Earthquake in Valpolicella

The damaged pinnacle on Sant'Amabrogio church.
The damaged pinnacle on Sant’Amabrogio church.

There has been an earthquake yesterday in Verona province. The epicenter was right in Valpolicella Classica wine producing region, between Negrar and San Pietro in Cariano villages. Magnitude was 4.3 on the Richter scale and shakes were clearly perceivable in Verona too. The earthquake was at 1.00 a.m. and many woke up and run outside their houses.

A lot of fright but virtually no damages a part from one of the four pinnacles that decorates the parish church of Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella that fell down.

The church is dedicated to St. Ambrogio that also gives the name to the village on the Western border of Valpolicella Classica, all surrounded by vineyards. Luckily none of the stainless steel tanks where Amarone 2011 is resting, rolled over. None a single bottle either was damaged.

Dried grapes at Bertani

amarone-bertani-racks-2
The last few bunches of dried grapes are taken from the racks

Again, the warm and dry Autumn accelerated the drying period for grapes that had been selected for the production of Amarone.
(Further detailes on Amarone production here>>)

Valpolicella Consortium, the authority that regulates the production of Amarone and other DOC and DOCG wines in the area, authorized wineries to squeeze dried grapes starting from November 15th, long before the 4 months that are usually the minimum requirement. Grapes had already lost more than 40% of their water content and sugars were highly concentrated.

Nevertheless, few wineries preferred to leave grapes on racks even longer. By doing this they can obtain even more concentrated wines and have more aromatic substances in the berries. A recent study by Verona university highlighted how the drying of Corvina, the most important grape varietal in the blend of Valpolicella wines, it is not just a simple dehydration, but triggers bio-chemical activities that enriches the aromatic complexity of resulting wines.

Among these wineries was Bertani, one of the oldest and most traditional cellars in Valpolicella. The last few bunches of Amarone grapes were collected from the drying racks made of river reeds only few days ago.

Empty drying rack.
Empty drying rack.

By now they have been squeezed and the must is now slowly fermenting in stainless fermentation vets.
Due to the exceptionally good weather conditions, Amarone 2011 vintage will be one of the best in recent years. First bottles will be released on the market in 2014 even if, those wineries following traditional method like Bertani, will start selling their wines in 6-7 years.

Every time of the year is good for a wine tour in Valpolicella. In every season you will have the chance to experience a different activity and a different step in the production of Amarone and other Valpolicella wine. Do not hesitate to contact us for further information on Valpolicella tours from Verona or other cities in northern Italy.

2011 Amarone grapes ready

Boxes full of dried grapes for Amrone waiting to be squeezed.
Boxes full of dried grapes for Amrone waiting to be squeezed.

Due to the early harvest caused by the exceptionally hot Summer 2011, and to the also exceptionally warm and dry October, after only two months of drying, Amarone and Recioto grapes are now ready to be squeezed and fermented.

Of course this is not a decision that a winery can take on its own. According to the strict DOCG regulations, it is the Valpolicella Consortium that sets the minimum requirements for any step in the process of Amarone wine making. And this happens also for those parameters that are subject to variations such as harvest, drying, etc. A wine maker then can decide to dry grapes longer, but not shorter.

For 2011 vintage, the Valpolicella Consortium allowed to squeeze grapes for Amarone from November 15th.

Amarone Le Ragose 1986

 

amarone-ragose
Amarone Le Ragose

Found an Amarone “lost” in the cellar and decided to open it. It was made by Le Ragose winery, a small, family run winery on the border between Valpolicella Classica and the extended Valpolicella wine producing area. Vineyards are located on the nice hills on the northern side of Verona with a stunning view over the city.

Found an Amarone “lost” in the cellar and decided to open it. It was made by Le Ragose winery, a small, family run winery on the border between Valpolicella Classica and the extended Valpolicella wine producing area. Vineyards are located on the nice hills on the northern side of Verona with a stunning view over the city.

Amarone it is really and incredibly long ageing wine. In spite of being a 25 years old it was still excellent. The color was maybe a bit lighter than an amarone made today is (many producers have excluded the light colored Molinara grape), with orange highlights and tended to get cloudy fast. These old wines are quite delicate and need to be drunk quickly after opening.

14% of alchol. Amarones made today usually are more alcoholic, and is a general trend in Italian wines also due to climatic changes in the past twenty years that influence sugar content in grapes.

Many Amarones from the ’80s tend to be a bit oaky. Barrique was introduced in those years in Valpolicella and, especially at the beginning, many wine makers overused it. Le Ragose at that time sticked to the old, big, un-toasted casks and the result is definitely a more elegant wine.

The palate is extremely round, with tastes of dried prunes, cherries in alchol, licorice, chocolate, leather, very complex but soft. Tannins are still present but very velvety.

Pizzoccheri
Pizzoccheri

It was paired with pizzoccheri, a typical dish of Valtellina, a mountain region in the northern side of Lombardia region, just above lake Como. It is made with buckweat pasta shaped like broad noodles mixed with cabbage, potatoes, butter browned with garlic and sage, a lot of cheese (the tasty and fatty Casera in the original recipe), grated parmigiano, black pepper.

Even if it is well known that Amarone is a long ageing wine it always surprises how good an Amarone can be after such a long time. In spite of being a 25 years old wine it was still excellent. The color was maybe a bit lighter than a young Amarone (many producers nowadays are not using any longer the light colored Molinara grape), with orange highlights and tended to get cloudy fast. These old wines are quite delicate and need to be drunk quickly after opening.

14% of alcohol. Amarones made today usually are more alcoholic, and is a general trend in Italian wines also due to climatic changes in the past twenty years that increased sugar content in grapes.

Many Amarones from the ’80s tend to be a bit oaky. Barrique was introduced in those years in Valpolicella and, especially at the beginning, many wine makers overused it. Le Ragose at that time were still using old, big, untoasted casks and the result is definitely a more elegant wine.

The palate is extremely round, with tastes of dried prunes, cherries in alchol, licorice, coffee, leather, a very complex but soft set of aromas. Tannins are still present but very velvety.

It was paired with pizzoccheri, a typical dish of Valtellina, a mountain region in the northern side of Lombardia, just above lake Como. It is made with buckweat pasta shaped like broad noodles mixed with cabbage, potatoes, browned butter with garlic and sage, a lot of cheese (the tasty and fatty Casera in the original recipe), grated parmigiano, black pepper.

Definetely a quite structured dish that paired perfectly with this important Amarone that maybe lacked a bit of acidity to counter balance the richness of the abundant cheese and butter.

Interestingly, Valtellina, the region where this recipe comes from, produces the only other dry red wine made with dried grapes like the Amarone. It is called Sfursat della Valtellina.

Le Ragose winery can be visited with Amarone Tours organized wine tasting tours in Valpolicella. Do not hesitate to contact us for any further information and detail.

Soave volcanic wines in the States

 

Vulcania wines logo
Vulcania wines logo

Vinitaly is the famous wine fair held every year in Verona. Vinitaly as an “ambassador” of Italian wines also organizes international events in some of the most important foreign markets such as India, U.S., Russia, Germany, Sweden, China, Japan and Korea in order to promote cooperation and communication between Italian wineries and key players in the wine business.

 

This Autumn Vinitaly U.S. at the Metropolitan Pavillon in New York, with the seminar “Volcanic Italy, an exploration of the explosive white wines of Soave and Etna“, promoted those Italian wines produced with grapes grown on volcanic soils. During the event were compared wines from Etna (Sicily), Campi Flegrei (Naples), and Soave. It was the first time that the concept of volcanic wine in the selection and appreciation of a bottle was presented to a foreign audience.

It is the Soave Producer Consortium that few years ago created “Vulcania“, the international forum of white wines produced on volcanic soils that includes: Etna, Campi Flegrei, Lessini Durello, Gambellara and of course Soave wines.

Amarone Tours organizes private escorted wine tasting tours in Soave area. For further information or to book one of our wine tours do not hesitate to contact us.

Two Amarones among the best wines in the world

Allegrini Amarone
Allegrini Amarone

Two Amarone wines will represent Veneto wines in the U.S.:

Amarone Allegrini and Mazzano Amarone 2003 by Masi winery, got both more than 90 points from the experts of Wine Spectator‘s at the Critic’s Choice Grand Tasting part of the New York Wine Experience event.

In the competition participated 250 producer selected among the best in the world.

Italian wineries were 41, half of which from Tuscany, 6 from the north eastern wine producing regions.

Amarone Tours regularly organizes escorted wine tasting tours in Valpolicella at Allegrini and Masi-Serego Alighieri wineries.

Amarone in Jazz

Amarone in jazz.
Amarone in jazz.

In Italy it is often said that Amarone is a Meditation Wine. Rather than pairing it with food, the best way to appreciate a great Amarone is probably at the end of a meal, slowly sipping it while talking to friends, listening to some good music, or just meditating.

That is why it is not a surprise how Jazz and Amarone is a perfect pairing. Amarone in Jazz Festival is a way to taste the greatest wine of Valpolicella while listening to great Jazz music.

The 2011 Amarone in Jazz, from October 24th until November 1st, will be the 4th edition of this festival that is becoming increasingly popular.

Concerts are held in theaters, restaurants, hotels, wine bars around Valpolicella, Verona and the surrounding areas. During the events it will be possible to taste Amarones of different vintages and producers pairing them with the music.

This year will participate the festival famous international artists: Paolo Fresu, Uri Caine, Martin Taylor, Misha Tsiganof, Myron Walden, Darren Barrett, Yakushi Nakamura, John Davis, Massimo Coppola, X-Press Trio, Diego Amador, Jorge Pardo Mocambo Quintet, Jim Mullen, Raphael Wressing, Lucas Knofler.

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.