This January I attended the presentation of the 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella vintage, and among the wines I tasted was Santa Sofia, which was a barrel sample and still not together enough to show very well. Stefania Romellini contacted me and to ask if I’d be interested in tasting their bottled Amarone and I responded with an enthusiastic yes, adding that I would also be happy to taste other wines of theirs as well.
They sent me their 2007 Amarone, which is from a nice vintage and has enough bottle age by now to be out of toddlerhood, perhaps into kindergarten – Amarone’s time scale for aging is one few other wines can keep up with, and I would expect the 07 to really begin to hit its stride after 2020 – but it is old enough to provide some indication of what it will become. The other two wines winemaker (and owner) Giancarlo Bengoni chose to send are Monte Gradella, a Valpolicella Classico Superiore, and Arlèo, a Rosso del Veronese IGT made from Corvina, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Santa Sofia Monte Gradella Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2008
This is the classic blend, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara (which many have dropped, but that confers acidity that in my opinion contributes to the freshness of the wine), and is an elegant garnet with dusky black reflections and some orange in the nail. The bouquet is pleasant and entering maturity, with warm sour berry fruit and cherries supported by savory balsamic notes and slight hints of nutmeg mingled with some cedar, underbrush, and underlying warmth, while there are also very slight hints of sweetness. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, with a initial impression of fullness, which presses up from the tongue and in doing so releases moderately rich spicy cherry fruit supported by savory acidity and by tannins that have a warm underbrush laced smoky peppery burr, and flows into a long fairly tannic finish. It’s not a fruit bomb, nor polished to smoothness, but rather a more pensive wine that revolves around more mature accents, and whose spicy tannins play a guiding role, especially in the finish. Pleasant in a fairly traditional key, and will drink quite well with succulent meats, and in this case something along the lines of a mixed boiled dinner of the sort one will find in Veronese restaurants, a rich selection of meats with many sauces, would be perfect. As would a fairly thick steak, grilled rare over hardwood coals.
Santa Sofia Arlèo Rosso Veronese IGT 2005
This is, as I said, a blend of Corvina, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, aged in barriques, and it’s a slightly darker garnet ruby with black reflections and a nail that is slightly less orange than that of the Monte Gradella. The bouquet is elegant, with delicate cherry fruit supported by some black currants and forest berry fruit, blackberries in particular, and slight balsamic notes, with sweetness and alcoholic warmth as well; it’s pleasantly harmonious. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, with moderately intense cherry and blackberry fruit supported by mineral acidity and by tannins that are quite smooth at the outset, but then reveal a dusky peppery almost brambly burr with some smoky accents that carries into the finish, which is again dominated by tannic and mineral accents, and fades slowly into savory bitterness with some alcoholic warmth. Pleasant, and the international varietals are quite evident in the nose, fruit cast, and the initial smooth fullness of the tannins, which subsequently also reveal influence from oak. It’s a wine from a fairly difficult vintage – the summer of 2005 was cooler and damper than one would hope for – and this explains the moderate intensity of the fruit, which is quite sufficient to guide the wine however, while the minerality and tannins work nicely with it to provide a harmonious whole. In short, it’s a wine that has a story to tell, in a lesser key, and while its not something I would open for a lover of fruit forward wines it is something I would share with wine loving friends of the sort who get distracted by what’s in their glass, and would would serve t with red meats such as roast beef, or a stew.
Santa Sofia Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2007
This is a bland of Corvina and Rondinella, the grapes of which were set to dry for about 90 days before pressing, and is fairly deep garnet with black reflections and garnet rim that isn’t orange at all in the nail. The bouquet is elegant, with red berry fruit supported by sandalwood and some licorice root spice, with underlying jammy sweet notes and hints of nutmeg; it’s still very young but has come together and is no longer disjointed. On the palate it takes its time, giving an initial impression of fullness on the tongue that then expands to reveal rich ripe cherry fruit with spicy sandalwood accents supported by fairly rich mineral acidity,and by tannins that have a warm spicy peppery burr and flow into a very long sandalwood laced cherry finish with tannic underpinning that is quite pleasant. It is a wine one could drink now with a porterhouse steak cooked rare, or perhaps a boiled dinner, though I’d also be tempted to try serving it with a glazed quality ham – something along the lines of a Smithfield ham – because I find Amarone to work well with sweeter dishes that have some spice (but not hot pepper) to them, but to be honest opening the bottle now is something of an infanticide, because it’s at the beginning of a long climb. If you must, do so, but if you can set it aside for a few years, or even longer, it will reward you.