A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 531: Amarone in Verona

Monday, January 26: Final preparations to leave for Verona via Frankfurt for Anteprima Amarone 2011. I tried to get an aisle seat on the Lufthansa flight but ended up in the middle of the first row behind First Class. The flight attendant said it had more leg room. She lied. And the seat didn’t go back so I didn’t get much sleep. Watched a bad movie called The Drop with James Gandolfini, the Soprano guy.

Tuesday, January 27: There must have been one hell of tail wind because we arrived in Frankfurt 50 minutes ahead of schedule. Am sitting in the airport in Frankfurt having already walked 16 miles and haven’t yet reached Terminal B but there is free wifi – whoopee!

City gates to Verona

An hour-and-fifteen-minute flight to Verona over the Alps. Picked up by a bus with Michela Morris from Vancouver and Tomasz Prange from Warsaw. We’re staying at the Bologna Hotel in the centre of Verona at the end of the street I walked to get to the arena in Piazza Bra when I was here in September. From my window I can see the arena 100 yards away.

The arena in Piazza Bra

Four-poster bed at Hotel Bologna

My room has a four-poster bed and a 1930s white dial telephone. Slept for an hour and as I had time to kill before meeting and old friend for dinner I went across the street for a glass of wine at Vini Zampieri, a tiny wine bar with four tables at Via A. Mario 23. They specialize in the small producers of region and I asked the woman behind the bar whose name is Michela (“Call me Micki”) to recommend a Valpolicella. She suggested her favourite, Zanoni Valpolicella Superiore Campo Denari 2010. It was delicious – dense and concentrated black cherry flavour with balancing acidity (89). I drank it with a prosciutto slider. I said I would be back and what should I try. She said I must have Corte Sant’ Alda Ca’ Fiui Valpolicella 2013, made by Marinella Cameroni.

Wine bar opposite Hotel Bologna

My friend dropped by the hotel promptly at 7:30 and we walked over to a small trattoria called La Taverna di Via Stella for dinner. Started with a glass of Prosecco. I ordered a local dish translated on the menu as “Veal nerves with onions and beans” which turned out to be tendons and was delicious. We ordered a bottle of Serego Alighieri Monte Piazzo Anniversario Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2011 (rich and full-bodied, herb-tinged black cherry and damson flavour, fresh and lively on the palate with a lovely mouth-feel (91)). Then a pasta dish, Bigoli with duck ragu followed by rabbit with polenta. Finally, a glass of Masi Messanelle Recioto Amarone Grappa.

My friend, a winemaker, told me that he and his team of technicians are considering planting a new vineyard in the ancient pergola style rather than Guyot trellised vines to shade the grape bunches against global warming. Thirty-five per cent of his vineyards are now pergola style. Apparently he has found grapes grown high off the ground and shaded by leaves are better for appassimento style wines because of their slower maturation. Got to bed about 11 pm.

Pergola-trained vines

Wednesday, January 28: Up at 6 AM. Today we began touring wineries, beginning with Cantine Aldegheri in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella. The family have operated the winery since 1956 and own 50 hectares.

  • Aldegheri Valpolicella Ripasso 2012: dense ruby colour; earthy cherry with a dusty note; well extracted, sweet raisiny, plum fruit; mouth-filling, firm structure. (88+)
  • Aldegheri Amarone Classico 2009: dense ruby colour; dusty, plum and raisins with a licorice note on the nose; firm tannic finish with a green note. Full-bodied. (88)
  • Aldegheri Amarone Sant Ambrogio 2009: deep ruby colour; minerally, high toned, vanilla oak and cherry nose; firm structure, oaky, dried cherry, youthful with a firm finish. Needs time (89–90)
  • Aldegheri Amarone Riserva 2005: deep ruby colour; meaty, dusty nose; rich and full with plum and cherry flavours, intense and noble, well balanced and powerful with evident tannins still. (91)
  • Aldegheri Amarone Riserva 2003 (1321 bottles): dense ruby colour; high-toned, leather, plum with a floral note; sweet, soy and plum flavours; full-bodied with ripe tannins. (90)
  • Aldegheri Dindarella 2008 (1996 first bottling; only winery producing this indigenous grape as 100% varietal): ruby colour; peppery, herbal, sour cherry nose with a floral note; dry, medium-bodied with a pencil lead finish. (90)
  • Aldegheri Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2011: deep ruby-purple colour; sweet tobacco, cherries on the nose; sweet, full-bodied, chunky mouth-feel with a lifted tannic finish. (89)
  • Aldegheri Tenuta Villa Cariola Bardolino 2013: deep ruby colour; leather, cherry with a floral note; dry, medium-bodied, firmly structured, sour cherry flavour. (87)

Corvina grapes drying (for Amarone)

Next stop: Le Marognole, a lovely property high up in the hills in Marano di Valpolicella, with 6 hectares of pergola-trained vines. The winery was started in 2004 and produces 30,000 bottles. Winemaker Fabio Corsi used to work at Masi. The winery is situated on the site of an old monastery.

  • Le Marognole El Marascar Rosato Veronese 2013 (Corvina/Rondinella): deep salmon colour; minerally, cranberry nose; sour cherry and cranberry flavours with lively acidity and a tart finish. (87+)
  • Le Marognole Valpolicella Classico 2012: ruby colour; earthy, sour cherry nose; dry, cherry pit with a floral note with fresh acidity. (87)
  • Le Marognole Vapolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2010: ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose; sweet and sour flavours riding on lively acidity. Full-bodied with a firm finish. (88)
  • Le Marognole El Nane Rosso Verona 2010 (Corvina, Corvione, Rondinella, Croatina): ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose with a floral note; sweet cherry balanced by lively acidity, spicy with firm but ripe tannins. Well-extracted fruit with evident minerality. (89)
  • Le Marognole Amarone Campo Rocco 2010: deep ruby colour; tea leaf, tobacco, cherry nose; sweet fruit nicely balanced with acidity, powerful, rich, full-bodied beautifully balanced. (92)
  • Le Marognole Recioto della Valpolicella Campo Gerico 2010: deep ruby-purple colour; blackcurrant, cherry, vanilla oak on the nose; sweet, intense but beautifully balanced rich, full-bodied, lively acidity, firmly structured. (92)
  • Le Marognole Passito Bianco I Corsi 2010 (Garganega): light amber colour; peach and honeyed nose; medium sweet, rich and full on the palate, nicely balanced with acidity with a firm finish. (90)

Fabio Corsi of Le Marognole

Our next stop was Cantina Valpolicella Negrar. The co-operative has 230 members with 700 hectares of vines (80% pergola, 20% Guyot). They make Amarone with grapes from each of five valleys and also other regional wines. The Cantina produced the first wine named Amarone in 1936.

  • Cantina Valpolicella Negrar Castel Rotto Amarone Classico 2008: deep ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose; dry, full-bodied, somewhat austere, tense. (89)
  • Cantina Valpolicella Negrar Villa Amarone Classico 2008: deep ruby colour; earthy cherry and blackcurrant; full-bodied, dry, rich and full on the palate with grainy tannins. A powerful wine. (90)
  • Cantina Valpolicella Negrar San Rocco Amarone Classico 2008: deep ruby colour; sweet oak, rich and raisiny but finishing dry with bitter chocolate notes; full-bodied. (91)
  • Cantina Valpolicella Negrar Mazzureaga Amarone Classico 2008: deep ruby colour; vanilla oak, black cherry nose; full-bodied but elegant, nicely balanced, full in the mouth. Tannic finish. (90)
  • Cantina Valpolicella Negrar Monte Amarone Classico 2008: deep ruby colour; vanilla oak, chocolate, black cherry; full-bodied, firmly structured, powerful but elegant. (92)

Domini Veneti Amarone Mater 2008

Lunch: carpaccio, Amarone risotto, pork medallions with roast potatoes and spinach with a chocolate pudding for dessert. The wines Domini Veneti Amarone Mater 2008: deep ruby colour; vanilla oak; pencil lead, sweet blackcurrant nose with a floral grace note; Modern international style – rich and full on the palate with plum and chocolate flavors and well-integrated oak. (91) With the dessert: Domini Veneti Recioto della Valpoolicella Vigneti di Moron 2011: dense purple-ruby colour; raisiny, vanilla oak nose; full-bodied, sweetish with balancing acidity. (89)

Next stop, La Dama. The owner/winemaker Gabriele Dalcanale conducted the tasting. Eight years ago he purchased a 50-year-year-old vineyard, planted with all four Valpolicella varieties. He owns 10 hectares, six of which are around the winery.

  • La Dama Valpolicella Ca’ Besi Classico Superiore 2009: spicy, cherry nose with an oak note; well-extracted sour cherry flavour, lively acidity with a firm finish. Dry and fresh. (88)
  • La Dama Valpolicella Ca’ Besi Classico Superiore 2010: deep ruby colour; vanilla oak, sour cherry, dry, with lively acidity and a firm finish. (88+)
  • La Dama Valpolicella Ca’ Besi Classico Superiore 2011: deep ruby colour; spicy, vanilla oak, sour cherry with a floral note, dry, elegant, fresh and lively. Finishes firmly. (89)
  • La Dama Amarone Classico 2008: deep ruby with a mature rim; dry, tobacco, cherry with a note of dried flowers; full on the palate with a pencil lead note, sweet blackcurrant and cherry flavours. (91)
  • La Dama Amarone Classico 2009: deep ruby; floral, cherry, well integrated oak; elegant, spicy chocolate, firmly structured, dark chocolate and cherry flavours; full-bodied, lively acidity with a dry finish. (90)
  • La Dama Amarone Classico 2010: deep ruby colour; spicy oak, pencil lead, floral note; rich and full-bodied, well extracted cherry fruit; lovely mouth-feel; muscular but well-balanced with a touch of sweetness and a cocoa-like finish. (91)
  • La Dama Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2011: deep ruby colour; raisiny, dried cherries; full on the palate, beautifully balanced, surprisingly light on the palate with great tension between sweetness and acidity and a purity of cherry fruit. (92)

Then back to the hotel for a seminar on Recioto in the hotel dining room. Alberto Franchi, a young viticulturalist, spoke about the traditional grape varieties of the region: Corvina gives body, structure, colour and longevity; Corvinone – body and distinct aromas; Rondinella – very disease-resistant and good for drying. Spigamonti, an indigenous variety growing in popularity amongst Valpolicella producers, has been planted recently.

In 2000 many producers began to plant using Guyot trellising. Research showed as much as 3.5 degrees difference between Guyot and the shaded pergola grapes.

Tower of cod

We moved to the table for dinner, which featured 15 Reciotos with a five-course meal, starting with a dish described as “Tower of cod and polenta” served with Recioto (apparently a traditional Veronese pairing which really doesn’t work):

  • Corte Rugolin Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2013 (Marano): dense purple colour; high toned, spicy, floral, sweet and fruity. (88+)
  • Novaia Le Novaje Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2012 (Marano): dense purple; more evident oak, slightly volatile. (88)
  • Albino Armani Recioto della Valpolicella 2012 (Val d’Illasi): vanilla oak; fruity, good acidity, firmly structure. (89)

Risotto with chestnuts served with:

  • Secundo Marco Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2011 (Fumane): high toned, sweet and sour, prune. (87)
  • La Dama Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2011 (Negara): raisiny, plum, good acidity with a firm finish. (89)
  • Ca’ Rugate L’Ermita Recioto della Valpolicella 2011 (Cazzano): leafy, blackcurrant, rich and full, beautifully balanced, chocolate finish. (91)

Veal stew with Recioto served with:

  • Gamba Le Quare Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2011 (Marano): earthy, sweet, tannic. (88)
  • Recchia F.lli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2011 (Negrar): mushroomy, mercaptan. (84)
  • Cantina Valpantena Verona Tesauro Recioto della Valpolicella 2011 (Valpantena): acidic, somewhat unbalanced, and short. (86)

Selection of mountain cheeses served with:

  • Pietro Zanoni Recioto della Valpolicella 2009 (Verona): rich and full, nicely balanced (89)
  • Tezza Viticoltori Recioto della Valpolicella Classico Valpantena 2009: high toned, ripe plum and prune flavours, evident alcohol (87+)
  • Latium Septemviri Recioto della Valpolicella 2009 (Mezzane): smoky, oaky, high-toned, earthy, green note on the finish (87)

Ice cream Recioto served with:

  • Benedetti Corte Antica Croce del Gal Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2007: (by this time I’d given up making notes – Recioto’d out.)
  • Corte San Benedetto Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2007
  • La Gualte Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2006

Thursday, January 29: The group was split up into four buses, each going to a different series of wineries. Our group first visited Pietro Zanoni in the hills north of Verona. They have 6.5 hectares. He has five different clones of Corvina planted. New barriques only for Amarone.

Winemaker Pietro Zanoni

  • Pietro Zanoni Valpolicella 2012 (70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella): 6 moths in old barriques. Ruby coloured, cherry and cherry pit nose, light and fresh, sour cherry flavour with a peppery note, Beaujolais-like. Fresh and easy drinking. (87)
  • Pietro Zanoni Valpolicella 2009: (70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella): ruby colour; tobacco, herbal notes above the cherry nose; smooth, good mouth feel, dry, sour cherry with a light floral note. (88+)
  • Pietro Zanoni Campo di Nari Valpolicella Superiore 2010 (ripasso): deep ruby colour; floral, almond, cherry with a forest floor note on the nose; dry, medium-bodied, cherry flavour with a firm frame. (88+)
  • Pietro Zanoni Campo di Nari Valpolicella Superiore 2009: deep ruby colour; leather, cherry nose; richer than 2010, more expansive on the palate; dry, medium-bodied, firmly structured. (89)
  • Pietro Zanoni Valpolicella Superiore 2002: mature ruby colour; soy, leather, dried cherry nose with a woody note; nature, dry, sour cherry flavour, firmly structured with a surprisingly tannic finish. (87)
  • Pietro Zanoni Amarone 2011 (two years in partly new oak): deep ruby colour; leather, cherry and spice with a light floral note on the nose and a vanilla oak note; dry, medium- to full-bodied, cherry flavour with a firm tannic finish. Needs time. (89–90)
  • Pietro Zanoni Amarone 2009: deep ruby colour; spicy, blackcurrant, light oak note; richly extracted, full on the palate, elegant, great structure; dry, mouth-filling with ripe tannins. (91)
  • Pietro Zanoni Amarone 2002 (34 months in oak): deep ruby and holding colour; leather, tobacco, cherry nose with mature notes; sweet fruit with lively acidity and chalky tannins. Beginning to dry with a savoury, herbal finish. Remniscent of an ageing Nebbiolo in that the sweetness has all but disappeared. (89+)
  • Pietro Zanoni Recioto della Valpolicella 2009: dense ruby colour; sweet, smoky black cherry nose with a floral note and vanilla oak; rich and sweet, raisiny flavour with great balance with a firm tannic finish. (90)
  • Pietro Zanoni Recioto della Valpolicella 2002: dense ruby and still holding colour; high-toned, rich and syrupy with evident tannins; sweet with blocking tannins on the finish. (88+)
  • Pietro Zanoni Valpolicella Ripasso 2012: deep ruby colour; leather, cherry nose; dry, medium-bodied, bitter almond and sour cherry flavours with lively acidity; firmly structured with good length. (88+)

Next stop: Santa Sofia, housed in a Palladio villa in the heart of the Vapolicella Classico region that dates back to 1560. Winemaker Giancarlo Begnoni, who took over the winery in 1967, showed us the 14th-century cellars under the villa and the special bottling of a commemorative wine for the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andrea Palladio.

Entrance to Santa Sofia winery

Santa Sofia’s Palladio villa

Giancarlo Begnoni of Santa Sofia

We lunched at Antica Trattoria da Bepi in Marano di Vapolicella – an amazing meal: mushrooms and polenta grilled over vine wood with black truffle shavings, followed by Biogli pasta with lamb sauce and Monte Veronese cheeses aged six months, twelve months and three years. Dessert: chocolate cake. The accompanying wines:

  • Santa Sofia Valpolicella Ripasso 2012: deep ruby colour; cherry bouquet with an earthy cherry pit note; dry, medium-bodied with a sour cherry flavour; elegant, good mouth-feel, fresh and lively on the palate. (88+)
  • Santa Sofia Monte Gradella Valpolicella Superiore 2009: deep ruby colour; high-toned cherry, Kirsch, dried rose petal nose with an oak note – rustic and sappy; medium- to full-bodied, dry and savoury. Old-style Valpolicella. (89)
  • Santa Sofia Arlèo 2005 (Corvina, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot): deep ruby colour; cedar, tobacco and vanilla oak bouquet; medium-bodied, dry, redcurrant and cranberry flavours – lean and sinewy, firmly structured with a lifted tannic finish. (89)
  • Santa Sofia Amarone 2009: deep ruby colour; smoky, plum with oak spice on the nose; dry, damson flavour with spice; full-bodied, dry and savoury with lively acidity. (90)
  • Santa Sofia Recioto della Valpolicella 2009: dense purple colour; spicy, balsamic and chocolate nose; surprisingly dry with bitter chocolate and cherry jam flavours. (90)

Best dish: mushrooms with grilled polenta and black truffles

Next stop Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi in Fumane, a small winery with 10 ha. under vine and agri-tourismo rooms. Valentina and her husband Giancarlo took over the property in 1960 and began bottling their own wine in 2003 rather than selling it other wineries.

  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi Imperico Valpolicella 2013: light ruby colour; cherry pit, tobacco nose; light, fresh and fruity; dry, sour cherry with lively acidity; easy drinking with a firm finish (87+)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi iltabarro Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012: ruby colour; cherry pit with a touch of oak; dry, medium-bodied, sour cherry with fresh acidity; easy drinking, good mouth-feel with a firm finish. (88+)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi arusnatico Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2012: ruby colour; cherry, tobacco leaf with touch of sandalwood; dry, medium-bodied, beautifully balanced with restraint; fine mouth-feel, fresh and lively on the palate with a red plum flavour. (90)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi morar Amarone Classico 2009: bright ruby colour; cherry and chestnut skin on the nose with a touch of oak; medium to full-bodied, spicy, black cherry, firmly structured with a touch of licorice, supple tannins. (90)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi morar Amarone Classico 2007 (33 months in 60% in botti/40% in barrique): mature ruby colour; cedar, tobacco, spicy, dried cherries on the nose; a sweet core of fruit, succulent and mouth-filling, beautifully balanced with a tannic lift on the finish. (93)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi morar Amarone Classico 2005 (33 months in 60% in botti/40% in barrique): deep ruby still holding colour; mature, soy, balsamic and dried cherry nose; beginning to dry out but still with lively acidity and firm tannins. (89)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi morar Amarone Classico 2003: mature ruby; tobacco, cedar, dried red fruits on the nose; still very much alive, with sweet plummy fruit, firmly structured with some hardness. (90)
  • Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi morar Amarone Classico 2001: mature ruby colour; cedar, dried herbs, dried cherries on the nose with vanilla oak; very Nebbiolo-like, dry, very elegant and polished, still firm and agile. (91)

Valentina Cubi and Silvia Rama

Over all, great quality here and wines of great delicacy. Our final stop for the day, Sartori di Verona in Pedemonte, established in 1898.

  • Sartori Marani 2013 (100% Garganega) (30% dried grapes – for 30 days; 10–15% fermented in barriques): light straw colour; white peach and minerally with a touch of oak; dry, medium-bodied, white peach, apricot and citrus flavours with a hard, bitter finish. (86+)
  • Sartori Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Valdimezzo 2012: deep ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose with a touch of vanilla oak; dry, sour cherry with a dry, herbal-spicy note. Medium weight. Savoury, acidic finish. (88)
  • Sartori Amarone Reius 2011 (tank sample): deep purple-ruby colour; shy nose at the moment, oak dominant; sweet and sour, dried cherries and chestnut flavours. (86–88)
  • Sartori Amarone Reius 2009: deep ruby colour; dry, savoury, black cherry nose; medium to full-bodied, dry, herbal-spicy cherry flavour, earthy finish with good acidity. Should age well. (87)
  • Sartori Isaltari Amarone 2008: deep ruby-purple colour; spicy, oaky, black cherry nose; dry, full-bodied, firmly structured, savoury, black fig and cherry flavours with lively acidity; firm tannic finish. (88)
  • Sartori Corte Brá Amarone 2008: deep ruby-purple colour; creamy, black cherry with oak spice on the nose; rich and soft on the palate; quite forward with black cherry and blackcurrant flavours. Ripe tannins. (89)
  • Sartori Corte Brá Amarone 2006: bright ruby-purple colour; cherry, pencil lead bouquet with a cedar note; soft on the palate, ripe tannins; nicely structured with balancing acidity. (89)
  • Sartori Corte Brá Amarone 2001: deep ruby-purple, holding colour; gamey note on the nose, minerally, savoury-herbal tones; dry, and firm on the palate, elegant with evident tannins, Needs time still. (89–90)

Arrived back at the hotel to see a sign on the door of the wine bar opposite that it had been closed for a funeral. The group walked over to a local restaurant, Osteria Il Clottoio, Corso Cavour 39/C. The menu, charcuterie, salad, cod fried with onions. Dessert: chocolate salami. The accompanying wines: La Dama Valpolicella Classico 2013, Corte San Benedetto Valpolicella 2013, Casal Vegri Valpolicella 2012, Cà La Bionda 2012, Montecchi Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2011.

Chocolate salami dessert

Friday, January 30: Our first winery visit today was Roccolo Grassi in Mezzane di Sotto. Marco Sartori, the winemaker, couldn’t use his family name for the winery as there was the established Sartori winery since 1898.

  • Roccolo Grassi La Broia Soave 2011 (80% oak-aged, 20% stainless steel): straw coloured; spicy peach nose with a fragrant oak and almond note; dry, medium-bodied, apple and white peach and apricot with a lively strain of acidity and a mineral thread. (89)
  • Roccolo Grassi La Broia Soave 2012: straw coloured; minerally, white flowers with a discreet oak note; dry, medium-bodied, white peach with vibrant acidity, clean and crisp, crab apple flavour. Great length. More classically Soave than the 2011. (90)
  • Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore 2011 (50% dried grapes): deep ruby colour; minerally, black cherry, wood spice on the nose; rich and ripe plum and cherry flavours, soft tannins, lovely mouth-feel. Savoury finish of bitter chocolate. (91)
  • Roccolo Grassi Amarone 2011: dense ruby colour; spicy, richly concentrated black cherry, blackcurrant and mulberry, notes in the bouquet; full-bodied, initial sweetness gives way to savoury balsamic flavours of cherries and bitter chocolate. Powerful and fleshy but well balanced and belies its 16.5% alcohol. (92–94)
  • Roccolo Grassi Amarone 2009: dense ruby colour; cedar, tobacco, malt, chocolate bouquet; rich and full on the palate, blackcurrant and dark chocolate flavours; supple, grainy tannins. Powerful at 16.5% and still tight with a cocoa-like tannic finish (91–93)
  • Roccolo Grassi Amarone Recioto della Valpolicella 2009: dense purple-ruby colour; high-toned, rich fruit cake nose; rich and porty, firm structure, concentrated black cherry flavour, sweet with a lively acidic spine, Great length. (92)

Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore  2011

Next stop Cantina di Soave. A tour of the cellars and then a lunch tasting.

  • Cantina di Soave Araia Soave Classico 2013: very pale colour; perfumed, rose petal, pear nose; dry, light-bodied, peach pit flavour; touch of bitterness on the finish. (86)
  • Duca del Frassino Soave Classico 2013: minerally, light floral note on the nose; dry, pear flavour; light-bodied, crisp, easy drinking with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (87)
  • Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2013: pale straw colour; floral, mineral, pear skin nose; crisply dry, fresh and lively on the palate; good length. (88)
  • Rocca Alata Vapolicella Ripasso 2013: deep ruby colour; floral, cherry nose; light-bodied, dry, cherry pit flavour. (87)
  • Botticato Valpolicella Ripasso 2013: light purple colour; rose petal, cherry nose; dry, light-bodied, fragrant cherry flavour with lively acidity. Easy drinking. (88)
  • Rocca Sveva Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara): deep ruby-purple colour; rose petal, cherry and blackcurrant, very fragrant nose; dry, medium-bodied, elegant and fresh. Easy drinking. (89)
  • Rocca Alata Leggermente Appassito Rosso Veneto 2013: (Corvina 70%, 20% Rondinella, 10% Merlot): deep ruby-purple colour; fragrant, cherry and rose bouquet; medium-bodied, dry, fruity black cherry flavour with a firm tannic finish. A little short but delicious. (87)
  • Cadis Amarone della Valpolicella 2011: deep ruby colour; perfumed, spicy cherry nose; dry, white pepper and cherry flavours; medium-bodied, dry, firmly structured with a tannic lift on the finish. (89)
  • Rocca Sveva Amarone della Valpolicella 2009: dense purple colour; fragrant, violets, black cherry; medium-bodied, dry, soft on the palate, lively acidic spine with the firm finish. Well made. (91)
  • Rocca Sveva Recioto di Soave Classico 2009: floral, honey, peach nose; medium-sweet, nicely balanced sweet peach and peach flavours. (90)

The castle in Soave

Next visit, Corte Lonardi. Guiseppe Lonardi and his daughter Silvia farm 7 hectares in Marano.

  • Corte Lonardi Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2012: ruby colour; spicy, cherry. Medium-bodied, dry, sour cherry with lively acidity with a cherry pit finish. (88)
  • Corte Lonardi Privilegia 2012 (Corvina 80%, Cabernet Franc 20%, dried one month and co-fermented): deep ruby colour; inky, cedar, cherry and redcurrant nose; dry, firmly structured, creamy, vanilla notes. Youthful. Needs time to soften tannins. (88–90)
  • Corte Lonardi Amarone Classico 2011 (70% Corvina, Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 5% Croatina): deep ruby colour; lifted plum and dried cherry nose; well extracted, savoury-herbal cherry flavour rounded out with oak. Tight at the moment with evident tannins. (89–91)
  • Corte Lonardi Amarone Classico Riserva 2010: deep ruby colour; lifted spicy, raisiny, pear nose with smoky oak notes; richly extracted, sweet plum and cherry flavours with a pencil lead note. Lively spine of acidity. Needs time. (90–92)
  • Corte Lonardi Recioto della Valpolicella Le Arele 2012: dense ruby colour; earthy, sweet plum and tobacco nose; sweet black cherry with an orange peel and pencil lead finish. (89)

Next stop, Gamba in Marano di Valpolicella, near the second winery we visited on Wednesday. Gamba is owned by three Aldrighetti brothers (in a family of nine siblings). They have 5 hectares of vines and produce between 70,000 and 80,000 bottles. Martino Aldrighetti, the winemaker, conducted the tasting.

  • Gamba Vapolicella Le Quare Classico 2012 (stainless steel): ruby colour; fresh, cherry pit nose; dry, peppery sour cherry with a light floral note. (87)
  • Gamba Vapolicella Ripasso Campadel Classico Superiore 2011: mature ruby colour; vanilla oak, cherry, savoury-herbal note on the nose; dry, rustic, sour cherry and plum flavours with lively acidity; ripe tannins. (88)
  • Gamba Campdel 2012 (Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Croatina, Oseleta): dense ruby colour; creamy, cherry, orange peel nose with a mineral note; richly extracted, black cherry flavour with lively acidity. Dry and full-bodied. (89+)
  • Gamba Amarone Le Quare Classico 2011: dense purple colour; spicy, cherry nose with evident oak; richly extracted, dry and savoury plum flavour; firmly structured and nicely balanced. (89–91)
  • Gamba Amarone Le Quare Classico 2010: dense purple showing some ageing at the rim; herbal-leather notes, dry red fruits on the nose; sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit, intense and forward. (90)
  • Gamba Amarone Le Quare Classico 2007: dense purple colour; creamy, vanilla, black cherry nose; well balanced, full on the palate, dry, dark chocolate and sour cherry flavours; great mouth feel. (91)
  • Gamba Amarone Classico Campdel 2010: dense purple-black colour; cherry, dried herbs, vanilla oak nose; rich and full on the palate, dry and savoury; firmly structured, dark chocolate, fine spine of acidity. Needs time. (90–92)
  • Gamba Amarone Classico Campdel 2005: dense purple-black colour; minerally, spicy, black cherry with vanilla oak on the nose; rich and mouth-filling, sweet plum with leather notes; full-bodied and tannic. (89–91)
  • Gamba Amarone Classico Campdel 2004: dense purple-black colour; savoury, leather, cherry nose; full-bodied, lean and elegant, firmly structured with evident tannins. Needs time. (89–91)

View from Gamba’s terrace, Marano di Valpolicella

Back to the hotel and at 8 pm the group met in the hotel lobby and walked over the opera house for a tour of the museum there. The most fascinating display was a series of music stands set up in front of a large screen. On each stand was the score of a much-loved aria and if he moved your hand over it a film of the aria was projected on the screen.

Prop from Aida at the opera museum

We moved into a series of rooms where hundreds of bottles of Vapolicella and Amarones had been set out for tasting. Finger food was passed around on trays as we sampled. Evan Saviolidis and I left after an hour to have dinner at Ristorante Greppia, Vicolo Samaritana 3, in the centre of the city. We ordered a bottle of Allegrini Vapolicella 2012 and I had a plate of smoked salmon pasta.

Saturday, January 31: Today Anteprima Amarone 2011 began at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia with a formal address by the president of the Valpolicella Consortium, Christian Marchesini. He said “Amarone is the engine of the economy” in Veneto. His consortium was represented by 64 wineries.

Amarone tasting served by sommeliers

Then a tasting of the Amarones from 2011. We sat at tables and sommeliers brought the wines to us by request. I sat next to Evan Saviolidis and together we tasted through some 60 Amarones. (My top three were Aldeghieri, Bennati and Accordini Stefano.)

Evan Saviolidis tasting Amarones

My top three Amarones

A buffet lunch followed and in the afternoon Luca Martini, AIS world’s best sommelier, conducted a blind tasting of Amarones from vintages 1998, 2003 and 2006.

Sommelier Luca Martini 

Elisa Biasolo at the Santa Sofia booth

The entire group of international journalists walked from the hotel for a dinner of pizza and beer at Ristorante San Matteo Church. A fitting end to a huge day of wine tasting.

Pizza and beer – the final dinner 

Sunday, February 1: Up 6:30 am to finish packing and prepare to get the airport for my flight to Toronto via Frankfurt.

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