Wine column

Chianti Classico’s global focus (4/13/2018)

Chianti Classico DOCG continues to produce wines the world wants, with exports going to 130 countries last year. For publication in week starting 16 April 2018.

The last time this column wrote about Chianti Classico, in June 2016, the DOCG exported to 100 countries. As of late last year the number had soared to 130, an indication of the region’s global reputation — especially given the area of hectares of vines and the average number of bottles made has not changed.

Chianti Classico is the name of a wine made in a specific geographical area of 7,200 hectares of vines in the centre of Tuscany. Only this wine can use the region’s symbol — the black rooster, the gallo nero — which appears on the neck of every bottle. It is a clever marketing tool; the rooster provides an easy way to recognise the wines.

For the past decade Chianti Classico DOCG has averaged 35 million bottles a year. Last year four in five of those bottles were exported. North America is easily the biggest market. The USA took a third of all exports, and Canada 8 per cent meaning that 41 per cent of Chianti Classico DOCG exports went to those countries. Other key destinations included Germany (12 per cent), Scandinavia (5), the UK (4), and Switzerland and Japan (3). Exports to China and Hong Kong declined to only 2 per cent of the total.

September 2016 marked the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the borders of the Chianti Classico region by Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany. He identified the villages of Radda, Greve, Panzano, Gaiole and Castellina as the leading sites and these villages represent the nucleus of the region today.

Chianti and Chianti Classico are separate DOCG regions (in Italy DOCG represents the highest guarantee of quality). The total Chianti region consists of about 70,00 hectares between the provinces of Florence and Siena in Tuscany. This is an apt time to talk about that black rooster.

During Medieval times the republics of Siena and Florence often fought to maintain dominance over the Chianti region, which lies between the two cities. Legend has it that the cities agreed to establish a definite boundary. Two knights would leave from their respective cities at an agreed time and the boundary would be fixed where they met.

Departure was set a dawn, with the signal to ride the crowing of a rooster. The Sienese chose a white rooster and the Florentines a black one. The cunning Florentines starved their rooster in a dark coop, so that as soon as it was freed it began to crow. This allowed the Florentine knight to depart earlier than his Sienese counterpart, who waited until daybreak. The knights met at Fonterutoli, only 12 kilometres from Siena, which meant that almost all of Chianti came under Florentine control.

Now-a-days strict regulations govern winemaking. The base level wine, known as Chianti Classico Annata (annata is Italian for year or vintage) must be aged for at least a year before release. For decades the higher level wine was known as Chianti Classico Riserva. It must be aged for 24 months before release, including at least three months in bottle.

In 2014 a level above Riserva, Gran Selezione, was introduced. It can only be made from grapes harvested from a winery’s own vineyards, must have a minimum alcohol of 13 per cent and be aged for at least 30 months. Wines for this new level became available from the 2010 vintage because they had already had the minimum 30 months of ageing.

All Chianti Classico must be made from a minimum of 80 per cent of Sangiovese, with the balance coming from a range of grapes such as Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Some producers believe the best wines come from only Sangiovese. Others maintain that only indigenous grapes in the smaller component of the blend produce the best results.

Yields are kept low under DOCG laws, with a maximum of 7.5 tonnes per hectare permitted, or about 2kg per vine. In the Chianti region which surrounds Chianti Classico yields can be as high as 9 tonnes a hectare.

Some of the finest wines tasted this week came from Fattoria di Cinciano in the Poggibonsi sub-region on the western edge of Chianti Classico. Their entry level wine from 2015 displays typical cherry notes and is very drinkable. The 2013 Cinciano Riserva – 95 per cent Sangiovese with the balance Colorino – is even more delicious, with a chalky mouthfeel associated with the calcerous soils on the estate.

Highlight was the 2013 Gran Selezione made from vines planted in 1971. This memorable wine is solely Sangiovese, with soft tannins and bright fruit. Winemaker Valerio Marconi said yields were kept to a third of the permitted maximum to concentrate flavours.

Ian D’Agata, author of The Native Wine Grapes of Italy, said Sangiovese was like Merlot in the sense that it succeeded in most places it was planted. D’Agata believes Canaiolo Nero makes Sangiovese taste better. “It’s the Robin to Sangiovese’s Batman,” he said. “It brings out the best in Sangiovese.”

Marconi also presented his 2009 Vin Santo made from Malvasia Blanco Lunga and Trebbiano Toscana. This is a superb dessert wine, created by drying grapes in a tower on the estate for three months.

D’Agata wrote that this Malvasia was an important part of the Chianti blend invented by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who maintained the best possible recipe was seven parts Sangiovese, two parts Canaiolo Nero and the rest Malvasia. The Chianti Classico consortium eliminated Malvasia from the blend in 2006. This is why Marconi uses his white grapes planted in 1971 for Vin Santo (the wine of the saints).

Young Chianti Classico smells of red fruits like sour cherries and red-currants. Over time these aromas change to darker fruits like plums, and with further years in the cellar people will notice dried herbs. Some Chianti Classico also offers aromas like violets when young that evolve to dried roses when older.

Chianti’s colour changes over time. Young Sangiovese is typically ruby red. The intensity of the colour varies depending on the terroir (Chianti Classico essentially comes from three kinds of soil) and the grapes in the blend. Young riserva wines tend to have a richer ruby red hue with a light orange rim. Gran Selezione are a brighter ruby red, tending towards purple. After about a decade in the bottle the colour changes to garnet.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, who provided accommodation and meals.

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Nature knows best (4/8/2018)

A beautiful new book extols the virtues of organic, biodynamic and natural wine and suggests examples to taste. For publication in week starting 9 April 2018.

The sub-title of Jane Anson’s new book, Wine Revolution, explains succinctly what it is about: “The world’s best organic, biodynamic and natural wines”. This lushly presented book is a delight and should be on the bookshelves of anyone who appreciates beauty and wine.

The writing is authoritative, yet with a light touch, and the images are superb. It is an excellent guide to the best of the best. The pen portraits of winemakers are a highlight, and the section on orange wine is especially helpful.

Jane Anson is an accomplished wine writer. She is Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent and has lived in the region since 2003. Anson writes columns for newspapers and magazines and is the author of Bordeaux Legends: The 1855 First Growth Wines. She was also the Bordeaux and Southwest France author of The Wine Opus and 1000 Great Wines That Won’t Cost a Fortune.

In an article published on The Wine Society’s web site Anson explained that organic, biodynamic and natural wines were part of the same movement that has seen the rise of farm-to-table restaurants and farmers’ markets that helped to revolutionise food culture around the world over the past decade.

“It was this idea that organic, biodynamic and natural wines can be the space where foodies and wine lovers meet that really inspired me to write Wine Revolution.”

Anson said she wanted to get across the idea that these kinds of wines should no longer be viewed as specialist or eccentric.“Even the most prestigious of them are about the pure pleasure of taste, and the pleasure of discovering the history and personality of a vineyard through the bottles that it makes.

“I wanted to ensure that I was writing about the wines themselves, and the people who make them, rather than focusing too much on the technical details of the farming methods. Where possible I wanted to highlight local grape varieties that protected the historic identity of a region – and that often matched perfectly with local foods.”

About 9 percent of the 3.3 million hectares of vineyards in the European Union were cultivated organically as of late 2016 (the most recent available data), and the trend is rising. The main organisations driving this trend are Demeter, Haut les Vins, VinNatur, Ecovin and respekt-BIODYN.

Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, chairman of respekt-BIODYN, said all of these organisations wanted the same thing: to keep vineyards healthy for their descendants, and at the same time to produce excellent and individual wines.

They were also operating in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, he said, because the greater the vineyard biodiversity and the larger their area, the better they acted to capture carbon dioxide. Many members met in Dusseldorf a few days before ProWein last month. A listing of the wineries that attended can be found at

Demeter is the oldest organic farming association in Germany. Members have been cultivating their fields biodynamically since 1924. This is regarded as the most sustainable form of land management, and is based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas (see an earlier column for more information about Steiner and wine). Their regulations go far beyond the requirements of EU ecological regulations.

Demeter is represented on all continents. As of this month about 800 wineries were certified or in the process of conversion around the world, for a total of about 10,000 hectares of vineyards. Of these about 8,500 hectares are in the European Union. Germany has 54 Demeter wineries or estates with 218 hectares of vines, Austria 60 (410), Switzerland 21 (215), France 222 (4,706) and Italy 39 (1,303).

Ecovin was founded in 1985 and is the largest German association of wineries operating ecologically. Its members identify with biodiversity, respect for nature and aesthetics. As of January this year its 233 members cultivated about 2,356 hectares of vineyards, accounting for a quarter of all German organic vineyards. Ecovin works closely with Demeter of Germany.

Haut les Vins started as a group of artisan French growers who shared a passion for terroir-driven wines, though they had different views, experiences and philosophies. The group currently consists of 65 members, six of them not yet certified, who cultivate 780 hectares of vineyards in five countries. The members share the idea that integrity must be valued, but should never lead to fundamentalism. Terroir conservation and expression are and will always remain the ideal, their web site says.

Founded in 2007, respekt-BIODYN is a biodynamic association that aims to produce outstanding wines with the greatest possible individuality. At present it has 22 members from Austria, Germany, Italy and Hungary and they cultivate about 600 hectares of vineyard area. Their approach involves a biodynamic circular economy according to the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. The association is based in Austria. They go far beyond EU organic regulations.

VinNatur was established in 2006 to counteract what president Angiolino Maule believes is the poisoning of the environment through excessive use of chemicals. The association advocates for making natural wine, the name given to a product “derived from a healthy agriculture which rejects the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers,” Maule said.

The organisation currently has almost 200 members. The headquarters are in Italy, with members in France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. All producers seeking to join VinNatur agree to have their wines analysed to check for as many as 88 residual pesticides. The aim of the tests is to ensure authenticity of wines and coherence with VinNatur’s principles.

Buy this beautiful book. It is a delight. As Anson notes, once people start looking they will find hundreds of brilliant winemakers who are committed to making wines that speak of a particular place and a particular story, underlined by returning to traditional methods of farming that help biodiversity and sustainability”.

Footnote: China has put a 15 per cent tariff on American wine, in retaliation for the US’s imposing tariffs on Chinese steel. It’s not such a big deal. America only exports about 12.5 per cent of its wine. Last year only 3.7 per cent of those exports went to China, which means about 0.4 per cent of total production – or one in every 250 bottles – will attract the new tax. But consumers in China might feel the pinch, depending on the final price of the wine.

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Wine taints and faults (3/27/2018)

Amorim, the world’s biggest producer of cork closures for wine bottles, last week hosted a workshop on wine problems. For publication in week starting 2 April 2018.

A key factor when discussing problems with wine is the distinction between a fault and a taint. Faults are connected with the fermentation process while taints are the result of external factors like the environment.

Many common taints are caused by a group of chemical compounds known as haloanisoles. The best known are 2,4,6-trichloroanisole and 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, usually abbreviated as TCA and TBA respectively. Both occur when fungi, mould or bacteria in wine come in contact with halogens such as chlorine in pesticides in the vineyard or processes like bleaching. The problem can be transferred from the cork, though seldom through the cork, so TCA and TBA are technically both a taint and a fault.

The result is harsh aromas described by a variety of offensive terms. My favourite is the smell of a wet dog drying by the fire. Another is the dank tang of wet and mouldy cardboard. Our noses can detect them in the tiniest of concentrations. They are not harmful, and over time humans lose sensitivity to haloanisoles if they smell them often.

In late 2016 Amorim developed a new cork called NDtech that guarantees TCA is not present in the cork or the level is so low humans cannot detect it. Each cork is tested and any stopper with more than 0.5 nanograms of TCA per litre is rejected. The figure of 0.5 nanograms means half a part per trillion and is incredibly small – equivalent to one drop of water in 800 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Amorim says it spent five years and 10 million Euros researching and developing its new cork.

Dr Paulo Lopes is a research scientist and oenologist with Amorim based in Porto in Portugal. He presented the wine faults seminar in London. Dr Lopes said all corks processed via NDtech receive a “non-detectable TCA guarantee”.

Ways to prevent haloanisoles in a winery include reduction in the use of chlorine or bromine as cleaning agents, keeping humidity below 70 per cent to reduce the number of microbes in the air, and strict monitoring of cleanliness. “This is a problem that it is always better to prevent than cure,” he said. One way a winemaker can resolve a problem is to blend tainted wine with larger quantities of clean wines so the concentration of haloanisoles is below the level at which humans notice them.

Another wine fault that divides opinion among wine connoisseurs is known as “brett”, short for brettanomyces. It falls into the general category of volatile phenols. The fault occurs when the dekkera or brettanomyces yeast reacts with wine to produce the volatile phenol 4-ethylphenol.

The level of brett can enhance or ruin wine flavours. Thus 110 nanograms per litre of brett will give aromas of smoke, cloves and spice but 430 nanograms per litre will make the wine smell like walking into a pharmacy, or unwrapping a Band-Aid.

The style and age of a wine and the use of oak can mask or accelerate brett aromas. “The sensory perception threshold of volatile phenols depends very much on the style and structure of the wine,” Dr Lopes said. Thus an older oaky red with brett can enhanced by it, while some white wines will be degraded. A classic example is Chateau Musar red from Lebanon, famous for the high levels of brett which make this wine so distinctive and attractive.

Wines that spend a long time on yeast lees or receive extended skin contact are more likely to suffer from brett, Dr Lopes said, as do natural wines that limit the use of sulphur dioxide to reduce oxidation of crushed grapes. “Natural wines need to be careful with SO2. It is difficult to make natural wine without SO2.”

The simplest way to prevent brett contamination is to ensure the winery is clean, and to dispose of barrels that contain the yeast. Infected wines can be saved through filtration with activated carbon.

Another common fault is known as volatile acidity, abbreviated as VA. This causes wine to smell of nail varnish, vinegar or bruised apples. It tastes bitter. It is usually caused by wild yeasts reacting with oxygen before and during fermentation.

Again, the fault is only a problem for some people. Many people like the “rancio” aromas associated with oxidised wines like sherry and madeira. “Some oxidation is beneficial for flavours,” Dr Lopes said. He noted that oxidation can only be prevented, and cannot be reversed.

The best way to manage VA was to grow healthy grapes with natural anti-oxidants, he said. Some winemakers could blend their wines until the VA levels were below the threshold that people would notice.

The final fault Dr Lopes discussed fell into the category of “reduction” associated with the chemical mercaptan. This is where wines have vegetative or reductive aromas like the smell of cooked cabbage and taste metallic or bitter. At very low levels these chemicals can enhance flavours.

The April 2018 edition of Decanter magazine notes that of the 19 billion bottles of wine produced a year, about 12 billion use cork stoppers (Amorim makes about 5 billion of these). Screw-caps account for another 4.7 billion with the rest using plastic closures.

The English scientist Robert Hooke discovered the potential of cork in 1665 when he observed it under a microscope. He verified it was composed of tiny pentagonal or hexagonal prisms that he called cells from the Latin cellula, for small room.

Each cork stopper consists of about 800 million sealed cells. Between them is a gaseous mixture that allows for compression up to about half its width without loss of flexibility. Cork is the only solid that when compressed on one side does not increase in volume in the other.

Cork is removed from cork oak trees every nine years without damaging the tree. The largest areas of forest are in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. The world has a total of about 2.2 million hectares of cork oaks.

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30 years of quality (3/23/2018)

Jackson Estate in New Zealand’s Marlborough region is celebrating 30 years of production. For publication in the week starting 26 March 2018.

In 2001 four New Zealand wine companies initiated a bold experiment. Forrest Wines, Lawson’s Dry Hills, John Belsham and Jackson Estate pioneered the use of screw-caps instead of cork. All are based in the Marlborough region at the top of the south island.

Since then what was pioneering has become accepted. More than 90 per cent of wines in New Zealand are sealed with a screw-cap, and in neighbouring Australia the percentage is even higher.

A key question always arises when people debate the benefits of cork versus screw-cap. Which is better for long-term cellaring? A dinner in London earlier this month to celebrate Jackson Estate’s 30th anniversary presented a chance to compare wines from that 2001 vintage sealed with both cork and screw-cap.

Screw-caps for wine bottles have been around since the 1950s but they were mostly used for sealing cheap wine. A screw-cap seals the bottle and prevents oxygen from entering. Advocates maintain that wines remain crisp and well-preserved. Detractors say screw-caps do not allow wines to evolve, because the minute amount of oxygen that a cork permits helps a wine to develop.

That is an old argument. Modern screw-caps allow calculated levels of oxygen to enter the bottle over time. They are about a third of the price of a cork.

Winemakers started considering screw-caps about 15 to 20 years ago because of the high number of wines tainted by defective corks. Perhaps one bottle in 30 was affected. The problem also led to development of artificial stoppers made from things like plastic and glass, and composite corks created by crushing cork bark into tiny granules and then constructing a stopper by melding the granules with beeswax and vegetable oils. Probably the best known of these is the Diam cork. See the column of 20 March 2017 for more information.

The main source of cork taint is a chemical called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, usually abbreviated as TCA. It occurs when a fungus that lives in natural cork bark comes in contact with chlorine, typically during the bleaching process or when rainwater soaks into stacks of bark left to dry in the sun. Even at very low concentrations TCA can strip a wine of its character. The wine fails to exhibit the kinds of flavour or aroma usually associated with it.

Some people dislike screw-caps because they change the ritual of uncorking. But they are easier to open and we do not find cork fragments floating in the wine.

Jeff Hart, managing director at Jackson Estate, presented a dozen wines at the London anniversary dinner. He noted the importance of the diurnal temperature range in summer in Marlborough, which was he said one of the key factors for the quality of flavours in the wines. Hart described the company as “modern pioneers” who know how to adapt to changing conditions.

Wine has become a major part to the New Zealand economy, with exports last year worth NZD 1,700 million, making it the fifth most significant contributor to the country’s GDP.

The evening began with the 2017 Stich Sauvignon Blanc, full of tangy fruit and a range of fruits at the passionfruit end of the flavour spectrum. This wine spends three months on the lees, which contributes to its unique flavours.

The Stichbury and Jackson families planted the first vines on Jackson Estate, named after Jackson’s Road in Marlborough, a short drive from the local airport. The Stich Sauvignon Blanc is named in honour of John “Stich” Stichbury, the founder of Jackson Estate. The families have farmed the land for more than 160 years. Cloudy Bay, who many say started the trend for Kiwi sauvignon blanc, is a neighbour.

A highlight of the tasting included two Sauvignon Blancs from the 2001 vintage, one in screw-cap and the other under cork. They were both obviously Sauvignon Blanc, though the wine sealed with cork was more oxidised and had a slightly caramelised flavour. The wine under screw-cap felt younger.

Both wines glowed gold in the glass, a radically different colour from the pale almost clear 2017 vintage. I liked both wines so the cork versus screw-cap argument seemed irrelevant. One must challenge the point of storing Sauvignon Blanc for a long time. It tends to be better consumed young, unless it receives some oak treatment, which is rare in New Zealand. An earlier column looked at examples of oaked Sauvignon Blancs.

Jackson Estate sells around the world, and recently opened a specialist shop in Shanghai, China’s main wine city. The company combines advanced winemaking techniques with a traditional hands-on approach to viticulture.

Techniques include focussing on low yields to concentrate fruit flavours, small batch fermentation, single vineyard wines and minimal intervention in the winemaking process. All fruit is estate grown which means winemaker Matt Patterson-Green can control grape quality and ensure minimal intervention in the winemaking.

Jackson Estate also makes Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2001 Riesling under screw cap was enticing and vibrant and had developed those terpene aromas associated with older Rieslings.

Another highlight of the dinner was a chance to taste the company’s two 2007 Pinot Noirs, both under screw-cap. The company has two Pinot Noir vineyards totalling about 4.5 hectares. These wines typically spend between 12 and 18 months in French oak for, the quality of the vintage determining how long.

The 2007 Vintage Widow Pinot Noir is named in honour of the families often forgotten at vintage time as staff strive to make the perfect Pinot. I liked the subtle dried herb flavours mixed with black cherries and vanilla.

The 2007 Gum Emperor Pinot Noir was perfumed and sophisticated, and tasted of violets and black cherries. Both had silky tannins that had integrated nicely, making them very easy to drink. The wine is named after the Gum Emperor moth that lives on the edge of the vineyards.

We have not answered the screw-cap versus cork questions, but I can confirm that Jackson Estate make some fine wines.

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Good times in Austria (3/18/2018)

The current vintage in Austria was exceptional compared with poor harvests in other European producers. For publication in week starting 19 March 2018.

Many of Europe’s major wine producing nations are lamenting low volumes because of the poor 2017 vintage. Austria is the exception.

That country’s 2017 harvest increased 25 per cent compared with the five-year average, meaning about 325 million bottles will be available in coming years. Sabine Bauer-Wolf, the new communications manager for the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, said that quality was also high. “The quality of the current vintage is satisfying as well.”

These good results came despite capricious weather. Austria experienced frosts in April and May last year followed by drought and heat waves during summer. But grape growers managed to harvest extremely ripe and healthy fruit. The volume of about 2.5 million hectolitres compensated for the last year’s harvest shortfalls.

Sabine Bauer-Wolf described the whites as opulent and the reds as excellent. “The white wines are full-bodied but lively [and] fruit-driven.” They are showing flavours typical for the varieties. Austria’s main white grapes are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay.

Most readers will be familiar with all of these varieties apart from Grüner Veltliner. Yet it is Austria’s signature white grape. About a third of all vines are Grüner. The name translates as “green grape from the village of Veltlin” in the Tirol region of Austria.

The queen of wine writers, Jancis Robinson, notes in her Purple Pages site that until the 1990s very few wine lovers outside Austria had heard of Grüner Veltliner. “Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example.”

Robinson said this was because the quality of all Austrian wine had become more consistent in recent years and “no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them”. Austria’s white wines were more distinctive than her reds, she said, so it was inevitable that people would recognise the quality of Grüner Veltliner.

Just over the border in Hungary locals call the grape Zöldveltelini. In the nearby Czech Republic it is known as Veltlin or Veltlínské Zelené. There it is the country’s second most planted white grape.

Grüner Veltliner’s primary flavours are lime, lemon and grapefruit, with green or herbaceous notes that some people describe as peppery. This might be because of the distinctive acidity that zings in your mouth. This acidity gives the wine longevity because it rarely receives any oak. The wine is generally made in stainless steel tanks and then cellared in large neutral barrels.

The grape can be made into a range of styles. Grapes grown around the capital, Vienna, make wines intended for drinking young in Heuriger, the local taverns where local winemakers serve young wine under a special licence in alternate months during the growing season. Vienna must be the only capital in Europe where it is possible to walk to the nearest wine region. A tiny percentage is make into sparkling wine, similar to sekt, and on the Danube west of the capital Grüner produces very pure, mineral wines intended for long-term cellaring.

Grüner is food friendly and pairs with a range of foods.

Sabine Bauer-Wolf said the 2017 red vintage was offering wines with developed dark-berry aromas with fully ripe and velvety tannins. “The wines are already harmoniously expressive with an invigorating texture. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah turned out magnificently, promising concentrated, complex and vibrant wines as did the Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt.”

Readers will be familiar with most of these varieties, apart from the last two. The former has been called the “Pinot Noir of the East” because it is grown mostly in central Europe. It produces reds rich in tannin that exhibit a pronounced spicy character, so it is not really like a Pinot Noir, which tends to have soft tannins.

Zweigelt was created in 1922 at the Federal Institute for Viticulture in Austria by Fritz Zweigelt. Blaufränkisch is one of its parents (St Laurent is the other). It is the most widely planted red variety in the country. Styles range from wines bottled young without oak designed to be consumed young to structured versions intended for barrel ageing.

In 2016 Wine Enthusiast magazine gave its award for best European winery of the year to an Austrian producer for the first time. The winner was Pfaffl. “Few wineries have done more to bring Grüner Vetliner to the world’s attention,” the magazine said.

Interestingly, Pfaffl make an enticing St Laurent called Wald. They plant this early-ripening grape near a forest to delay the ripening process and obtain a spicy mix of plum and strawberry. The 2017 is simply delicious.

This month the Austrian magazine for restaurants and hotels ÖGZ released the results of a major Grüner Veltliner tasting. It ranked the 2016 Pfaffl Grüner Veltliner HOMMAGE as the best example of this wine.

Julia Harding MW, writing for Purple Pages, was highly appreciative of the 2014 version of this wine. She described it as “complex, caressing and deeply satisfying, richness and freshness in harmony”.

Roman Josef Pfaffl is the winemaker. His sister Heidemarie Fischer looks after marketing. They described HOMMAGE as a “personal tribute” to Grüner Veltliner and their father Roman’s career.

“All of our father’s knowledge and experience are invested in this wine. And not only the wine, but also the label carries his signature. This wine is comprised of only the best fruit from the oldest vines on the Grossebersdorfer Kirchenberg with hand-selected fruit from the Haidviertel to lend it refreshing balance.” It was fermented spontaneously in a large acacia cask and left on the lees for two months.

Anne Krebiehl MW specialises in German and Austrian wine. Here are her thoughts on Pfaffl’s 2016 HOMMAGE Grüner Veltliner in a recent Wine Enthusiast article: “A wonderfully ripe notion of yellow pear plays on the nose of this wine. Its bright, friendly fruitiness is also amply apparent on the creamy palate, where it’s joined by a savoury element of soy, salt and miso. A little citrus pith adds even more texture to this rich, rounded wine.”

Krebiehl also recommends the Pfaffl Zweigelt Reserve Burggarten 2015, describing it as one of Austria’s best Zweigelts. “Austrian red wine needs to be on your must-try list.”

What is believed to be the world’s biggest wine fair, PROWEIN, is running in Düsseldorf in Germany this week from March 18-20. Pfaffl wines can be tasted there in Hall 17 on stand C12 from 9am to 6pm.

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Delights of Soave (3/11/2018)

The Soave region in Italy makes unique wines that are exported to more than 70 countries . For publication in week starting 12 March 2018.

The Soave region in northern Italy exports more still white wine than any of the country’s regions. Each year more than 50 million bottles are produced, and four in five are sold abroad. Soave sells in at least 70 countries.

As of late last year the Soave DOC consisted of 7,000 hectares. The region has the highest viticulture density in Italy, with about 3,000 small “estates” each of about 2 hectares.

The Soave Consortium represents the wine industry and its people in the region. Its main aims are to promote and protect the Soave Denomination in line with DOC and DOCG rules, and in the interests of members.

The Consortium actively promotes Soave wines in Italy and around the world. Activities include press and trade tours, on and off-trade events, wine trade shows such as VinItaly and masterclasses, plus innovative projects like Italian Volcanic Wines. Each September Soave Versus is one of the largest consumer wine and food events held in Italy.

The Consortium also partners with universities and research institutes to distribute knowledge about the region. It continues to work on long-term studies about viticulture, winemaking, soil types, biodiversity and climate change. Members are offered training and educational services that cover every stage of the production cycle.

Since 2009 the technical department has been managed by Siquria, an independent organization for quality control and certification recognised by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. Siquria guarantees the authenticity of Soave denomination wines for consumers around the world.

The Consortium coordinates production under the Controlled Designation of Origin (DOC) and the more restrictive Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG) regulations. These are revised frequently to improve or clarify production sub-zones and specifications. This quality assurance labelling complies with European laws on protected geographical designations of origin. Soave received DOC status in 1968.

Garganega is the region’s main grape. It has been grown in the hills of Soave for at least a millennium, making it one of Italy’s oldest varieties. Vineyards extend from Lake Garda to the Colli Euganei, but the grape has found an ideal home in the Alpone, Tramigna, Illasi and Mezzane valleys. The terroir of these volcanic valleys with limestone outcrops offer an ideal combination of soil, climate and vines necessary for the production of quality white wines.

The Soave DOC (and its sparkling version) includes two sub-zones defined as “Classico” and “Colli Scaligeri”. These wines must contain at least 70 per cent Garganega and can have up to 30 per cent of Trebbiano di Soave or Chardonnay. The 30 per cent can include a maximum of 5 per cent of other neutral, not aromatic white grapes cultivated in the Verona province.

The use of the specification “Classico” with the designation “Soave” is reserved for wine made from grapes harvested and vinified in the municipalities of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone – the oldest, original “classic” zone.

Soave Superiore carries the DOCG (controlled and guaranteed) status, and is reserved for “Soave Superiore”, “Soave Superiore” classico and “Soave Superiore” riserva. The wines must contain at least 70 per cent Garganega and can have up to 30 per cent of Trebbiano di Soave. This 30 per cent can include a maximum of 5 per cent of other white varieties cultivated in the Verona province. The zones are the same as for Soave DOC.

Recioto di Soave was the first wine to obtain DOCG status in the Veneto region and made Soave famous. This extraordinary wine is made from Garganega air-dried over several months before pressing.

Soave is one of the world’s most food-friendly wines because of its medium acidity and aromas. A well-cellared Soave Classico can seem like a Chablis or Riesling after many years. Young Soave from limestone or alluvial soils can be perfect as an aperitif or with light fare. These wines are fresh and floral with flavours of orchard fruit, citrus and a touch of tropical fruit.

Some Soave spends time on the lees, giving the wine enough complexity and structure to pair well with seafood and vegetable pastas or main courses like grilled seafood or chicken.

Soave Classico DOC and Soave Superiore DOCG wines are more complex, structured and elegant than a Soave DOC. In broad terms, limestone soils tend to give a Soave that is subtle and elegant with a white floral bouquet, followed by orchard fruits, sweet herbs and a slight almond bitterness on the finish. Wines from basalt soils are bolder, revealing additional complex aromas and flavours of herbs, citrus and minerals. These are able to cope with dishes with a lot of flavour.

The Garganega vine provides generous yields, forming large, cylindrical bunches that assume a translucent golden to amber colour at harvest. The loosely-packed bunches are robust and well-suited for the air drying used to make the sweet Recioto di Soave. When yields are controlled the grape can produce complex wines capable of ageing an average of a decade, often much longer.

Trebbiano di Soave is genetically identical to Verdicchio, best known in the Marche, though it is likely the variety originated in the Veneto region. Producers have conserved old vineyards or replanted, and a few are making wines from only Trebbiano di Soave.

Bunches of Trebbiano di Soave are small and tight, and ripen earlier than Garganega, which is harvested well into October. High levels of malic acid and the neutrality of the grape make it a perfect blending grape in Soave wines, adding freshness and delicate floral notes.

In an urbanised region like the Veneto, Soave has remained staunchly rural and centred around viticulture, proving its ability to sustain the livelihood of its community through viticulture. These unique characteristics have made Soave the object of study and recognition in Italy and internationally.

In 2016 the Italian Agricultural Ministry declared the “Vine-clad hills of Soave” a rural landscape of historic interest. What was once viewed as “intensive agriculture” is now seen as a sustainable system that puts man at the centre of the preservation of biodiversity and the historic landscapes.

In 2017 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) invited Soave to become the first Italian candidate for the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) programme. The GIAHS safeguards the social, cultural, economic and environmental goods and services these rural areas provide.

Words: 1,048

Great wine in harsh region (3/1/2018)

Portugal’s Douro region is a tough place to live but it produces some of the world’s best wines. For publication in the week starting 5 March 2018.

The Douro region in north-east Portugal is vast – about 300,000 hectares that run east to the border with Spain. The region gets its name from the mighty Douro River, though it is known as the Duero River in Spain where it originates.

The Douro has about 45,000 hectares of vines. A feature of the terrain is the steep slopes that stretch from mountains to the edge of the river and its tributaries. Vines are planted on terraces, many of them centuries old. The steep slopes and climate make the Douro a tough place to work. Some vineyards report difficulties in finding enough labour.

The Douro DoC is the world’s oldest designated wine region, established in 1756. That was almost a century before the French set up their designated-region system in the 1850s to ensure quality. The nearby Vinho Verde region to the north-west of the Douro sits on granite soils and gets about 1,000mm of rain a year. The upper Douro near the Spanish border gets a mere 200mm.

Vines are low, typically about 40 from the ground, because the rocky schist soils provide few nutrients and vines are only irrigated for their first three years. The low height is to make the journey of the nourishment from the roots to the grapes as short as possible.

Yields tend to be low compared with other regions – an average of four or five tonnes a hectare. In Champagne, for example, vines can produce 15 tonnes a hectare.

Life in the Douro is harsh, with blazingly hot summers and bitterly cold winters. Locals describe each year as “nine months of winter and three months of hell”. The weather is also variable. In late February I experienced sunshine of almost 20C, then snow and minus 2C the next day, followed by days of rain.

Schist rocks in the vineyards retain summer heat and keep vines hot at night, which means that some grapes do not develop enough acidity (a key component for wines to be cellared, along with tannin from oak and skins). Perhaps 90 per cent of vineyards acidify their grape juice.

A recent trend has been to plant white grapes higher than reds, the theory being that lower temperatures will increase acidity. Temperatures decrease five degrees of Celsius as we move from river vineyards to those planted at about 500 metres. DOC regulations forbid any increase in hectares of vines. This means that vineyard owners who want to plant new grapes must first remove an equivalent number of hectares of vines.

Traditionally the Douro produced great port. That wine was shipped along the Douro to Porto, the major city on the west coast, in sailing boats known as “rabelo”. There it was stored in “lodges” close to the ocean. Douro locals started making table wine with the grapes used for port in the 1980s, and in recent years they have been making superb white wines. Jancis Robinson, the queen of wine writers, said this week that the Douro produces some of the best wines in the world.

Port is made in concrete or granite tanks known as lagares. The traditional way to extract flavour was through foot-treading grapes, though now-a-days this is mostly done by machines that emulate human feet. Some dry table wines are made in lagares.

The Douro has many vines more than a century old. These vineyards were usually planted with a range of red and white grapes, in what is known as a “field blend”. Some wines made in the traditional style can contain up to 20 varieties.

The upper Douro became a UNESCO World Heritage area in December 2001, and documents associated with that appointment say that wine has been made there for 2,000 years.

Visits to several estates, known as quintas, revealed many impressive wines. The best included Quinta do Infantado, Quinta do Zimbro, Quinta do Romeu, Quinta dos Lagares and Esmero Wines.

Infantado refers to younger members of a royal family who will not inherit the crown. The wines, made from organic grapes, have a regal quality. Joao Roseida’s family have owned the estate since 1816. He organised the Simplesmente Vinho festival described in last week’s column.

The quinta’s delicious 2012 reserva red comes from vines at least 90 years old and is a “field blend” of at least 12 varieties. Another favourite was the 2010 Branco Ambar, a white wine made like a port in lagares and the juice macerated on the skins for three weeks. Ambar is like an “orange” wine and the aromas are distinct and pungent. Also impressive was the 2006 Old Vines Red which received some new oak and is just beginning to reveal its qualities with sensational aromas of mushrooms and balsamic.

Manuel Pinto Hespanhol purchased Quinta do Zimbro in 2003. The quinta only makes about 35,000 bottles a year from its 23 hectares of vines. All of his daughters are named a variation of Maria, their mother’s name, and they are celebrated on the label of the 2014 Five Marias Red. All of the reds have a characteristic chalky flavour and mouthfeel because of the large amount of schist on the property.

Quinta do Romeu is one of the few estates in the upper Douro that follows bio-dynamic principles though they prefer the term “organic”. Joao Meneres creates marvellous wines. His delicious 2014 Westerlies is deep black in colour, tastes of sour cherries and is made only from the Sousao grape. The 1980 tawny port has marvellous flavours of dried rose petals and pairs beautifully with cheese and dried fruit conserves.

Quinta dos Lagares produces elegant wines and has resurrected a little-known variety called Mourisco to make a rose. The 2017 edition is tangy and sophisticated. Owner Pedro Lencart offered a taste of a glorious 1934 port his grandfather Narciso Pedro da Fonseca e Silva made. It was a toffee and coffee treat and still had some acidity.

Rui Xavier Soares has a day job as viticulture manager for the gigantic Real Companhia Velha company whose 55 brands produce about 8 million bottles a year. His passion is four wines he makes in his village of Valdigem under the Esmero Wines label, in what is probably the smallest winery in the Douro. A tasting of his lovely 2002 Esmero red, the first wine he made, showed the potential of the 2016 barrel samples tasted in his winery.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of ViniPortugal who supplied travel and accommodation.

Words: 1,071

Simply Wine in Portugal (2/24/2018)

The Simply Wine festival in Porto is a celebration of wines made with minimal intervention and a focus on terroir. For publication in week of 26 February 2018.

The sixth annual edition of Simplesmente Vinho, which translates as “simply wine”, took place in Porto in northern Portugal from February 23-24. Organiser Joao Roseira, winemaker at Quinta do Infantado in the Douro region, said the focus was on wines that respected terroir, the people and their traditions.

“It is wine without make-up that simply wants to be wine, to be drunk and shared. Different wines with a healthy dose of madness and poetry.”

A total of 101 estates presented their wares at Porto’s museum of wine, in a former port storage cellar known as a “lodge” on the banks of the Douro River. All were from Portugal and Spain, apart from one producer from France.

Many of the wines came from organic or biodynamic vineyards. Others described themselves as making natural and “orange” wines. These terms have been defined in previous columns and relate to wines that receive minimal intervention in the winery and typically use indigenous grapes.

Portugal’s economy has rebounded in recent years. Portugal’s economy minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral, a guest at the event, emphasised the need for sustainable tourism after the rapid increase in recent years. Cabral told me wine exports, currently about 11 per cent higher compared with last year, were boosting the economy.

I tasted many outstanding wines at the festival. This column does not have enough space to mention all of them. But some of the most interesting wines came from Humus, Vitor Claro, Cabecas do Reguengo, Antonio Madeira, Monte da Casteleja and Morgado do Quintao.

Humus wines are made at Quinta do Paço, a family property in the Obidos sub-region. The estate has nine hectares of vines and produces about 20,000 bottles a year. Grapes are cultivated through organic farming with what winemaker Rodrigo Filipe describes as “enormous passion and respect for the earth”. Filipe was a civil engineer before he found his passion in winemaking in 1999.

Filipe’s wines are made without artifice yet they have profound aromas and flavours. The reds ferment in small stainless-steel vats and then rest in old barrels. Bunches of grapes for the whites and rosé are pressed whole and then fermented in barrels where they remain until bottled. “Nothing is added to the wine besides a small amount of sulphur,” Filipe said. In recent years he has stopped using sulphur in some wines. Sulphur is mostly used to stop picked grapes from oxidising and to disinfect barrels.

Vitor Claro is a chef, and cooking and its flavours influence his winemaking. He has received no formal oenological training but has been helped by one of Portugal’s leading winemakers, Dirk Niepoort. Claro makes about 20,000 bottles a year and these are in high demand. He does not yet own a winery, using friends’ facilities until he builds his own winery in coming years.

His wife Rita Ferreira used to be an architect before the couple devoted themselves to winemaking, and the clarity of her style shows in the wines and their labels. “To know more wines, styles and philosophies came to be a natural complement to his work in the kitchen,” she said.

The couple make their “Domino” wine in the idyllic natural park of Serra de São Mamede, in the north Alentejo region. Many of the vines are more than a century old and these vines make outstanding wine. His other wines have names like Celestino and Colmeal and they are all delicious.

Joao Alfonso, winemaker at Cabecas do Reguengo in the Alentejo region, was an acclaimed dancer before becoming a winemaker, and his wines have the precision and beauty we associate with ballet. Alfonso said he became interested in wine as a way to soothe muscle pain from ballet. Like many natural wine makers Alfonso is also a small producer, making about 10,000 bottles a year. But they are lovely wines.

Grapes are grown at a range of sites from 500 to 730 metres and the altitude means the fruit does not suffer from the intense Alentejo summer heat. Vines are old and were planted with a variety of grapes on the one site. This means many of Alfonso’s wines are “field blends” — a combination of up to 20 grapes in one bottle.

António Madeira makes wines under his own label in the Serra da Estrela sub-region of the Dão. It was one of the country’s major wine regions decades ago and despite its potential the region remains relatively unknown.

Madeira cultivates a range of old vines that produce wonderful wines. He uses nothing in the winemaking process except sulphur. Fermentations start naturally via indigenous yeasts, and he controls temperature with ice and the cold of the nights in the hilly area.

The Algarve only makes about 1 per cent of the Portugal’s wines but we are seeing a renaissance in the region. Guillaume Leroux at Monte da Casteleja is an accomplished winemaker. His 2017 white of one of the most exciting I’ve tasted in years. It sings and haunts at the same time.

Filipe Vasconcellos’s mission in the Algarve is to rescue two old grape varieties, Crato Branco and Negra Mole, from obscurity. These are grown at his Morgado do Quintão, which he inherited from his mother. The Count of Silves founded Morgado do Quintão (the city of Silves was the capital of the invading Moors). Crato Branco and Negra Mole were planted at the end of the 19th century and Vasconcellos’s mother insisted these be kept despite suggestions to remove them to plant international varieties.

Winemaker Joana Maçanita creates a zingy Palhete rosé style wine by combining the white Crato Branco with the red Negra Mole (the latter translates as “tender black”). In Portugal it is legal to make rosé with a third white juice and two thirds red. The Clarete (note the spelling) is made from Negra Mole and has a striking label that consists of nothing but a huge square of sky blue. It is highly distinctive on a shelf of bottles, as well as in the mouth.

Tiago Barbosa runs Lagar.Fr, a wine shop in Paris that specialises in Portuguese wines. He said the Clarete was highly popular in Paris. “The French love natural wine.”

Vasconcellos also develops smartphone apps, though these are not related to wine. An exciting discovery at Simplesmente Vinho was the Raisin app for locating natural wines around the world developed by Jean-Hugues Bretin. Raisin is the French word for a grape.

Bretin said that as of February 23 Raisin had been downloaded 50,000 times, with about 100 a day being added to the total. About three in five of those downloads happen in France, an indication of the interest in natural wine in that country.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of ViniPortugal, who supplied travel and accommodation at Simplesmente Vinho.

Words: 1,097

More focus on sustainability (2/18/2018)

Increased awareness of climate change has boosted interest in sustainable winegrowing practices. For publication in week starting 19 February 2018.

Sustainable winegrowing methods have become increasingly popular and relevant in recent years. To that end, the world’s first gathering of winegrowers to discuss these kinds of practices met in Verona in Italy earlier this month.

A dozen organisations involved in sustainable practices known as the International Sustainable Winegrowing Network organised the event.

They included the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Austrian Wine, the Valpolicella Wine Board and Sustainable Australian Winegrowing. The aim is to hold the event in different countries each year. The opening meeting had a specific focus on new farming technologies with low environmental impact.

Sustainability appears to sit somewhere in the middle of a continuum with biodynamics and organics at one end and conventional production methods that involve significant use of chemicals at the other. Earlier columns have noted that conventional viticulture is allowed use up to 180 active pesticides and another 140 chemicals in the cellar and during the winemaking process. Some are not good for the human body.

Willi Klinger, managing director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, said sustainability meant different things to different people but noted that the business aspects were important. “We cannot be sustainable if we are not profitable.” Making a vineyard organic was expensive but becoming sustainable could be less so. “Using a lighter bottle, for example, can halve the cost of bottles and make a big impact on the environment.”

Klinger said he was proud of the fact that 30 per cent of Austrian vineyards were organic. He noted that Nordic nations only wanted to buy good wines from green or organic estates, and suggested that European nations needed to have a common denominator of what sustainability meant, plus a common logo.

Steve Lohr, chairman of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and CEO of J. Lohr Vineyards, pointed out California’s size by global standards. It is effectively the fourth largest wine region in world, with 250,000 hectares. “California is very much in tune with looking after the environment.”

The alliance was formed in 2002 and Lohr said three in four vineyards there had done some form of sustainable self-assessment. It uses third party auditors to ensure vineyards are sustainable.

Lohr defined sustainability as involving three Es: environment, economics and social equity. Some of the practices were widespread, such as vineyards making their own compost instead of using petro-chemical fertilisers. The last factor included how well wine estates treated their staff. “We find we get more support from our community because people feel that we are taking care of the environment.”

Lohr noted that US President Donald Trump “says climate change does not exist” but “as farmers we know it does exist”. Because of changing conditions, Lohr said, the Napa Valley was seriously considering whether it would be possible to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, for which the area is famous, half a century from now.

Olga Bussinello, Director of the Consortium for the Tutelage of Valpolicella Wines (the Valpolicella Wine Board), said it had become urgent to find ways to protect and conserve resources and the environment.

Bussinello said the consortium’s RRR protocol – Reduce, Respect, Retrench – announced two years ago was designed to protect the environmental balance of Valpolicella, the wine region known worldwide for producing Amarone. The meeting took place a day before the 50th anniversary of Amarone Anteprima, the annual release of the new vintage of Amarone, in Verona, the city of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

James Hook, an agronomist in Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region, represented Sustainable Australia Winegrowing at the conference. McLaren Vale was the first region in Australia to adopt the group’s sustainability criteria.

About 16 per cent of McLaren Vale vineyards had been certified organic, he said. “Because Australia is such a dry place, we have to manage water carefully. Economics have forced us to be very careful with water.”

“McLaren Vale has vines that are more than 140 years old which must be protected. Heat waves are our main issue with climate change.” Vineyards managed by adapting canopy systems, and planting vines from southern Italy that could cope with extreme heat.

Steve Lohr of California said his company used shade cloth to protect grapes. These allowed about 60 per cent of the light to get through and kept grape temperatures below 37C, the point at which grapes can be damaged by heat. “This is expensive but we get better quality berries.”

In California the industry averaged about six or seven litres of water to make one litre of wine. At the J. Lohr vineyard, Steve Lohr said, by 2012 they had managed to bring that figured down to two litres of water to make one litre of wine. “Saving water became a culture and we had contests to find ways to use less water.”

Row orientation for vines represents another way to be sustainable. Vines should be planted on a north-south orientation in cool climates because this approach increases sun exposure. But in hot climates such as Australia and South Africa, an east-west row orientation is better because vines are less likely to be burned. East-west is considered best for California.

Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand  follows recommendations and guidelines issued by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. Its program ensures members meet international standards for sustainability practices while helping the environment, businesses and local communities to thrive.

This program was introduced commercially in 1997 and has been adopted by grape growers across the country. Sustainable winery certification standards were established in 2002.

Stephanie Bolton, director of the LODI Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing Commission in California, also addressed the conference, which attracted about 1,000 delegates.

Her organisation began in 1992 when local growers chose to tax themselves to pay for sustainability. More than 200 growers had become certified since then, many using online self-assessment tools. “We plan for the next 100 years, not just the next few years.”

California had introduced a major education program for growers for saving water and she noted that cover crops represented an excellent way to conserve water and ensure vines were properly irrigated.

Wine menu in the United States now indicate that wines come from certified sustainable vineyards. Increasing numbers of people appear willing to pay a little extra for sustainable wines, Steve Lohr said.

Words: 1,029



Amarone old and new (2/11/2018)

Release of the new vintage of Amarone is always an important occasion, despite 2014 being a poor year. For publication in week starting 12 February 2018.

Amarone Anteprima celebrates the release of the current vintage of Amarone, the powerful red from the Valpolicella region of Italy recognised as one of the country’s three great red wines.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of that annual release in Verona, the northern city best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The release is always four years after the vintage year, so this half century anniversary involved Amarone from 2014.

But 2014 was a wet vintage. The region received 200mm of rain in July, for example, and production was about 30 per cent down compared with the average. Not all wineries made wine that year. Those that did not produce tended to be in the valleys affected by the rain.

Some estates chose to show older wines at the various tastings and events held in the city in the week from Saturday February 3.

The biggest Amarone Anteprima tasting is held at the grand palace on Verona’s main square on the first day of celebrations. There local and international media taste wines blind before publishing or broadcasting their assessments. At last year’s tasting, for the release of the 2013 vintage, 83 wines were available for blind judging. This year 42 wines were offered for judging, perhaps a comment on the quality of the 2014 vintage.

Some of the best of 2014 Amarone included Bertani with its bright aromas, good acidity and tangy flavours; Latium with its funky flavours and tight acidity; Recchia with its classic sunshine on brick aromas; and Santa Sofia with its soft tannins and elegance.

Amarone is made in a unique way: Grapes are air-dried for up to 120 days to concentrate flavours. Traditionally grapes were collected in wooden trays and dried in racks on cane tables. The fruit is spread in one layer so the weight of grapes does not start fermentation. Over time grapes lose up to half of their bulk but develop profound flavours – 100kg of grapes will produce about 40 litres of Amarone. This partially explains why Amarone is expensive.

Mayor Federico Sboarina described Verona as the “wine capital of Italy” and an “economic flywheel” for the country. He said Amarone and Prosecco were “business cards” for Italy in the sense of being recognised globally and provided considerable export revenues. Amarone was the king of wine styles while Prosecco was the queen, Sboarina said.

Last year (2017) was a good vintage for the region with about 600 million Euro turnover, Sboarina said. Growth in international markets was up 10 per cent, with 15 per cent higher sales in Asia. The domestic market was up 20 per cent.

The Consortium for the Tutelage of Valpolicella Wines, the Valpolicella Wine Board, invited Art critic Vittorio Sgarbi to speak at the February 3 event about the relationship between wine and art. The most beautiful things in life, like art, were the unnecessary ones, Sgarbi said. “The most popular drink in the world is Coca Cola, which is very different from Amarone.”

Coca Cola was the same around the world, but wine differed depending on region. “Art is based on ongoing variation. That is why coke is revolting, it is always the same.” Water was necessary for life, but wine was not, Sgarbi said. He received 6,500 Euros for his 40-minute talk.

To mark the 50th anniversary, a tasting of old Amarone took place in the grand palace on 3 February 2018. These were wines to dream about, though given the importance of the event and the limited number of places it was frustrating that no list was made available. Tasters had to scribble year and producer as the eight wines were poured.

The highlights were a 1950 reserve Amarone from Alberto Bolea followed by a 1969 Montresor. The former smelled of delicate dried rose petals with notes of liquorice and balsamic. It still had a touch of acidity. Tasting it was like waking from a sweet dream. The wine belongs to the past and was so different to modern Amarone. It only had 12 per cent alcohol compared with the 17 per cent monsters offered today.

The 1969 wine was still dark cherry red in the glass. It had intense aromas of truffles, mushrooms fried in butter and dark Morello cherries. The intensity and energy of both wines impressed. The 1950 wine was pale red whereas all of the others, despite their age, were dark cherry in the glass. It seems Amarone only loses its deep colours after more than half a century.

Other wines offered for tasting, all excellent in different ways, in descending order of appearance, were the 1983 Santa Sofia — slightly funky like an old Burgundy with lashings of spice and flowers from a summer garden; the 1985 Cariano which tasted of ripe plums and mulberry despite having a touch of volatile acidity; a 1997 Roccolo Grassi with sweet ripe black fruits plus lots of balancing acidity.

The last three wines were possibly too young but still inspiring to taste. They included a 2004 Dalforno with loads of coconut aromas, probably from new American oak, plus chocolate and mint flavours encased in a chalky structure; a 2008 Cantina di Negra full of ripe black fruitiness, the black colour in the glass the result of 30 days of maceration; and a 2010 Novaia Corte de Verona.

Words: 953.

Disclosures: My usual limit of 600 words was not enough to appreciate the joys of Amarone Anteprima. Stephen Quinn was the guest of the Valpolicella Wine Board who provided flights, accommodation and some meals.

Categories: Home page, Uncategorized

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