One of the highlights of this year’s Vinitaly was a retrospective of Amarone organized by Le Famiglie dell’Amarone d’Arte, twelve of the finer winemakers of the Valpolicella who have joined forces to promote the region and its wines.
I say retrospective rather than vertical because each winemaker contributed a vintage, and therefore what we saw was many different hands, which gave an overview of the territory, rather than a single hand one can follow as he or she grapples with the vintages.
It was a delightful tasting that once again convinced me that Amarone needs time: The youngest wines, 2004 and to a much greater degree 2007, despite their already being older than the vast majority of the wines you’ll find on the shelves in wine shops, were still painfully young, and while drinkable revealed only a fraction of their potential. It takes longer, quite a bit longer before that potential is realized, and once it is the wine can continue to climb for decades.
We started with a 1983 Speri, made long before Amarone had captured the attention of the world markets — Recioto was still the identifier, and it was labeled Recioto della Valpolicella Doc Classico Amarone — which was spellbinding, and moved forward from there, with several wines from each of the decades. Better vintages, as one might expect, and the wines speak for themselves:
1983 – Speri, Recioto della Valpolicella Doc Classico Amarone
Almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is deft, and clearly mature, with balsamic accents and sea salt mingled with strawberries and brandied cherries supported by powerful spice, considerable licorice root, and a fair amount of alcohol, and by warm mentholated accents. Very pleasant, and though mature agile and very much alive. Quite impressive. On the palate it’s full, and rich, with powerful f
airly sweet cherry fruit supported by intense slightly leathery acidity, and supported by smooth sweet leathery tannins that flow into lasting warmth. It’s quick to write, but extremely fresh with terrific acidity that keeps it very much on its toes, and it is quite graceful to drink. It’s a wine from a bygone era; there was a lot of Molinara, which confers freshness and acidity, and the harvest was much later than now, in the end of October. One would never guess it’s 30 years old.
1986 – Brigaldara, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Doc Recioto
Pale almandine with brownish black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is dusky, with intense leaf tobacco and licorice root supported by rather brooding accents and some greenish notes. It’s not as fresh on the nose as the 1983 Speri, and as it opens some Moroccan leather also emerges, with some brandied cherry as well. Pleasant. On the palate it’s quite fresh, with bright sour cherry fruit suppo
rted by brash acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bright berry fruit finish. The palate is beautiful, and while the nose does show its age, it has terrific freshness on the palate, and is very, very enjoyable. It’s less concentrated than many Amaroni of today, and much easier to drink — as it goes down it brings a smile. Graceful harmony, especially on the palate.
1988 – Masi, Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico-Serego Alighieri
This wine was aged for a period in cherry wood, a tradition of the Serego Alighieri family. Almandine with brownish black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, and rather brooding, with intense aged Moroccan leather mingled with brandied cherries and savory balsamic accents and some mentholated spice, with leaf tobacco and a fair amount of sweetness as well. A lot going on. On the palate it’s bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by bright sour cherry mineral acidity, and by tannins that are quite smooth, with a steely core to them, and flow into a clean cherry finish with a tart acidic backing, and is very long. Graceful, silky, and light on its feet, with pleasing delicacy as well. Most impressive; it’s one of those wines that captures the imagination and the attention.
1990 – Allegrini, Amarone Allegrini
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with considerable mentholated spice mingled with dried flowers and some brandied cherry fruit supported by peppery accents and some savory notes. Quite fresh and very pleasant. This vintage was a very fine vintage with a fine drying season too, and in some way led them to wonder how they might repeat the drying season with other vintages — In short, they began thinking about the artificial drying that is by now commonplace in the Valpolicella. On the palate it’s full, rich, and silky, with powerful cherry fruit supported b
y fairly bright berry fruit acidity and by tannins that have a warm slightly dusty burr, and flow into a warm slightly dusty tannic finish with pleasing jammy cherry fruit. It’s very fresh, and will age well for decades longer.
1995 – Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Amarone della Valpolicella Doc Campo dei Gigli
This was their first vintage. It’s deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, with considerable leaf tobacco and saddle leather mingled with brandied cherries and pleasing balsamic spice and a fair amount of alcohol supported by some gunflint, herbal accents, and licorice root. Quite a bit going on and impressive for a first vintage after all these years. On the palate it’s full, and fairly sweet, with rich cherry fruit supported by bright raspberry acidity and smooth sweet tannins that have a warm savory burr, and flow into a long bright sour berry fruit finish. Very pleasant, and still drinks very well. Terrific youthful freshness and one would never guess it is more than 20 years old.
1996 – Tedeschi, Capitel Monte Olmi Amarone della Valpolicella Doc Classico
Almandine with black reflections and almandine rim paling to orange. The bouquet is intense, and quite savory, with considerable green leather supported by sea salt and fairly intense ment
holated notes, and by bright brandied cherries and fairly intense licorice root with some underlying cedar and cocoa. On the palate it’s bright, with deft rich cherry fruit supported by bright berry fruit acidity, and by lively slightly dry savory tannins that flow into a warm rich cherry finish with a pleasing tart savory berry fruit underpinning. Deft, fresh, and quite pleasant, and the finish goes on and on. With this vintage they decided to try using tonneaux, and this wine spent a year in tonneaux and another in botte; the tonneaux do have a slight impact on the character of the tannins, which have a touch of cedar to them, but it didn’t bother me. I just note it.
1997 – Tommasi, Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with mentholated spice supported by considerable alcohol, and by fairly bright spice, with a fair amount of cedar, and leaf tobacco with sweet Moroccan leather. Pleasant, in a rather brooding key. On the palate it’s rich, in a rather languid key, with warm mentholated berry fruit supported by fairly bright mentholated acidity, and by tannins that have a fairly bright burr, and flow into a very long finish The fruit is a little riper than some of the others, but not overripe, and very fresh; the vintage was over the top for many winemakers, but not here.
1998 – Zenato, Amarone della Valpolicella Doc Classico Riserva Sergio Zenato
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, and rich, with dusky Moroccan leather supported by hardwood ash and sour brandied cherry mingled with spice and considerable licorice root, also a fair amount of sandalwood and greenish Valpolicella accents. Quite fresh, in a rich rather international key. On the palate it’s full, and sweet, with rich bright cherry and forest berry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that have a slight peppery burr derived from oak, and flows into a long clean silky cocoa laced finish. Tremendous depth and elegance, and beautiful freshness and ripeness, and is frankly seductive. Most impressive.
2000 – Nicolis, Amarone Ambrosan
From a magnum. Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is powerful, with some hardwood ash supported by cocoa and cedar with some greenish vegetal accents; it’s powerful and elegant, revolving more around spice and oaky aromas than fruit, and this is because a part of the wine goes into barriques, which do have an impact. On the palate it’s ample and fairly sweet, with
bright sour cherry fruit supported by sour berry fruit acidity, and by sweet tannins that have a peppery burr derived in part from oak and flow into a fairly long greenish finish. The fruit is rich and ripe, but not overripe, and is a fine expression of 2000, which was very hot in August. .
2001 – Venturini, Amarone della Valpolicella Doc/Dop Classico
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and some hints of almandine brownishness in the rim. The bouquet is intense, and rather smoky, with berry fruit laced with hardwood ash and some airy spice, and also warm peppery accents and moderate sweetness as well And as it opens some licorice root as well.. On the palate it’s ample, smooth, and moderately sweet, with cherry prune fruit supported by strawberry prune acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that do have a slight splintery burr, and flow into a warm prune laced finish with lasting warmth that also reveals some licorice root as the fruit fades. Quite pleasant, and very fresh in a bright very young key.
2004 – Begali, Amarone Classico Monte Cà Bianca
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is qu
ite young, and still rather closed, with fairly bright berry fruit supported by some cherry accents and slight green leather with pleasant spice and some leaf tobacco, supported by pleasant slightly mineral acidity as well. On the palate it’s full, and rich, with bright cherry prune fruit supported by licorice root bitterness and fairly bright berry fruit acidity, while the tannins are fairly smooth, though there is a youthful burr as well, and it flows into a greenish vegetal laced finish. Quite pleasant, in a youthful key; one could drink it now but it is still a babe and will continue to improve and develop for many more years. A wine with tremendous potential.
2007 – Musella, Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with jammy berry fruit supported by considerable alcohol and quite a bit of leaf tobacco, and slight shellac notes that may be youthful wood fruit interaction. On the palate it’s bright, with rich ripe cherry prune fruit supported by deft berry fruit spice and by tannins that are rather splintery and flow into a clean sweet spicy finish with lasting alcoholic warmth. Pleasant, and displays great potential, though it is very much a child and needs time, 3-5 years or more.
Well, here we have it. There is considerable continuity from wine to wine even with the different hands guiding them, though one does note some changes — the older wines were likely more acidic in their youth than the more recent wines are, also because they were made with Molinara, a grape that confers freshness and acidity, and that is now much less used in Valpolicella.
Also, the older wines were aged in botti, large casks, which have considerably less influence upon the wine they contain than the smaller casks many winemakers use today. Some (not all) of the more recent wines do display a greater tannic softness that is a result of this change in wood use.