Bibenda Wine Guide

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.

 

Label and back label of the Amarone awarded among the 10 best wines.

 

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.

Anteprima Amarone (Amarone Preview) 2014

Amarone Tasting
Tasting session at Anteprima Amarone 2014

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.

Amarone 2013 Vintage Report

 Selection of grapes for Amarone. Bunches are delicately placed on crates where they will stay for 3-4 months.
Selection of grapes for Amarone. Bunches are delicately placed on crates where they will stay for 3-4 months.

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.

2013 Weather

 Cracks on swallen berries of Molinara grapes. If juice enters in contact with air, unwanted fermentation starts, mould could develop and it is impossible to dry the grapes for the production of Amarone.
Cracks on swallen berries of Molinara grapes. If juice enters in contact with air, unwanted fermentation starts, mould could develop and it is impossible to dry the grapes for the production of Amarone.

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”.

2013 Forecast

Those grapes that were up to the quality standards required for the Amarone, beautifully dried in lofts above wineries in valpolicella.
Those grapes that were up to the quality standards required for the Amarone, beautifully dried in lofts above wineries in valpolicella.

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.

Anteprima Amarone (Amarone Preview) 2010

anteprima-amarone-2010
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.

Amarone 2010

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.

Tasting Notes

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: Monte Veronese 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.

Amarone 2009 Preview

Many bottles of Amarone on tasting at Amarone Preview had the label "Sample taken from the barrel authorized by Valpolicella Consortium"
Many bottles of Amarone on tasting at Amarone Preview had the label “Sample taken from the barrel authorized by Valpolicella Consortium”

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.

Anteprima Amarone took place inside Palazzo della Granguardia in piazza Bra, where the Roman amphitheater of Verona is.
Anteprima Amarone took place inside Palazzo della Granguardia in piazza Bra, where the Roman amphitheater of Verona is.
amarone-preview-2009-hall
The inside of Granguardia.

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

amarone-preview-2009-wines
A tasting of Amarone

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.

Pastry buffet by Perbellini.
Pastry buffet by Perbellini.

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.

2012 Valpolicella harvest report – How 2012 vintage Amarone will be

2012 harvest for amarone
Grapes for Amarone are selected directly in the vineyard and laid in plastic boxes that then piled up in drying lofts above wineries.

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.

drying grapes for amarone
Grapes for Amarone drying on traditional racks.

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.

Anteprima Amarone 2008

The inside of Gran Guardia palace where Anteprima Amarone takes place.
The inside of Gran Guardia palace where Anteprima Amarone takes place.

Every year, around January, Verona hosts Anteprima Amarone. It literally means Amarone Preview and is a two days event in which Valpolicella producers present to wine journalists, wine bloggers, sommeliers and other wine experts and lovers, their Amarone of the latest vintage that can be released on the market in the current year.
According to Amarone DOCG wine making regulations, the wine should age in barrels for at least 24 months after the year of harvest. Including the time required for fermentation, sedimentation and bottle resting (around 6 months) this means that in 2012, the youngest Amarone that will be possible to find on the market will be the 2008.

Some producers already have the Amarone properly bottled and ready to be sent to restaurants and wine shops, but others, especially those who are following a traditional wine making, usually present an Amarone that will be ready in 2 or 3 years and that at the moment is still ageing in barrels. In every case, the Amarones tasted at Anteprima will be young and often immature and unbalanced, sometimes with some harshness and still biting tannins or with different components not well combined together. This is the reason why Anteprima Amarone is addressed to wine connoisseurs or at least to people who know this type of wine very well. People attending Anteprima Amarone are required to make the effort to imagine how the wine they are tasting will evolve through the years, if it has a good potential to become a great Amarone in the next future. Someone attending this event with the usual wine tasting approach, thinking that he will try a lot of very enjoyable wines, in many cases could be disappointed by wines that are often not ready to be released.

The buffet with a rich selection of cheese.
The buffet with a rich selection of cheese.

This year, Anteprima Amarone was on January 28th and 29th, with the first day open to wine journalists only. The event was held at Gran Guardia, a beautiful 17th Century palace built for the military academy of Verona. The building is in the very center of Verona, in piazza Bra, the square where the Arena, Verona Roman amphitheater is. A good chance for many to visit Verona beautiful old town after the tasting sessions. On the second floor of the building there was an art exhibition about Verona 18th century painting. People attending the event also had the chance to visit this very interesting exhibition.

Producers who presented their 2008 vintages were 58, both from the Valpolicella Classica (historical Valpolicella) area, with producers from the territories of Sant’Ambrogio, Fumane, Marano, San Pietro in Cariano, Negrar, and from the extended producing area in the eastern valleys of Verona Province: Valpantena, Val d’Illasi, etc.

Next to the tasting area there was a buffet service were it was possible to pair Amarone with some of the greates local products: Soppressa Veneta (garlic salami), prosciuttos of all kinds, cheese like Monte Veronese, Cimbro, Parmesan and other delicacies. This year there was also a dessert corner prepared by the pastry shop of Verona most renown chef: Perbellini (2 Michelin stars).

The event was opened by Emilio Pedron, president of Valpolicella Consortium who expressed his sorrow for the passing of Giuseppe Quintarelli, probably the most renown and prized Amarone maker, on January 15th.

He then stressed how Amarone is being appreciated more and more both on Italian and international market. In the past ten years the production went from 5 million to 12 million bottle per year and the revenue from 160 million euros to 300 million.

The challenge is to keep up to the present quality standards and to fight counterfeiting. Due to Amarone great success, many wineries, not only in other Italian wine producing areas but also abroad, are now copying the appassimento, Amarone unique grape drying process. It is important Pedron said, to properly inform consumers so that they can make aware choices.

Anteprima Amarone is a must for all Amarone lovers and connoisseurs that will have the chance to deepen their knowledge of this incredible wine, finding in one single place wines from so many different producers, from the big world wide famous labels, to small family run wineries, each one with its own wine making style and secrets.

Even if you can attend Anteprima Amarone only upon invitation, Amarone Tours can provide entrance tickets and organize educational and appreciation tours for those who want to have a guide to take there around the exhibition, selecting the most representative wineries and planning the tastings. For further information and details on Anteprima Amarone or on other wine tours in Valpolicella and other Verona wine producing areas please contact: info@amaronetours.it

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.

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.