case.
I did mention last week the fabulous Valpolicella Superiore from Dal Forno Romano. Despite the fact that this producer is not within the Classico part of Valpolicella, this wine was clearly at a level above the others, both in its intensity and sheer quality, and also in its probable ageing capacity. The fact that it sells from about four times the prices of the others is also a consideration of course. Cult wines are usually « cult » for a reason, and in this case it is clearly one of quality. But one must be able to pay the prices asked to be able to enjoy them.
Map of Verona, through which flows the Adige, very full of water last week. Great place for a morning run along the banks
Go there and taste the wines! The landscapes and the buildings are often very spectacular and Verona is a beautiful city full of good wine bars and just so close to the vineyards. And now you know that there is much more to Valpolicella than the indifferent stuff from the big cooperatives and so on that fill the wine lists of pizza and pasta places around the world.