Amarone old and new

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.

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