Monday, November 7, 2022

Amarone Calling: Walkaround and Master Class with the UK Sommelier Association

First rate gathering of producers from the Consorzio Valpolicella who displayed their products in London at a walkaround tasting event organized by the UK Sommelier Association. Thank you Andrea Rinaldi and Federica Zanghirella for the opportunity and a mission brilliantly accomplished.

A master class in the afternoon, delivered by Peter McCombie MW, provided a useful educational framework with plenty of facts and figures about  Valpolicella wines and specifically about the holy trinity of this region: Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto.

The Master Class

In the maps printed here, courtesy of the Consorzio della Valpolicella, you can locate the regions of Valpolicella, with its "classic" part in west. 

Lake Garda mitigates what would otherwise be a more difficult continental climate.

The main varieties used here are corvina (56% of the total), corvinone (16%), rondinella (20%) and molinara, with some marginal additions like oseleta. All red berried, no white wines. 

Total production has skyrocketed with the increasing popularity of Valpolicella wines, and by 2021 it was over 70 million bottles, of which about half was Ripasso, one quarter Valpolicella DOC and one quarter Amarone.

These wines, almost unknown outside Veneto and certainly outside Italy until the 1980s, has became so appreciated worldwide that now over 60% of production is exported to 87 different countries for over 600 million euro of turnover. This activity keeps busy 2,250 grape growers in Valpolicella, 6 cooperatives and 344 bottlers!

As Peter put it, these allow winemakers to produce one blend, four wines in four different styles, and here below is a summary description.

1. Valpolicella, the foundation of all regional wine, a classic blend of the grapes mentioned above.

2. Ripasso Where Valpolicella wine is left with the pomace from Recioto and Amarone for a second maceration which adds alcohol, body and tannins.

Pair it by concordance with structured food like red meat or aged cheeses, or by contrast with fatty food like cold cuts or soft cheese.

3. Amarone The front and center protagonist today, "Big Bitter" wine is actually rather smooth and it can even have traces of sweetness in it. It is produced by drying berries on straw, wooden or plastic mats for about six months prior to vinification. About half the weight of the berries is lost as they gradually shrink and concentrate their sugars, acidity and, crucially, glycerin which will contribute to the smoothness of the final product. 

This methodology has now become popular in other regions of Italy (for example in Puglia) and beyond, and the word "appassimento" (literally meaning "withering") has entered the international dictionary of wine.

There is some danger of noble rot appearing as the harvest is delayed, but this is generally NOT favored by winemakers who try to harvest before and avoid it as it might alter the typical flavors of amarone. However some to make use of it as best they can.

Fermentation of the thick and dense berries is at least ten days, and abv can easily go as high as 16%.

Aging is at least three years, four years for riserva wines, usually in a mix of large barrels and barriques.

Pair it by concordance with medium structure food like ragù, white meat or even roasted fish.

4. Recioto The names comes from the "recie", in Veronese dialect the "ears" or upper part of the bunches, which receive more sun and hence produce more sugar. Today the whole bunch is used and fermentation is blocked by lowering the temperature in order to produce a sweet wine.

Pair with chocolate mousse, or don't bother pairing it at all, just have it by itself!

We tasted 14 wines in the master class, here are my three favorites:

Amarone classico 2015
Chocolate notes for a perfectly balanced wine.
Score 93

Amarone classico 2013
Complex, long and chocolaty, with leather notes. Ready now, one of the best today.
Score 96

Amarone 2016
A long complex and balanced wine at its peak now.
Score 95

Walkaround tasting

It was not easy to select a shortlist, but here below are some of the best wines tasted in the walkaround at Dartmouth House. Listed in the order I have tasted them.

Bertani, an old hand making wine since 1857

Valpolicella Ripasso Valpantena 2020
Intense aromas, perfect balance and very complex.
Score 93.

Amarone Classico 2012 (!)
This is the vintage they have just released. They tell me how proud they are, and justifiably so, of their patience where others rush to the market. After 100 days of appassimento, Bertani lets Amarone age in oak for 7 years, no less, followed by 3 years in the bottle, before they sell it. An amazing result, this Amarone is full of tertiary notes, perfectly balanced and very long.

Valpolicella classico superiore 2018
He calls this "his own version of ripasso" because of how he makes it. And it does taste like one. A powerful wine with long potential for aging.
Score 94

Amarone classico 2017
Archetypical example of amarone, with a good balance and complexity.
Score 93


Amarone classico "Il Lussurioso" 2018
Luxuriant in name and in fact, an elegant wine, complex and long. It patiently waits for 30 months in big barrels and the 1 year in the bottle and it is now ready but with some potential for further evolution.
Score 94

Recioto "Il Narcisista" 2019
Buglioni has some fun with his choice of names and also in this case he gets it right. One year in big barrels presents us with a smooth sweet wine which is looking forward to its pairing with a chocolate mousse.
Score 92

Amarone classico riserva 2013
Time well spent in the barrel for this perfectly balanced, long and complex amarone, one of the best this afternoon.
Score 94

Recioto classico 2020
A classic sweet recioto, they block fermentation by cooling down the partially fermented must all the way to freezing point. A moderately balanced moderately long version of this Venetian classic.
Score 86

Amarone 2011
A top-of-the-range product, with multiple notes of ripe brack fruit and tertiaries. A long and complex amarone that is now mature. One of the best today.
Score 96

Amarone classico riserva "Marta Galli" 2011
A complex and incredibly long wine, it was worth the wait and it is mature now, don't wait if you are lucky enough to get hold of a bottle.
Score 95

Ripasso classico superiore 2020
An easy wine, relatively, that is, as no ripasso is ever a simple wine; only 1 year in large oak barrel, ready now with limited potential for evolution.
Score 87

Amarone classico 2019
Lots of freshness after 2 years in large oak barrels, this wine requires patience, at least 5 years.
Score 87

Amarone classico "Simison"
Their flagship wine today. Hand picked bunches from 65-year-old vines in the Simison plot make it a monocru expression of the best potential for an amarone. Only 2000 bottles produced after 2 ½ years of aging in new barriques.
Score 93

Ripasso superiore 2018
Their first organic ripasso, 2 years in large barrel then 1 year in used barrique.
Score 92

Amarone classico 2017
Two years in large barrel and 2 more in barrique for a balanced final product.
Score 93

Ripasso classico superiore 2019
A high-end ripasso, complex and very round despite the young age.
Score 94

Amarone classico "Corte Valona" 2017
Ready now but personally I would let it evolve in the bottle another 3-5 years to achieve what would surely be a perfect balance.
Score 94 

Recioto classico "Le Novaje" 2019
A upper-range recioto, very smooth.
Score 93

Master class with Peter McCombie MW

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