Zoltan travels to Verona to taste Amarone.

January 27th is my birthday, so I woke up on a Boeing Lufthansa flight just about to be landing in Verona, and bumped into the lovely Nadia Fournier from Montreal while getting off the plane. The poor gal had lost her luggage and after dealing with the situation, we we’re picked up and driven to Cantina Valpolicella Negrar (producing 7 million bottles of vino per year, 1.2 million bottles of Amarone), just outside of the city.

A birthday-worthy tasting awaited me: 20 years of Amarone! It was a brilliant presentation by the winery’s oenolog, and of course, a seriously tasty lunch.
The occasion and reason of this trip was to attend Anteprima Amarone, organized by the Consorzio of Valpolicella (kudos to the amazing Federica Schir and her team). I went in part for the possibility of sampling the latest released vintage of this fine wine, that being the 2012.
Many winery visits have also happened throughout this really well organized affair, not mentioning plenty of dining and wining, sightseeing, conversation, fun, camaraderie and new friendships formed.
Most fascinating for me was to experience the evolution in style of Amarone, in its relatively short history, to learn about the ideology of winemakers, antagonistic in many cases, discovering the subtle differences between the sub-zones of Valpolicella, as well as trying to find my own likes when comes to making, drinking and enjoying this historic wine.
Some of the producers are working hard to revive some the ancient native varieties such as Spigamonte, Croatina, although Corvina is king grape of the area, accounts between 45% to 95% of production, with Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara, Oseleta, Denela, Corbina, Turchetta, and more also used in blends. Some the top vineyards are planted on red marl, utilizing the classic Pergola Veronese trellis system.
I also enjoyed the few tastings comparing not only vintages, but the different climates and grape blends. I personally favoured the higher altitude wines (the Valpolicella DOC covers 11 valleys in 2 municipalities in the surroundings of Lago di Garda).

2012 Amarone tasting
 Aside the several winery visits, 78 Amarone from the 2012 vintage from all different producers were sampled at the Gran Guardia palace on one of the mornings, and I have concluded that this vintage is solid, resulting many bold, but not overdone wines, with pronounced tannin lines, wines made in many – many styles (old school vs. modern, old wood vs. barrique, botrytis and if so, how much of it, even the use of trellis, Pergola vs. Guyot, can bring sublime nuances to the wines), with varied residual sugar content and oak / aging regime. There were a few clear standouts… And after such hard work I needed a good bowl of donkey stew and horse meat, in many ways of preparation.
Some my favourite producers include Boscaini Carlo, Corte Sant’ Alda, Secondo Marco, La Dama, Tenute Salvaterra, Recchia, Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Masi, Corte Figaretto, Novaia and more… really good Valpolicella classico and “ripasso” (a style that’s ever growing in popularity) come from these wineries also.
These pictures of the trip speak for themselves…
And I kept hearing that the 2015 vintage is top, some winemakers even said “the vintage of the century”…
I cant wait for my next visit to Valpolicella! Salute!

Zoltan 150Zoltan Szabo is a sommelier and wine consultant based in Toronto. Follow him and his wine adventures on Twitter at @ZoltanSzabo.