Over the course of the following six days Good Food Revolution’s Jamie Drummond and Malcolm Jolley will be reporting live from the 2017 Anteprima Amarone in Verona.
Expect (hopefully) regular text, photo, and video postings, depending upon the viability of their internet connections…
Malcolm Jolley (3/2/2017)
As usual Jamie, did most of the ‘live-blog’ heavy lifting while we were in Valpolicella / Verona for Anteprima Amarone 2013 (confusingly, that’s the date of the Amarone’s that were released). I guess I am more of a ruminator and a little slow off the mark. I do have a ton to write about what I learned about Valpolicella, Amarone and the really lovely, and interesting women and men who make wine in those northern valleys of Italy. Stay tuned for more discreet posts form us both.
In the mean time, here is a quick list of broad revelations, or Amarone surprises, that came to me over the days we were there…
1. Elegant Amarone
I thought most Amarone and Ripasso wines were going to be heavy, hot and a little sweet. That style does certainly exist, but most of what I tasted was well balance, and sometimes even elegant – even at 16% or more alcohol by volume. Held up by the Corvina grapes robust acidity, I found lots of wines wanted food, badly.
2. Underated Ripasso
Ripasso, which is made by adding the leftover pomace (grape skins, etc.) from dried grapes used for Amarone to Valpolicella to add depth and complexity. Ripasso gets a rap as a kind of poor man’s Amarone, or in the rgion they’ll say “baby Amarone”. It’s also thought of often as recent marketing trick. But it turns out “re-passing” the pomace from the fermented Amarone (or tradionally sweet Reciotto) wine, is old exercise in peasant ingenuity and thrift. By making a Ripasso wine the people of Valpolicella could extend the life of their ordinairy wine (what we would now call Valpolicella Classico), which was never meant to last for more than a year, for a few more months. At any rate, there were some really lovely, superbly made Ripassi that we tasted, and we found more than a few winemakers who took it as a point of pride to put as much effort into their Ripassi as their Amarone.
3. Vini di Terroir
Amarone and Ripasso, I now think, have both a misbegotten reputation for being merely (or too much of) a vin de technique. I am not sure how drying grapes, or re-using pomace is any more technical, or somehow artificial, than ageing wine in barrels, controlling the temperature of fermention or any number of things that conscientious winemakers do after the harvest. (It could have something to do with appassimento being an Italian word and not a French one, ahem.) Anyway, on our travels through Valpolicella, we saw all kinds of vineyard variations: soil, altitude, types of planting and trellising. And we tasted variations by terroir. The importance of viticulture is no less there than anywhere else.
After a week in Verona I’ve had quite a serious 101 in the world of Amarone and its related wines. Having been relatively unfamiliar with the styles produced here, I came to the region looking to be educated and become more informed about the subject matter.
I have learned a lot, and finally come to terms with the fact that there is an entire spectrum of Amarone styles out there. It just so happens that the vast majority of the examples I had tasted previous to this trip were of the less-balanced style, and I was utterly bemused how people could possibly enjoy them with food.
After a week of tastings at 10 different wineries as well as a comprehensive blind tasting of all of the consortium’s 2013 releases, I’ve learned that the particular style of Amarone I was most familiar with was more of a wine for meditation and contemplation, perhaps better by itself or with some of the local Monte Oseleta hard cheese. A wine that one would perhaps enjoy better by the glass as opposed to by the bottle.
There are Amarone out there that are wonderfully-structured, with less than 5g of residual sugar, firm tannins and higher acids… wines that truly lend themselves to grilled meats (horse being a particular speciality of the region), local game, braised red meats, and donkey (another regional speciality).
Of the more elegant and food-friendly styles I found the wines of both Massimago and La Dama to be most suited to my particular tastes. The Massimago 2011 Amarone was certainly wearing its Winemaker’s stint learning about winemaking in France upon its sleeve, a wine of true finesse and verve, with an entrancingly persistent mineral and fruit finish. Across their entire range I found the wines of La Dama to contain a considerably higher tannic component than many of their peers, making them most suitable for some longer-term ageing.
Look for video interviews with both of these Winemakers over then coming weeks.
The house’s particular blend of grape varietals becomes rather important also. Does the winery embrace the reasonably recent trend for eliminating the traditional lighter-bodied, lighter-coloured Molinara, and then replacing it with the powerful Petit-Verdot-esque Oseleta? Or does the winery hold true to the tradition of using the Molinara, eschewing the trend for darker pigmentation in their wines, and allowing Molinara’s inherent salinity to bring a distinctive mineral component to the glass?
And then there is the question of oak. In blind tasting I was forced to discard a number of the wines on nose alone. Whilst they were admittedly extremely young wines, I could see very little wood/fruit integration coming through evolution. Saying all that, there is definitely a market for such wines, as many wine drinkers, particularly in North America according to many an Export Manager, truly enjoy that enormous hit of spicy oak coupled with super-ripe black fruit, and actively seek those wines out. Just take a look at many of the wines of this region that achieve many of those higher scores in certain publications. That’s not to say that these are bad wines. They are just not for my palate.
Tasting into the other wines of the region, the Valpolicella both DOC and Superiore, the currently favoured Ripasso, and the most traditional of all, the Valpolicella Recioto, it was fascinating to see how all of these in their myriad styles would fit in at the dinner table.
Despite being located right next door to the sizeable Soave DOC, most producers would guide you towards their lighter, fruitier Valpolicella DOC as a suitable accompaniment for fish and seafood dishes, and in many cases they were spot-on.
One producer, Damoli, took it one step further with an IGT Bianco della Veronese produced with the red grapes usually associated with the region. This white, despite some serious linearity, was actually rather successful in its ambitions. Another producer, the aforementioned Massimago, presented a fascinating sur lie Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia called “Zurlie” that was really very good.
Jamie Drummond (26/1/2017) 7:36am :
Jamie Drummond (25/1/2017) 10:05pm :
So, coming to this region with both an open mind and palate, the past two days have been both torturous and heavenly. There’s a lot more to Amarone than the absolute shite that we often see in the Ontario market.
Back in my wine purchasing days my staff would bully me weekly to carry an Amarone as the customers were (figuratively/allegedly) gagging for it.
I was bullied by the floor staff into listing Amarone, not a wine style that I thought to fit with our menu, nor the tastes of the sophistes and bohemians that chose to frequent our wee bôite on Church Street. Saying that, we did see our fair share of Victor Loewy-esque characters, who would call for a 16% (plus!) red wine with some wonderfully delicate Ontario lake pickerel.
There is seriously no accounting for taste, but each to their own. Right?
The problem was that
99% 80% of the Amarone that was available for sale to restaurants in Canada was pretty terrible. It was foul wine that the Veronese were more than happy to ship off to the gullible Canuck market… let’s not forget that “BRAND AMAROME” is seen as being as luxury consumer product.
And herein lay the problem…
What we were getting was raisened, tired, flabby, sweet juice, that unfortunately many equate with Amarone to this day. Don’t think for one second that the Italians would touch this stuff.
However… over the past decade some things have changed.
There are some superb fooooooooooooooood Amarones out there… you just need to know where to look.
Yes… food friendly Amarone.
Today I tasted a wine that blew my mind.
And I never thought I find myself saying that about a wine style I have over the years grown to dislike to an almost violent, vitriolic extreme.
I have tasted some tremendous wines from the region over the past few days, but this one… this one…
It was so bloody great.
Memorable in so many ways… and I rarely utter such words.
It spoke to me.
It spoke to me of the grapes, the vineyard, and the Winemaker.
For me, the holy triumvirate.
Plus it tasted really, really good.
More to follow…
Jamie Drummond (25/1/2017) 4:44am : Ah yes…
Hello jet lag, my old friend. I’m wide awake at 4.30am.
Some pics of yesterday, including some donkey pasta (a regional speciality), THEE Juliet balcony, authentic and delicious salumi, and some rather exquisite horsemeat.
Verona is a lot chillier than it looks in these photographs. I must remember to wrap myself up a little better for my winery tours today.
Malcolm Jolley (24/1/17): 1pm: Flight left foggy Frankfurt at 8am this morning, then just as we approached the dentals of the Dolomites, the Mediterranean sun broke through, giving us an amazing Alpine view. The morning sun has stayed with us over Lake Garda and down into the Adige Profundo. Is crisp at 5c, but with lots of picture postcard snow on the hills and mountains to the north. Forecast for the same all week. Today was a day off, the real work starts tomorrow in the vineyards and cellars, and lunches and dinners with the vignerons.
845pm: I am in an osteria, Osteria dal Calviere, tucked a few blocks away from Verona’s famously intact coliseum (here called the arena) digesting a horse steak – the local specialty. Jamie has died of jet lag (I am quickly bound to join him), returned to the hotel and left me with more than a half bottle of Veronese red (Allegrini La Grolla 2012) to finish. We spent a few hours this afternoon walking around the old city until we found a salumeria, Stella Gartonomica, where we tasted local cheeses and cured meats with different wines, making friends with pigeon Italian. The restaurant at a quarter to nine is just filling up with locals, one of whom has brought his daschund. Feel like we’ve seaked into Veronese life a little bit on our first day. So tired. Must try and beat jet lag for our 9am start tomorrow.
Jamie Drummond (23/1/17) Well, this is a real first. In all the seven years of Good Food Revolution, Malcolm and I have never had the opportunity to travel overseas together. Sure, we have been in various parts of Canada in each others company, but this trip to the 2017 Anteprima Amarone will be a full-blown GFR tag-team experience.
As well as getting excited about the prospect of a week’s tasting and dining alongside Mr. Jolley, I’m also seriously looking forward to learning about a wine region that I have little real hands-on experience with.
I’m also pretty happy about the prospect of a week’s international liveblogging, as I was quite concerned about how we were supposed to produce an issue with both of us being away.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s hoping that he can find some killer food pairings for Amarone, as they have eluded him over his past 25 years in the business.