In these first days of January 2019, BIBENDA, one of the most authoritative Italian wine guides, was published. For those interested in other Italian wine guides, there is the “Espresso” guide, belonging to an important publishing group, and “Gambero Rosso” guide, which refers to the group that created the Slow Food movement. Then there are also guides by famous food and wine critics and sommeliers such as Luca Maroni, Luca Gardini, Bruno Cernilli, etc..
Bibenda guide refers to Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (FIS), a group that few years split from major Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS). It is known that Italians, since the Middle Ages, have liked to divide themselves into opposing factions, and spend a lot of their time in fratricidal feuds fuelled by hatred and rivalry. The world of wine is no exception and between divisions, mergers, etc., there are now quite a few sommelier associations: AIS, FIS, ONAV, FISAR, etc..
Bibenda is a Latin word that means more or less “Things that must be drunk“. The guide reviews about 20,000 Italian wines, by about 2,000 wineries divided by region.
As an evaluation system, the guide assigns “grappoli” i.e. “grape bunches” (the other guides use glasses, bottles, stars, etc.). Top wines are assigned 5 bunches that correspond to an evaluation between 91 and 100 points. For some years now, the guide has only been released in the digital version.
Although quite short, the descriptions of wines are always rather courtly and with very sophisticated descriptions of aromas and flavors. At the end of each review there is a food paring suggestion.
Although in the past Bibenda often proved to be stingy in terms of bunches and evaluations towards Valpolicella, this year’s special ranking of the best 10 wines includes Amarone 2010 from the Trabucchi winery in Illasi, in the extended Valpolicella area.
Here are the tasting notes from the guide:
“Dark in its ruby red dress tending towards garnet, with excellent consistency. To the nose it offers intense aromas of wild berries jam, marasca cherries and ripe plums, dried red roses, cigar box, cinnamon and hints of graphite, ending with Boero chocolate and a breath of ethereal. The palate is very thick, enveloping in softness, decisively warm without excesses, calibrated freshness, velvety and well-present tannins. The finish is long and well defined. Ages in steel for one year, then in barrique for 36 months. Rest in bottle for 2 years.
Food pairing: Donkey stew with polenta.”
In addition, 20 other Amarones were awarded with 5 bunches.
Amarone 2013 Villa Rizzardi di Guerrieri Rizzardi
Amarone 2014 Monte Zovo
Amarone 2010 Bertani
Amarone 2014 Allegrini
Amarone 2014 Stefano Accordini
Amarone Capitel Monte Olmi Riserva 2012 Tedeschi
Amarone Ca’ Florian Riserva 2011 Tommasi
Amarone De Buris Riserva 2008 Tommasi
Amarone Costasera Riserva 2013 Masi
Amarone Mazzano 2011 Masi
Amarone Riserva 2006 Valentina Cubi
Amarone Sergio Zenato Riserva 2012 Zenato
Amarone TB 2009 Tommaso Bussola
Amarone Terre di Cariano Riserva 2013 Cecilia Beretta
Amarone Col de la Bastia Riserva 2014 Fattori
Amarone Famiglia Pasqua Riserva 2010 Pasqua
Amarone Fondatore 2015 Montresor
Amarone i Prognai 2011 Fratelli Giuliari
Amarone Leone Zardini Riserva 2011 Pietro Zardini
Amarone San Floriano Riserva 2011 Brigaldara
We’re not big fans of wine guides in general. We believe that the appreciation and evaluation of a wine are too subjective and influenced by moods and moments to make them objective and absolute.
Moreover, the economic interests behind the guides are enormous. A top score by a prestigious guide or an authoritative critic can determine the economic fortune of a winery. We do want to believe that evaluations are always honest and sincere, but when there is temptation there can also be those who end up being tempted, even if only unconsciously. And big wineries can make a lot of pressure.
In any case, all these high scores for Amarones by a guide who has often favoured wines from Tuscany, Piedmont or emerging southern Italy cellars, are positively surprising. This excellent result can perhaps be explained by the wine making trends of recent years which are gradually bringing Amarone back to being an elegant and austere wine as traditionally it should be. After the excesses of wood taste caused by the overuse of barriques in the 1980’s and 1990’s and the cloying softness and concentration of the 2000’s, Amarone is finally finding its right balance, also thanks to the ageing process that is extending its lenght with the “Riserva” versions of many famous producers.
Another positive note are the few 2014 vintages that have obtained the 5 bunches. This means that, despite the bad weather conditions of that year, the few wineries that decided to make the wine anyway had enough courage and confidence in the potential of their grapes to produced quality Amarones.
Does wine will make you live longer? It is a quite important question since man has been drinking fermented grape juice since prehistoric age and wine consumption is still big in many countries. Some scientific researches seem to confirm a link between wine and longevity but, on the other hand, alcohol is well known to be harmful to human health. So the debate is still open and the situation might be far more complex than it seems.
Man and Wine. An 8K Years Old Story
Recent archaeological discoveries in Georgia, Armenia and Sicily found evidence of wine production back to an age between 6.000 and 8.000 years ago, which makes wine one of the oldest beverages produced by man. Studies on the DNA of ancient vitis vinifera (wine vine) seeds also show that man had already begun to select vines 9000 years ago.
The findings are fragments of terracotta vases on which scientists have found traces of chemical substances irrefutably attributable to the fermentation of grape juice and the preservation of wine. The excavations showed a production of wine that was already quite well organized, so that some archaeologists have even spoken of “prehistoric cellars”. Surely the discovery of wine is much older.
The fermentation of sugars is in fact a spontaneous process, which occurs naturally when a sweet liquid comes into contact with air and therefore with the yeasts ubiquitous in the environment. It is not difficult to imagine how man discovered wine by chance in an attempt to transport and preserve the surplus of fruit he gathered when it was most abundant. Accumulated in goatskin and earthenware jars, grapes accidentally crushed, juice dripped on the bottom, maceration started and consequently began the transformation of the fruit sugar into alcohol. And it is even easier to imagine how man then tried to replicate the same process as soon as he realized the intoxicating effects of the drink. The first hangover too must therefore be very old.
Wine and Ancient Gods
In the ancient cultures and religions of the Mediterranean the presence of wine is constant. During the Trojan War the Greek heroes celebrated their victories with great banquets where wine flowed in abundance and in the Odyssey Ulysses manages to escape from the monster Polyphemus making him drunk. The Greeks and Romans had more than one divinity linked to wine: Dionysus, Bacchus, Silenus, etc. and wine was a fundamental drink in the gatherings of philosophers because they were convinced (and we can’t blame them) that wine encouraged reflection and a warm exchange of ideas. Did you know that the word “symposium” in ancient greek language means “drink together”?!
For the Bible, Noah was the first to discover wine, and also the first to get drunk. And wine is also present in Gilgamesh, the oldest poem in human history. Christian religion has done nothing but continue and even strengthen this tie with wine, transforming it into the blood of Jesus. Wherever there was a church there had to be wine for mass and it was thanks to the monasteries that the vine continued to be cultivated even in the dark ages that followed at the end of the Roman Empire.
Wine Vs Water
In the Middle Ages, from the lists of provisions for men embarked on vessels for long voyages, we know that the daily consumption of wine per person (although it was lighter than today and was often diluted with water) was about 2 liters! Until not many years ago, in Italy wine was classified as food. In rural society where work was mainly physical, wine provided a valuable source of additional calories.
Such and so deep has been the connection between man and wine that it is not surprising that the relationship between wine and health has been investigated several times over millennia.
In Italian language there are many proverbs and sayings about how wine is healthier than water.
L’acqua fa male e il vino fa cantare (Water hurts and wine makes you sing)
Bevi il vino, l’acqua lasciala al mulino (Drink the wine, leave the water go to the mill)
Buon vino fa buon sangue (Good wine makes good blood)
Vino da cantina, brodo di gallina
mandano i medici in rovina (Wine from the cellar, chicken broth, send doctors to ruin)
Chi beve il vino prima della minestra
saluta il medico dalla finestra (Those who drink wine before soup greet the doctor from the window)
And it’s no wonder. In the past, many diseases and conditions were in fact caused by water. In Roman times, for example, saturnism was quite widespread. The pipes of aqueducts were made of lead, which released its toxic oxides into water. There were also numerous diseases due to mold, bacteria and parasites that infested wells and containers in which water was stored and transported.
On the other hand wine, sterilized by fermentation and containing alcohol and tannins that are natural preservatives, was often a much safer drink.
Wine and Ancient Medicine
In ancient Greece, Rome and the Middle Ages, there were many famous physicians who described the curative qualities of wine: Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), Galenus (129 – 200 BC), Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 BC) all agree that wine was very useful for healing wounds, which should not surprise us considering that today we know the antiseptic properties of alcohol. And they also recognize its restorative and febrifuge properties, in some cases even used as purgative and diuretic.
In the Middle Ages wine was used to mix in substances, often plants and herbs, which were used as medicines, so as to cover their bitter taste. Wine was also a fundamental ingredient of the theriacs, remedies believed to prevent any disease, very popular throughout Europe. The main ingredient was dried viper meat to which they added other secret ingredients such as bitter herbs and various substances. We can only imagine how disgusting the taste must have been. No wonder they tried to hide it by mixing it in strong wine. One of the most sought-after theriac was produced in Venice where apparently they even added opium to the mixture.
There were, however, also those who warned against excessive consumption of wine, such as Androcite, Alexander the Great’s personal physician who, probably after seeing the effects of excessive consumption of this drink on his illustrious patient, said that wine, as well as a remedy, can become the most powerful of poisons.
Wine and Health Today
Today tap water is perfectly healthy and we have even too much calories available for our sedentary jobs. Also in Italy, as in the rest of developed countries, wine is no longer considered a food, but it is mainly drunk for the pleasure that comes from tasting it and the euphoria and conviviality that it provides. However, there are still many people who do not give up a glass of wine as an indispensable part of a meal.
And we also continue to question the relationship between wine and health, today, however, using the tools available to modern scientific research.
The results of many studies and researches conducted on the relationship between wine, health and longevity are however controversial. While it is clear from abundant scientific literature that alcohol, even in small quantities, is harmful to the liver and brain, and can cause cancer, there are studies that seem to relate moderate wine consumption to the prevention of certain diseases and an increase in life expectancy.
The French Paradox
At the origin of all there is a famous scientific research, that was later named the French paradox.
Towards the end of the 1980s, two scientists (Renaud and De Lorgeril) compared the correlation between eating habits and cardiovascular diseases. The conclusions were that the higher the average daily consumption of animal fats, the higher the mortality due to cardiovascular diseases. All 17 countries examined showed the same correlation with the exception of France where, despite the high consumption of animal fats, there was an unexpected low mortality rate from coronary heart disease.
In trying to explain this anomaly, the two researchers compared the diet of the populations examined and noticed that the French drank more wine than all the others. The hypothesis was that such a drink could counterbalance the negative effects of too many animal fats. Since the negative effects of alcohol had already been widely documented, the hypothesis was that there must have been other substances in wine responsible for the positive effects found.
This research led to the discovery of resveratrol and other similar substances, such as piceatannol, pterostilbene, epsilon-viniferine, piceide (glucoside of resveratrol).
In grapes and fruit in general, resveratrol is naturally present. It is mainly found in the skin, especially of red grapes where it has an antifungal function.
Its content in wine depends very much on the climate, the location of the vines, the techniques of cultivation, processing of the grapes and even on the specific vintage. Climatic conditions that favor a slight fungal attack increase the synthesis of resveratrol in the plant that tries to defend itself. In addition, since resveratrol is present in the grape skin and not in the pulp, its content is higher the longer the wine is left to ferment together with the grape skins.
The biological activities of resveratrol are varied and well documented. First of all, from a clinical point of view, its protective action on cardiovascular diseases has been scientifically demonstrated. The substance also has a powerful antioxidant activity. The anticancer properties of resveratrol, supported by several studies, are still awaiting clinical confirmation.
Although most of the benefits ascribed to resveratrol have been scientifically confirmed, the high dosages required to obtain such “protective” effects have seriously reduced the enthusiasm for red wine. Even if there is no univocal indication for this, various studies suggest that in order to reach the levels of resveratrol required to have positive effects, the amount of wine intake would be such (several liters per day), that the harm caused by the alcohol would exceed the benefits of resveratrol.
It would therefore seem vain to hope to exploit the antioxidant properties of resveratrol through the consumption of wine, unless you want to have at all costs an excuse to drink big amount of wine saying that you are doing it for your health.
In the meantime, however, rasveratol has ended up in beauty creams and dietary supplements, and the question remains open. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that wine is a compound of more than 6000 substances including minerals, vitamins, tannins, polyphenols, acids, etc., and that the mechanisms of action of each one and their interactions have not been fully investigated yet.
The French paradox was subsequently questioned by many researchers who also accused it of being biased (the researchers were French), and did not fail to arouse controversy, particularly for the use for promotional purposes that was made of it. After the discovery of resveratrol and its benefits, some producers in fact began to advertise wine as a healthy beverage. Which, given the alcohol content, is obviously not. Although a moderate consumption of wine may be healthy, excess is always and in any case harmful to the body.
The Copenhagen City Heart Study
A previous Danish study had already noted a correlation between wine consumption and longevity. This is the so-called Copenhagen study.
In 1975 a large prospective study on cardiovascular disease was launched on a sample of 20,000 men and women living in Copenhagen. The study was called “Østerbroundersøgelsen” or, in English, “The Copenhagen City Heart Study”.
The original aims of the study were to understand the causes of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, by analyzing the lifestyle of a sufficiently large number of people.
The results of the long study included the fact that wine drinkers had a lower risk of stroke and heart attack than those who don’t drink wine. The greatest benefit was for those who consumed three to five glasses of wine a day, which is much more than the recommended dose of one to two glasses a day that most health experts agree on. The strange thing is that Danes who consumed one to two glasses of wine a day had a significant reduction in deaths, but less than those who consumed a little more. The same study also confirmed previous researches that had found that among those who consume three to five doses of hard liquor a day the mortality rate increases by 30% compared to those who drink none.
Wine and Longevity
If we consider that, according to WHO data, cardiovascular diseases, i.e. heart attack and stroke, are the first causes of death in the world, it is not surprising that those who drink wine moderately have a higher life expectancy than those who do not drink it or those who drink spirits.
So is there really a correlation between moderate wine consumption and life expectancy?
At first glance, it would seem so. Italians, for example, are moderate wine drinkers. Their annual per capita consumption is about 33 liters, which is less than the French and Portuguese (about 43 liters), and more than the Americans (about 10 liters).
If we look at the list of countries by life expectancy, we notice that Italy is 2nd, with an average life expectancy of 82 years, higher than the French (15th with 81.66 years), Portuguese (49th with 79.01 years) and American (42nd with 79.50).
Even if it can be fun to make these kind of comparisons and correlations, and can provide smart conversation topics with friends, maybe at the table in front of a good bottle of wine, in reality things are certainly much more complex.
On the other hand Japanese, who are first in all life expectancy lists of countries, even if they have also recently started to consume wine, certainly do not reach the level of Italians, stopping at a modest 2.7 liters of wine per capita per year. Which somehow is challenging the above results. And maybe, right now, there is already some scientist who is doing research on the health benefits of drinking sake.
Wine and Lifestile
However, even if a moderate consumption of wine (2 glasses a day) can only do good, as ancient Greek, Roman, Middle Ages physicians, popular wisdom and modern scientists seem to agree, it is likely that in determining the longevity of a person are involved many other factors, among which there are certainly genetics, lifestyle, physical activity, access to medical care, and food culture. Which cannot be considered only for the consumption of wine, but in which it is also decisive the type and quantity of fats, sugars, fibers, vitamins, etc., that are consumed.
Those who drink wine, are probably more inclined to moderation, they do it more for the pleasure of tasting its complexity, enjoying its scents, its sensations, with the company of friends and loved ones. Compared to those who instead indulge with spirits and are more likely to binge drink.
Wine lovers perhaps tend to be more conscious and refined also in other aspects of their diet and lifestyle, and it is the set of all this in the end that probably determines longevity.
As every year for more than a decade now, the usual Anteprima Amarone event was held last January. In the prestigious Palazzo della Gran Guardia in the center of Verona, a number of Valpolicella wineries present samples of a vintage not yet bottled to the public and the specialised press. The year of the last edition was 2014. A particularly important year because it marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) for Amarone.
However, this event is beginning to show signs of fatigue and many are beginning to question the real usefulness of this event.
If the aim is to draw some attention to the Amarone product, then perhaps it is understandable. It actually brings a bunch of international wine journalists and critics to Verona, some influencers, newspapers have something to write, social networks are filled with shots of full glasses and beautiful girls with a serious and rapt face while smelling wine. The halls of Palazzo della Gran Guardia are crowded with wannabe-successful-sommeliers engaged in intelligent conversations and elaborate descriptions of aromas and scents.
If, on the other hand, the aim is to evaluate the actual potential of a vintage yet to be bottled, then its usefulness is certainly questionable and the fact that “preview” events are multiplying even for wines with short production period, to be consumed young, confirms that these are events mostly made to attract a little attention, creating an allure of exclusivity for people that are made to believe that they are great wine connoissour.
If you are not a fully trained oenologist or a highly experienced sommelier, it is almost impossible to assess the potential of a wine with a such a long aging and evolution like Amarone simply by tasting samples from the barrel.
To overcome the disappointment of the majority of visitors, who pay a ticket every year more expensive, when they taste such sour and astringent wines, the organizers allow exhibitors to bring even bottles of previous vintages (and include in the admission a quite lavish catering).
Moreover, in a scenario in which production egulations establish only the minimum aging of two years, and each producer canthen decide to leave the wine longer in the barrels, you end up having in the same event wines from the same vintage that have just been bottled and barrel samples that might be marketed in 1, 2, 3 years, with a lack of homogeneity that can give rise to great confusion and even damage the image of participating wineries.
Perhaps these contradictions, together with the constant producers feuds, are the reasons why many wineries, especially the most important and famous ones such as Masi, Tommasi, Allegrini, do not participate the event or, if they are present, they do so by bringing their second lines, such as Bertani, which participate with Amarone Valpantena with an aging of only 2 years, and not with Amarone Classico which remains in cask for 5-6 years.
This year there was one more reason for perplexity. In fact, 2014 was a very controversial and difficult vintage, ravaged by rain, low Summer temperatures and hailstorms. Many wineries decided not to produce Amarone at all, as the grapes would not have been able to withstand a drying period of three months. In the 2014 Amarone Preview, wineries were therefore allowed to bring in the next vintage: 2015. This has given rise to further controversy. In fact, the bad weather conditions were not the same throughout the territory and for all producers. Some were able to obtain satisfactory results and were able to put a certain amount of grapes in their fruttaio (grapes drying lofts). The rumor that 2014 will not be a good vintage by now, however, has spread among professionals and wine enthusiasts, and could create problems for those who still managed to make Amarone that year. The choice made by Anteprima Amarone, to allow those wineries that have not produced this vintage to present new ones instead, will only worsen the bad reputation of 2014, damaging those who, thanks to the position of their vineyard and the ability in the cellar, did a good job.
In short, there are many reasons to reflect on this type of event. Perhaps, for a wine with the long aging and evolution potential like Amarone, it would make much more sense to hold an event where the public is presented with a vintage 5, 10 or more years after bottling, understanding how the wine in this time improves, refines, develops new aromas and flavor, comparing various producers on this. But this is unlikely to happen because it would put a lot of pressure on cellars, with comparisons that for some could be really merciless. It would be easy to reveal those work whos thinking about the future and those that instead looks for immediate results.
Like every year, the beginning of February is time for our usual Amarone vintage report. Due to the crazy weather that we will discuss later in the post the squeezing of the grapes of Amarone, like all other steps of the process, has been delayed and will be over probably by Valentine’s Day in mid February.
As always we do before our vintage reports, we need to stress beforehand that for a wine such as Amarone it is always necessary to wait few years before you can really assess a specific year, no less than 3 (2 in barrel and 1 in bottle), preferably few more before the wine is ready to drink, and other 10 to understand the aging potential of a specific vintage.
Nevertheless the raw material, the grapes, more than anything else determines the quality of a wine. Therefore by analyzing what the weather conditions were like during the year you will obtain quite useful information to assess the future of an Amarone.
Another important preliminary remark is that you have to mistrust all those winery owners, wine makers, marketing managers of big cellars, wine critics, etc., that every time say that a year will be a great vintage. You never have to lie to the consumer, whether he is a wine expert or not. If a vintage was not particularly good, you have to admit it with no hesitation. It is very important to create a trust relation with all those who love Amarone, not just between them and a specific cellar, but with the whole producing area: Valpolicella. They will appreciate good vintages, average ones and will get enthusiastic about the real memorable ones.
The last important remark is that, if the wine-maker decide to make Amarone (and some times they decide that the year do not allow to do that), the result will be up to the hard quality standards required by quality certification, without which they cannot market the wine. These quality standards are improving every year, especially since the introduction of DOCG quality label in 2010 vintage. It is almost impossible to find a bad Amarone on the market. You will find good Amarones, excellent Amarones and average ones, but you will never be disappointed by your wine.
After this long introduction let’s see how the year 2013 was. Winter was particularly long, with cold temperatures until the end of March. Consequently vegetative phase started in second half of April avoiding the risk of Spring frost. Nevertheless Spring remained cool and wet, with quite heavy rains that continued until the first half of June. This caused an unusual growth of shoots and leaves. Rain and cool temperatures during flowering caused also a reduced pollination. This is usually considered positive since grapes clusters with less berries are ideal for Amarone and Recioto production because they dry easily and uniformly.
End of June and beginning of July have been characterized by intense heat and insolation. Those producers that anticipated pruning to reduce the excessive development of branches and leaves caused by Spring rains, especially those that have guyot trailing system, suffered some sunburned bunches. August was relatively stable, dry and not too hot, similar to the type of Summers that were common in Italy until 15 years ago. Temperature variation between day and night was also quite high and many producers foresaw a good development of acidity and aromatic substances, possibly signs of a great vintage.
Unfortunately the end of August and beginning of September brought few violent hail storms, especially in Valpolicella Classica. Some vineyards were completely devastated, especially the lower end of Negrar valley and the lower stripe that links Pedemonte with San Pietro in Cariano along the main road.
Due to the long Winter, the rainy Spring and relatively cool August, full ripening of grapes was very late compared to the average of the last decade. Most wineries started harvest between the end of September and the beginning of October, when weather started to become unstable again. It is not possible to pick grapes when it rains. Vine roots absorb water, diluting sugar content and other substances inside berries and wet clusters cannot be dried for the production of Amarone. It is usually necessary to wait at least a couple of days after rain to resume picking. Harvest continued with starts and stops until the end of October. Continuous raining prevented the regular conclusion of harvesting, especially for what concerns the selection of grapes to be used for Amarone and Recioto.
In the end there was an average production decrease of about 20-30% that, in some cases reached even 50%.
With the end of harvesting weather conditions didn’t improved much with rains, humidity and relatively high temperatures until the end of November. This didn’t helped the drying process. Mould and rot developed easily, especially on the last grapes harvested, richer in water and with thinner skins.
Things were a bit easier for those producers that uses drying centers with humidity control.
With December temperatures eventually dropped and rain stopped with a progressive stabilization of drying conditions for those grapes that had “survived”.
In the end the 2013 Amarone vintage has been characterized by lights and shadows. Until August it had the potential to be a great vintage for all but September hail and rain spoiled the plans. In the end, grapes that reached the end of drying process should have a quite good quality, but quantity will be reduced.
In any case quality will depend on the location of vineyards. This is always true but for vintage 2013 it will be particularly important. Those grapes picked in area where maturation was a bit anticipated were less affected by rain.
Another important factor will be drying process. Those wineries that used humidity controlled room will probably have a higher production with good quality.
Before buying it is always a good rule to know in depth the winery that produces an expensive wine like Amarone: were the vineyards are located and which wine-making technique are used, and it is even more important in those difficult vintages like 2013. But most important of all it is the honesty of a winery that will tell us the truth about their wine and the trust we have in it.
Like every year, at the end of January, the next vintage of Amarone to be released on the market is presented to wine professionals, journalists, and wine enthusiasts. The cost of entrance has increased in recent year to discourage those who would like to go just out of curiosity or as a chance to drink a lot of expensive wine. Entrance ticket was 25 euro per person.
The event is held on the ground floor of Palazzo della Gran Guardia, the old military academy of Verona built in XVII century and now used as a multipurpose center. On the second floor there was a beautiful exhibition of landscape painting from XVII to XIX century including many works by famous impressionist painters such as Monet. The event took place on January 25th and 27th and the Amarone vintage was the 2010. This vintage is particularly important because it is the first that will be released with DOCG certification a stricter set of production rules that should ensure higher quality standards.
At this Amarone Preview participated 58 producers, a relatively small percentage of the 272 wineries that are part of the Valpolicella Consortium, the association that sets Amarone and other Valpolicella wines DOC and DOCG production rules, promotes Valpolicella wines all over the world, and organizes Amarone Preview too. At Anteprima Amarone (Amarone Preview) usually are presented Amarones that have the minimum ageing requirements set by production rules and that normally will be released on the market the same year the event is held. The minimum barrel ageing requirement for Amarone is two years. Although few wineries that have longer aging for their Amarones were at the presentation, most producers among those that do three or more years of barrel aging, usually do not participate. Amarone that will be released in 2, 3, 4 or more years will be too young to be appreciated half way in its maturation process. Also the wineries that are part of the “Famiglie dell’Amarone” (Amarone families) association decided few years ago not to participate Anteprima Amarone. This means that wineries such as Allegrini, Masi, Tommasi, Zenato, among the biggest producers in Valpolicella, were not there.
There is probably more than one reason for this. Many of these wineries usually have longer ageing time for their Amarones or at least have some wines that age for the minimum required and others that age longer. Bringing one wine and not the others, like for example did Bertani that presented its Amarone Villa Arvedi (2 years in barrel) but not the Amarone Classico (6 years), might be a bit confusing for the consumer. On the other side, Famiglie dell’Amarone association decided few years ago to differentiate from Consortium following its own promotional activities.
2010 is generally regarded as a quite average vintage. Spring and Summer were quite rainy. This caused an over development of leaves and branches that needed to be pruned. On the other side harvest was relatively dry. Nevertheless there was a reduction in the quantity of grapes that could be selected for the drying of Amarone.
In general the wines we tried at Anteprima Amarone had an overall nice balance between acidity, tannins and alcool that anyway, in most cases, was quite high, around 16-16.5%. This high alcool content is a common trend of the past ten years due to increasingly hot Summers and longer drying of grapes. Another characteristic we noticed is a return to more traditional Amarones, with wines a bit less powerful and concentrated and more elegant and balanced. Definitely a good news for those who like to pair Amarone with food.
Most wines were mainly samples taken directly from barrels or bottled few months ago and still in the middle of their period of bottle aging. Therefore it didn’t surprise that in many cases tannins were still a bit harsh and aromas not well blended together with spikes here and there. Considering that these Amarones will be ready in no less than other six month (for some 2-3 years) and will have an ageing potential of 10-15 years it is required a big effort for people tasting to assess wines in perspective, tray to figure out how they might mature in the future. To make it easier to understand how a fully mature wine will be, since Anteprima Amarone 2008 producers participating the event are allowed to have on tasting also an older vintage. This time most wineries had the 2008 or 2003.
This year we tried Amarones 2010 from the following wineries: Accordini Stefano, Buglioni, Ca’ dei Frati, Corte Archi, Corte Sant’Alda, Fasoli Gino, Gamba, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Latium Morini, Massimago, Monte Cariano.
A nice surprise was the Amarone by Ca’ dei Frati, a winery located in southern lake Garda area that is famous for their Lugana white wine. Few years ago they bough few vineyards in the east Valpolicella area and since 2008 they’ve been producing Amarone. It is often said that white wine makers are good at producing very elegant red wines but the other way round generally do not give good results. Either way Ca’ dei Frati Amarone was exceptionally elegant and smooth.
Another very elegant and well balanced Amarone was the Monte Cariano‘s one. The winery is located in the Valpolicella Classica and although their 2010 will be released on the market only in 2-3 year time, the barrel-sample was already very promising.
We also noticed Fasoli‘s Amarone, a winery located at the beginning of Val d’Illasi, in eastern Valpolicella. Their Amarone was extremely powerful with 17.5% of alcohol, yet smooth and very pleasant. Fasoli is one of the winery that have been producing organic wines for a long time and, thanks to the new European law that regulates organic wine making and not just organic grape growing, from 2010 they will be allowed to write on the label Vino Biologico (Organic wine). Before the label could only show: “wine made with organically grown grapes”. Another very interesting organic winery whose Amarone 2010 we tried at this event is Corte Sant’Alda.
Beside the Amarones, one of the treat of the event is the buffet lunch by Corrado Benedetti, one of the greatest salami and cheese makers in Valpolicella. Those who attended the event had free access to a huge selection of cheese: MonteVeronese of different aging, from the fresh one to the rich 36 months one, Cimbro aged in grape skins, chestnut leaves, sage and rosemary, goat and sheep cheese, ricotta paired with fruit mustard and wine jellies. And then salami: ham and row ham, bresaola, lardo with garlic and herbs, soppressa veneta and much more.
Desserts were provided by Perbellini, the pastry shop owned by the family of starred chef and Master Chef Italia judge Giancarlo Berbellini, with their famous millefoglie stracchin, cantuccini and pepper corn cookies, sbrisolona almond cake, panettone and offella, and since we were already in Carnival period, galani and frittelle.
Every year, towards the end of February, Bertani winery opens the gates of its historical headquarter in Grezzana, in Valpantena, just outside Verona, to clients, importers, restaurant owners, wine journalists and friends.
It’s a great event attended by hundreds of people who have the chance to walk freely in the wide spaces of the historic cellar, in the fermentation area with traditional wooden vats, old glass lined cement containers and modern temperature controlled tanks, and then in the aging cellar, with the big casks of Slavonian oak and the countless 600 liter “fusti veronesi” barrels in various types of wood: chestnut, acacia, cherry, widely used in the past when oak was rare, and reintroduced recently in the pursue of traditional tastes.
Along the way are set up tasting stands where it’s possible to taste the complete line of Bertani wines. This year, the current vintage of the famous Amarone Classico Bertani was 2005. Exceptionally, this year, also the vintage 1975 was on tasting, proving, if proof were needed, the exceptional longevity and developmental potential of this extraordinary wine.
Bertani treated all guests with a lavish buffet with a huge selection of cold cuts and cheeses of various ages, including many varieties of Monte Veronese, and then again risotto, polenta with braised beef, sausages and sauerkraut, all to be paired with Bertani Soave Sereole and the famous Secco Bertani.
The event was also the occasion to announce to the public of professionals and wine enthusiasts two important developments.
The first was the presentation of the new line of Bertani wines, produced according to ancient XIX Century recipes found in the company archives. Even the graphic design of the bottle and lable was taken from that of its origins.
The second is the announcement that from 2013, Bertani, which traditionally has always been a rather reserved winery, will open its doors to all fans who want to visit the winery and try their wines. This is a very important and exiting announcement for all those working in wine tourism. Bertani will certainly become an important landmark in Verona wine tours.
While the must that will become Amarone 2012 is waiting to start the fermentation inside tanks, vines pruning activity continues in vineyards. In a couple of weeks it should be completed in all Valpolicella area. Pruning determines the shape that vines will take, not only in the oncoming season, both also in the long term over the years. But above all, pruning determines how much the vine will expand and produce in the current year. Grape prduction is planned ahead by wine makers with pruning, and grape quantity per vine is one of the key factor that influences the quality of all wines in general and Amarone in particular. Pruning is therefore the first of many steps in that process that over many years will determine how good the Amarone of a particular vintage is.
Pruning should be done now that the plant is completely dormant.
It’s a quite simple activity but must be done accuratly. It consists in the removal from the vine-stock of the shoots that developed last year. Only one brunch, the most vigorous, is left, from this branch new shoots will grow from next April. On the trunk, lower than the main branch, a stump of another branch is also left. It is called “spur” (sperone in Italian), from it the main branch of 2014 will generate.
Now the main branch must be shortened to avoid overproduction. Around 8 buds are left. The autoctonous grapes of Valpolicella, Corvina in particular, develop fruiting shoots starting from the third bud. The two buds closer to the trunk only generate leaves, therefore from 8 buds left, only five or six will bear grapes. These are still too many for high quality, but it also allows some leeway in case something goes wrong during the year: spring frost, hail, etc.. If then the season is good and there is actually over-production, it is always possible to intervene with a green harvest that reduces bunches in excess before they ripen.
Once the pruning is over, the wires in the vineyards are tightened-up and the left branches are tied horizontally to the lower of these wires. New shoots will grow vertically and coil around the wires above.
The winter was quite cold and rainy. It’s February and temperatures continue to be relatively chilly, with temperatures few deegrees above 0°C (32°F). The last dried grapes for the production of Amarone and Recioto have been pressed. For the 2012 vintage, many wineries have done the pressing in December, but there are cellars that, in the pursue of for more concentration and complexity, have prolonged drying in the fruttai, the lofts specially equipped for the drying of grapes.
The must is inside fermentation tanks, full of the sugars naturally developed inside grapes during maturation and concentrated by the drying process. Companies seeking the absolute control of the production have added selected yeasts and are now maintaining temperatures inside the tanks to the desired levels with a system of cavities around vats inside which flows glycol, a fluid that can be heated or cooled as desired by a computerized monitoring system.
On the other side, most traditional wineries rely on indigenous yeasts naturally present on the skin of grapes. Cold temperatures slow down the action of yeasts that gradually activate and multiply inside the must. This is one of the secrets of Amarone. In winter, cold temperatures slow down the whole process, allowing a greater preservation of perfumes that, with most tumultuous fermentation due to high temperatures, would be likely to burn.
Each tank is equipped with a thermometer indicating the temperature of the must. At the moment they mark less than 10°C (50°F). As soon as the internal temperature begin to rise it will be the sign that fermentation has begun. Yeasts, “eating” the sugars in the must produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and, as a result of their activity, heat. In the middle of fermentation temperatures can reach and exceed 20°C (68°F). It is still a relatively low temperature compared to those that can be reached in October-November during fermentation of Valpolicella. For Amarone however, with the lower temperatures of February, the fermentation continues slowly and steadily.
While the cycle of production of Amarone 2012 is in full swing, a new cycle, the 2013 vintage one is just beginning. In fact we are now in the middle of pruning in vineyards. It’s a very crucial moment since it is now that wineries decide how the plant will develop in spring and how much grapes it will produce, thus determining to their quality.
The tenth edition of Anteprima Amarone took place at the Palazzo della Granguardia (XVII century) in Verona on January 26th and 27th 2013.
Anteprima Amarone has become a very important appointment for wine lovers and professionals: restaurant owners, importers, journalists and wine bloggers, the latter a category regarded with increasing respect and consideration.
The event is organized by the Consortium for the Protection of Valpolicella Wines (Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella) and aims to present a preview of the latest vintage of Amarone about to be bottled and put on the market. This year, the Amarone vintage presented was the 2009.
The event and its format certainly have limits, but for those who have the proper wine knowledge it remains an important and significant occasion for the assessment a specific Amarone vintage.
First of all, we must keep in mind that wines presented at Anteprima Amarone are those that fall within the minimum requirements of Amarone wine producing regulations. According to these rules, Amarone can be release on the market after a minimum of two years of aging in barrels. Considering the 3-4 months of grapes drying after harvest, this means that the barrel aging of 2009 vintage started in February / March 2010 and the wine was bottled around late 2012 and early 2013. Some wineries hadn’t bottled Amarone yet and in fact they where at the preview with samples taken directly from the barrel. Considering the required months of aging in bottle, the first bottles of Amarone 2009 will appear on the market in late spring 2013.
If two years of aging is the minimum required by Amarone appellation, it is also true that there are many companies that age the wine longer to obtain more complex and evolved Amarones. These wineries usually do not take part in Anteprima Amarone or, if they do, they usually bring their younger wine. It happens for example with Bertani, that brought its Amarone Villa Arvedi but not the Classic (that has 6 years of aging in barrel).
With Anteprima Amarone there is the risk for wine makers, to present wines that are still immature, taken directly from the barrels, not ready to be tasted at their best. That is why the event is designed especially for wine experts and insiders, those who can assess all the above factors and are therefore able to evaluate with the right perspective the potentials, trying to foresee how the Amarone tasted here will be in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 years.
To help with this forecast, this year wineries have been allowed to bring, together with the vintage 2009, mature vintages also, that could serve as a touchstone. Of course, every vintage is different, but it is important to have a measure of comparison. Many companies have taken the 2007 and 2008 Amarone, some wineries even older vintages.
Amarone 2009 Vintage Characteristics
The year 2009 was hot and dry, with a sugar content above average, partly due to high temperatures and lack of rain during the ripening of the grapes. The evolution potential of the wine is considered good.
In general, it the tastings carried out, it appeared a certain lack of acidity, which is confirmed by data collected by the Valpolicella Consortium, made available to the participants. Low acidity, good alcohol content (almost all the wines tested were about 16%) and body seem to characterize the Amarone 2009 with a certain softness that, seen in perspective, could result in a vintage with reduced aging potential. For an Amarone this could still be 10-12 years but 2009 might be a vintage that is better not to forget in the cellar as it usually happens for other Amarones bottles.
This is obviously a simple estimate, which may not apply to all producers of Valpolicella. Vineyards are not all at the same altitude and for those located higher it is likely that a wider thermal range may have favored the development of a higher acidity.
Another characteristic found in many of the tasting carried out, is foxy and spice aromas, the latter probably due to the fact that Amarones with shorter ageing time are usually aged in barrique. With time, especially during the bottle aging, various aromatic compounds will blend together and harmonize.
55 wineries participated this edition of Amarone Preview. We tasted Amarones from Ca ‘La Bionda, Clementi, I Scriani, Latium, Massimago, Novaia, Pasqua, Roccolo Grassi, Santa Sofia, Secondo Marco, Valentina Cubi wineries.
Tastings were made even more enjoyable by the buffet organized by the delicatessen shop Benedetti with magnificent Monte Veronese cheeses of various ageing periods and a rich selection of cold cuts. The desserts were from renowned pastry shop Perbellini.
Valpolicella Consortium allowed producers to pressing of dried grapes for Amarone and Recioto from November 19th. A bit early this year but not as much as 2011, even if for different reasons. A part from the lower Amarone line of some big, industrial winery, most cellar will wait probably another month before starting fermentation but we can say that 2012 harvest is now over. Of course it is still early to assess the quality of 2012 Amarone. First bottles will be released on the market around April/May 2015, and fermentation, ageing and other wine making processes will also be fundamental for the final result. Moreover, the qualities of such a long bottle ageing wine like Amarone can take decades to fully develop and express.
Nevertheless, since the quality of a good wine should be mainly made by the quality of grapes it is made with, it is now possible to start assessing and making few predictions on how the 2012 Amarone might be like.
2012 – a tricky year
2012 Winter has been characterized by a very low rainfall and snowfall not only in Valpolicella but in the whole Veneto region, with exceptionally low temperatures that didn’t affected vines (when fully dormant vine can easily withstand temperatures below freezing point).
Although below average, Spring in Verona province had sufficient rainfall to grant a regular sprouting and developing.
Like 2003 (that incidentally, for Amarone was a great vintage) 2012 Summer in Italy was one of the hottest in decades, with temperature that easily went above 40°C (104°F), in Northern Italy also. Rainfall in July and August was close to zero and in many areas of Valpolicella vines suffered from drought-shock that caused discontinuos maturation. “Rescue irrigation” was operated by those wineries that had irrigation system. Drought affected differently vineyards depending on the type of soil and on the age of vines. Older vines have longer roots that can find moisture deep in the ground, and the limestone plateau of the higher Valpolicella hills retains water better than pebbles and softer soil of lower Valpolicella.
Rains at the beginning of September brought sugar content in grapes up to the required level but nevertheless crop was -20/-30% for most wineries.
After the drought, September was very rainy, and the picking was done with a continuous stop and go.
In October, the big temperature difference between day and night favoured the developing of good acidity and flavours in drying grapes, but heavy rains and relatively warm temperatures in November caused high humidity levels that triggered off mould on those grapes that had not been perfectly selected.
2012 a vintage to monitor carefully
In the end, 2012 confirmed the curse of years ending with 2 being difficult vintages for Amarone. This doesn’t mean that it was like 2002 when most wineries decided not to produce Amarone, but nevertheless quality standards will not be as 2011 that, it is still early to say, will be probably quite high for most cellars.
Amarone lovers will have to choose carefully from which wineries to buy their favourite wine. It is always good practice, when buying a wine, to get as much information as possible on the winery, where vineyards are located, how they grow vines, how they age the wine and so on. For 2012 this will be even more important.
We will continue to monitor carefully 2012 Amarone evolution in next months and years through fermentation and ageing, with tastings and “previews” and regular updates.