Since the first Italian quality assurance label denominazione di origine controllata e garantita was named in 1980, 20 more have received the blessing.
Before 2009, when Amarone was asked to join this elite club, Asti Spumante and other questionably deserving wines were already in. Amarone della Valpolicella and its sweeter sidekick, Recioto della Valpolicella, have long been among the very top wines made in Italy. So, finally, viva Amarone!
Made from the Valpolicella grapes corvina, rondinella and molinara, both Amarone and Recioto are made in what is called the passito method where the grapes are dried on mats for months before being pressed, transforming them into what are basically raisins. In the case of Recioto, fermentation is arrested so a high level of residual sugar remains in the wine. To make Amarone, fermentation is completed, resulting in a rich, dry wine with ripe fruit, high alcohol and a bitter taste — amaro means bitter in Italian.
As mentioned last week, there were a greater number of impressive wines at the Tre Biccheri tasting than in previous years, and several were Amarone. A few were a little too oaky for my taste, but these three are beautiful examples of why this wine is worthy of the highest esteem:
Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, 2006 (Veneto, Italy): Stefano Cesari’s family has been toiling away at the very same soil since 1928. Fifty years later, he took the plunge and started bottling wine and now is one of the best and most consistent producers in Valpolicella. Full-bodied and earthy with spice, bittersweet chocolate, lush blackberry, black-cherry fruit and chewy tannins, decant for a day if you must drink it now or wait 10 years for it to come into its prime.
Suggested retail: $69.99
Massimino Venturini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Campomasua, 2005 (Veneto, Italy): A third-generation winemaker, Massimino Venturini presides over this 22-acre property. Venturini makes another Amarone also, but Campomasua is the flagship. Ripe and concentrated with voluptuous red and black fruits and a healthy backbone of acidity and tannin, this Amarone will age for a couple of decades, but is enjoyable now.
Suggested retail: $80.99
F. Lli Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Monte Sant’ Urbano, 2006 (Veneto, Italy): Speri’s wines have never moved me — especially when compared to Brigaldara — but I must say, this wine really took me by surprise. Family owned and operated for 150 years, the estate has nearly 50 acres planted on the Mont Sant’ Urbano vineyard. With lush, raw-cocoa-tinged fruit, black pepper, cedar and red currants, this is a terrific effort.
Suggested retail: $89.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.