Too hot to appreciate

The ceiling of the Palazzo Verità Poeta

I have always associated Amarone with winter — a big wine to enjoy by a cosy fire. Indeed, one of the delights of winter is attending the launch of the Anteprime for Amarone della Valpolicella in Verona, usually in February. Anteprime is where the latest vintage is presented to the world.

This year it was different. This annual launch for 2022 was held from June 17-20, and it was very hot in Verona as we approached the summer solstice.

The consortium for the Valpolicella region wanted to show the versatility of the region’s wines. Sadly the heat had other ideas.

To open the programme for Amarone Opera prima, as the four days were called, a food and wine masterclass was organised on June 18 at Palazzo Verità Poeta, the beautifully-named and beautifully-formed palace of the poets.

The aim was to pair cuisines from four areas of the world with different expressions of the region’s wines. Nicola Portinari, a chef with two Michelin stars at La Peca in Lonigo, took on the challenge.

For me it was a disaster. It was at least 38C inside the stone walls of the palace. The fans made a terrible noise and mostly pushed more hot air around the room.

No menu or wine list was provided so we needed translations to appreciate what was happening. But the tiny space had appalling acoustics. The original Italian boomed from five speakers, drowning out the translation.

Wines were not identified, which was a good thing because the food did not marry with any of them, and if anything detracted from their qualities. Why serve wines at up to 18 degrees of alcohol in such heat? That was the question that kept running through my head.

The first course of scallops (shown left) with a range of umami flavours had too many edges for the Amarone served with it. The high alcohol burned my stomach. I drank lots of water as the sweat stained my shirt.

Mercifully the second wine was served slightly chilled, though that reduced some appreciation of its fruit flavours. It was paired with smoked eel and watermelon with a reduction sauce of Amarone. The wine was Recioto, a sweeter style. Read more about it here. Tasting sweet-bitter dark chocolate with the oiliness of smoked eel was not a pleasant experience.

The third dish consisted of cabbage dumpling with horseradish. Presumably this was a nod to Asian cuisine. The accompanying wine failed to offer any help with the food. The event was subtitled “Amarone off the beaten track” but it felt like we were lost in the woods.

The final course took us to North America and consisted of pork cheek in a kind of cherry pie. By this stage my shirt felt like I had walked into the shower fully clothed, and I did not care what wine went with it. I just wanted to get outside and find some shade and feel a cool breeze.

All was forgiven that night when I was among about 100 journalists from 20 countries given tickets to the opera. It was Aida by Verdi performed in the magnificent setting of the Arena di Verona. The performance started a bit after 9pm to a packed audience. The magical music of the opera took my mind off the heat.

I drank so much water I needed the bathroom. At the interval I found myself queuing with hundreds of others in the ancient caverns of the arena. I did not want to miss the music so I skipped the toilet. Bad mistake.

When I really needed to use the toilet later in the evening the security staff refused to let me go there. I ignored them and found the toilet.

Security fascists aside, it was a wonderful performance. And worth staying awake until after 1am because the performance ran for more than four hours.

The opera set me up nicely for the grand tasting of Anteprima Amarone the next day (June 19) in the Palazzo della Grand Guardia, in the beautiful centre of Verona.

Thankfully, wine for the Anteprima Amarone tasting was kept in a fridge to keep it cool during the heat of the day. A total of 39 wines from the 2017 vintage were available for tasting in the morning, while older vintages could be sampled in the afternoon.

As in previous years, the splendid wines of Valentina Cubi shone. Her current vintage of Amarone, Morar (2017), is splendid. That wine just gets better as it ages, a tribute to the estate’s organic practices and their respect for the land, and the profound skill of the winemaker.


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