A full day tour in Valpolicella

Monteleone winery in Sant'Ambrogio Valpolicella.
Monteleone winery in Sant’Ambrogio Valpolicella.

Today our full day wine tour takes us to a very specific area of Valpolicella: Sant’Ambrogio. Sant’Ambrogio is one of the five towns that constitute Valpolicella Classica, the historical wine producing region of Amarone, Recioto and Ripasso. Sant’Ambrogio is in the eastern side of Valpolicella, just before the gentle slope that takes you down to lake Garda and a completely different wine producing area: Bardolino.

In the territory of Sant’Ambrogio, close to the border with Fumane, there is the hill of Gargagnago, on which we find quite a few interesting wineries. Today we choose two small family run wineries with very small production all focused on quality. The first in Gargagnago a hill on the border between Sant’Ambrogio and Fumane in which we find quite a few interesting wineries such as Serego Alighieri, Masi, Corte Aleardi. The second is very close to the village of Sant’Ambrogio.

Villa Monteleone

Villa Monteleone cellar.
Villa Monteleone cellar.

Villa Monteleone is a small winery owned by Ms Lucia Raimondi who was led here almost twenty years ago by her passion for wine.

The estate is made of less than 20 acres of vineyard of typical Valpolicella grape varietals.

We came that harvest had just been completed and grapes were all inside the newly built drying builiding few minutes drive from the villa.

The tour includes a visit to the drying center and to the barrique cellar. At Villa Monteleone they are using both the French oak barrique and the more traditional 600 and 1000 literes casks.

The tasting includes Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto in the ground floor of the beautiful villa. Today we tried the 2006 Amarone.

Lunch in San Giorgio

We organized lunch in San Giorgio, a small village on the hill overlooking Sant’Ambrogio and the whole Valpolicella. From a small terrace in the center of the village it is possible to have a clear view of Lake Garda and the “sea” of vineyards that covers the hills and the valleys of Valpolicella Classica.

The village was an important religious center even before the Roman colonization of Northern Italy. The Romans built here a temple dedicated to Flora, the goddess of nature and agriculture. The remains of the tamples were covered by San Giorgio parish church, an ancient and austere Romanesque building dating back to the 8th century.

We ate at Rosa Alda restaurant in San Giorgio. In Summer it is possible to eat outside on the nice terrace.

The menu includes hand made pasta and traditional recipes such as horse stew with polenta and bean soup. Being October they also had fresh truffles of Lessini mountains and mushrooms.

Excellent wine list with many wines from local producers.

Meroni

Our second winery after lunch break was Meroni, on the road that links Sant’Ambrogio to San Giorgio.

Meroni is a small winery run by its young owner, third generation of wine makers.

The 20 acres of vineyards are litterally in the back yard of the small villa. Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara are the only grape varietals used.

Thanks to the position of the winery at the bottom of San Giorgio hills, the constant breeze let them have a completely natural drying of grapes.

Ageing is done in 800 liters Slavonian oak casks. Meroni’s Amarone is one of the longest ageing in Valpolicella, even 5-6 years in wood and one in bottle. They are now releasing their 2003, an extremely powerful yet elegant wine, with 17.4% of alchol! Meroni’s Amarone is called “Velluto”, meaning velvet in Italian, and if you taste it you will immediately understand why…

The oldest bottle of Amarone

Oldest bottle of Amarone
Oldest bottle of Amarone

Amarone wine lovers will be happy to know that now is possible to admire the very first bottle of their favourite wine. Today Amarone is a global success, and the production grew from 3 milion bottles per year in the 80s, to the 13 milion produced in 2010.

The very first bottle is enshrined in the caveau-cellar of Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, the first winery that bottled it in 1939.

The Legendary Birth of the Amarone

Like many other great innovations, the origin of the Amarone too happened by chance. The official birth dates back to 1936. Adelino Lucchesi, cellar master of Cantina Sociale Valpolicella, realized that he overfermented a barrel of Recioto, the sweet dessert wine that at that time was the top product of Valpolicella. When the winery manager Gaetano Dall’Ora tasted the wine, instead of yelling at the cellar master for his forgetfulness, prized him. Instead of a “Recioto andato in amaro” (A Recioto turned bitter) it was an “Amarone” (a great bitter).

With this name the new wine was bottled in 1939. Until 1990, on the label the name was “Recioto Amarone della Valpolicella” but with the grewing popularity of this wine they decided to leave only “Amarone“.

The Tour at Cantina Valpolicella Negrar

The tour will inclde a visit at the Drying Methods Museum where visitor will see how the drying process evolved during the years. In the museum are also displayed 40 samples of Valpolicella local grapes varietal, some of which particularly rare. Samples of different soils of Valpolicella are also shown.

The tour continues with the visit at the cellar with its barriques, the tonneaux and the big oak casks.

At the end of the tour there will be a tasting of the most representative wines of the territory.

Tours must be booked in advance, but for the whole October 2011, each Saturday Cantina Valpolicella Negrar will be open for visitors who want to deepen their knowledge of Amarone and Valpolicella wines.

Valpolicella 2011 harvest – drying grapes

Amarone grapes.
Amarone grapes.

The last few bunches of 2011 harvest have been picked in Valpolicella.

In big stainless steel vets, the fermentation of Valpolicella Classico is almost complete while the grapes for Amarone and Recioto wines are drying on river reeds racks or plastic crates piled up in lofts and grainaries under the roofs of wineries.

Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and othe grapes varietals used in the blend that constitutes all Valpolicella wines, in the four month of drying loose up to 40% of their water content. With 100 kg of fresh grapes you obtain 70 liters of Valpolicella. With 100 kg of fresh grapes, at the end of the drying period and the ageing in barrels you will obtain only 20 liters of Amarone, just 15 bottles!

Recent studies discovered how the drying process is not just simple dehydration but the stress of water loss, activates genetic portions of grapes DNA that develop particular aromatic substances. This happens especially in Corvina, the most important grape for the production of the Amarone. Of course, old wine makers knew that by experience, but DNA tests proved it scientifically.

Racks Vs Plastic Boxes

The drying is done either done on river reeds racks or in plastic boxes. Each method is allowed and has its pros and contras. River reeds are natural materials that can absorb excess of humidity. Surface contact between berries and round reeds is smaller, ensuring a better air circulation. Distance between each rack is quite wide so it is possible to better check grapes for unwanted moulds, especially during the first stage of drying, when water content is higher in grapes and temperatures are still quite high.

On the other hand, grapes laid inside plastic boxes in the vineyard do not need to be moved again on racks preventing bruises and demages of grapes bunches. Plastic boxes are easier to wash reducing the risk of leaving mould spores, unwanted foul smells, etc.

The drying process is totally natural. No temperature control is allowed by Amarone DOCG production rules. In some wineries, in particularly humid days or when natural breeze is scarce, use big fans to ensure a proper air circulation.

Wineries special Sunday openings in Valpolicella

The logo of Strada del Vino Valpolicella the association that promotes tourism in Valpolicella.
The logo of Strada del Vino Valpolicella the association that promotes tourism in Valpolicella.

To celebrate 2011 harvest, many wineries associated to the Strada del Vino Valpolicella promotion consortium decided to remain open for visitors on Sundays, when most wineries in Valpolicella are generally closed.

From the beinning of October until the beginning of December wineries will be open in turn for tours and tastings of Valpolicella wines and Amarone.

October 9th

Azienda Agricola Carlo Boscaini

November 6th

Cantina Sociale Valpolicella Calassico

November 13th

Cantina Santa Sofia

November 20th

La Dama Vini

November 27th

Azienda Agricola Trabucchi (Illasi)

December 4th

Aldegheri di Sant’Ambrogio

For those interested in organizing a wine tasting tour on Sunday in Autumn 2011, Amarone Tours can provide bookings and private escorted tours in Valpolicella wine producing area.

A typical winery tour in Valpolicella: Bertani and Allegrini

villa mosconi bertani
The 18th century façade of Villa Mosconi Bertani.

Bertani is one of the oldest and most traditional winery in Valpolicella. It was founded in 1857, older that Italy as a country, in Valpantena, an important wine producing area on the Eastern side of Verona territory, nowadays included in the extended Valpolicella area. The two brothers who founded the winery introduced very innovative wine making techniques for that time, and their wines became soon famous not only in Italy, but also in other European countries.

In 1958 they bought an historical estate in Valpolicella classica: Villa Novare, where our visits are conducted.
Novare extends over more than 500 acres of which 160 of vineyards. The rest is left as wood, parks, olive groves. At the center of the property is Villa Novare, a 18th century villa with painted ceilings, statues, side wings, a private chapel, etc.
Today Bertani follows a very traditional method in the wine making of its Amarone: grapes are dried on racks (arele) made of river reeds, and Amarone ages 6 years, one the longest ageing wine in Valpolicella, in big Slavonian oak barrels, 1 year ageing in bottle before the release on the market.

cropped-amarone-wine-ageing-barrels2.jpg
Amarone aging cellar at Villa Novare

 The winery tour at Bertani is very thorough: it includes a visit of vineyards, and park, a visit of the villa and of the historical cellar. The visit also includes a visit to drying lofts that in this period are full of grapes drying. The perfume of drying corvina is amazing.

The tour of the estate is followed by a tasting of a selection of Bertani’s wine. In this period the Amarone on tasting is the 2003 vintage. The year was characterized by an incredibly hot and dry Summer that reduced drammatically the production. Only grapes coming from vineyards high on the hills, where temperature were milder, were able to mature properly with a very high sugar content. In some wineries they obtained wines of more than 16% of alchol.

Bertani Amarone Classico 2003 is very powerful and rich wine, with hints of cooked cherries, dried plums and an almost balsamic finish. It would need probably other 4/5 years to be at his best gaining more roundness. Bertani’s wines are among the longer ageing wines not only in Valpolicella. In their wine shop they still have on sales vintages from the ’60s.

Allegrini Winery

Allegrini winery.
Allegrini winery.

The second winery of this half day winery tour in Valpolicella is Allegrini. Compared to Bertani, Allegrini looks more like a modern winery in the sense that they pursued the philosophy of combining tradition with innovation. It is the perfect combination with the visit and tasting at Bertani, giving the chance to compare two different approaches to wine making in Valpolicella.

Barrique cellar at Allegrini
Barrique cellar at Allegrini

They where among the first to introduce the French oak barrique in Valpolicella in the ’80s, the concept of single vineyards (like French crues), the drying of grapes in temperature and humidity controlled centers, the 100% Corvina grape wines that now are becoming quite popular among wine lovers.

Informal tours and tastings are always possible at their “show room“. The visit includes a quick tour of their barrique cellar. Hundreds of 225 liters barriques are nicely lined up in the beautifully lit underground cellar where visitors are overwealmed by perfumes of sweet butter and spices. Down to the second level of the cellar guests will have the chance to see the huge Slavonian oak casks where wines finish their ageing before being bottled.

The tour is then followed by a tasting of a selection of Allegrini wines. Of course it will be interesting to compare Valpolicella Classico and Amarone but also to try Allegrini original wines such as Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini interpretation of the ripasso and double fermentation technique and among their best sellers, and La Poja, Allegrini’s unique 100% Corvina grape wine.