Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Veneto region of Italy stretches from the sands and boardwalks of Lago Garda, to the hills that envelope Verona, and up to the alpines of the Valdobbiadene. This region has always produced a notable collection of red and white wine varietals that were considered solid and dependable, if not a bit pedestrian. This has all changed over the past decade, however. With the ultimate goal of entering emerging markets, especially in the New World, many wineries in this region have been investing in the winemaking process from top to bottom. Vineyard techniques, equipment, bottling and even marketing have been revamped. This is the challenge for Old World wineries as they attempt to enter new markets. Keeping the character and tradition intact that has endured for centuries in their regions, while at the same time, producing a product that is more palatable to a market that is seeking tastes unlike the well recognized styles produced in the Old World.
The gem of the Veneto region is, of course, Amarone della Valpolicella, a long time favorite Italian varietal for me. Constructed primarily from the Corvina Veronese grape, with smaller quantities of Rondinella and Molinara, the grapes used for this wine must be very ripe for the wine to achieve Amarone's trademark intensity, structure and high alcohol content. Unlike regions further south, Veneto is not typically warm enough to ripen and concentrate the juice of the grape while still on the vine, so the lots that have been earmarked for use in Amarone go through a process called “recioto.” The fruit is allowed to ripen longer on the vine after normal harvest, and are always hand- picked and set carefully to dry for up to four months on straw mats. This drying, or recioto, concentrates the sugar, tannin and goodness of the grape by evaporating the moisture, converting the grapes into semi-raisins. Roughly three kilos of fresh grapes are necessary to obtain one liter of must after processing, which clearly is a fraction of the yield that the same weight of grapes would produce under normal winemaking circumstances. For this reason, Amarones tend to be produced in limited quantities, and are quite expensive.
FABIANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO, I FONDATORI (2001)
The Fabiano family have been in the wine-making industry in the Veneto region since 1912. They have had several locales since that early start, and currently reside in well modernized, large facility in an area uniquely suited for wine growing, half way between the city of Verona and Lago Garda. It is run by the third generation of Fabiano sons.
This 2001 limited production Amarone is created from a very particular selection of grapes in the “classic” area of Valpolicella, and blended at a ratio of 60% Corvina, 35% Rondinella, 5% Molinara. Although high alcohol content is a common thread among all Amarones, this wine has one of the highest, at 15.5%.
Nose: The deep pomegranate and plum colors of this wine guide you seductively into its extremely thick, complex nose with layered licorice, leather, all-spice and black fruit.
Palate: An incredibly concentrated, extracted, but pleasing complexity emerges without delay. Layers upon layers of dark chocolate, coffee, some white pepper and currant, bound together with a soothing fig property, finally ending with a very zingy hit of alcohol on the finish. Opulent and classy, with a bit of playfulness due that high alcohol. Decanted for one hour (although two hours is commonly recommended for this varietal.)
RATING: A- ($50-$60 USD, retail)