Now that the gifts have been opened, the holiday dinners eaten and great splurge-worthy wines drunk, and the credit card statements are arriving, it’s time to return to the reasonably priced, flavorful wines that we drink throughout the year.
The Veneto region in northeastern Italy stretches from Venice, its capital city, across the plains to the red-grape vineyards of Valpolicella, and the city of Verona. The Valpolicella appellation is north of Verona; its western border is the beautiful Lake Garda, and the eastern edge is the foothills of the Alps. It is a fecund wine region, out-produced only by Tuscany.
Valpolicella has a mixed image. At its entry level, the wines can be an insipid, mass produced drink. But its multiple classifications offer a range of well-made, good-value flavorful wines and age-worthy gems.
In 1968, the Valpolicella appellation was greatly expanded, causing a substantial increase in volume and corresponding decrease in quality. But quality rises with Valpolicella Classico, the classification for wines from the smaller, original vineyard area.
Next on the ladder is Valpolicella Classico Superiore, which requires at least one year of aging. Higher still is the complex Valpolicella Ripasso, (ripassare means to revise, make again or pass over), which combines the newly fermented Valpolicella with Amarone’s pomace (the pulp from the finished fermentation of Amarone) for a few weeks. This marriage generates a deeper hue, more aromatic and structured wine.
At the top rung, is Recioto della Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella made from the ripest grapes. For these wines, the grapes are placed in straw or plastic trays and left to dry in open rooms until November, December or January after the harvest, concentrating the grape’s sugar. Technology has intervened in this ancient tradition by creating temperature- and- humidity-controlled drying tents. Fermentation follows, but, for recioto it is stopped before all the sugar is converted into alcohol, leaving a sweet wine. If the fermentation is not stopped, the resulting dry wine is Amarone della Valpolicella.
Cesari grapes drying in basket (photo courtesy of Cesari)
Valpolicella is made from a set of unique grapes: Foremost is corvina, which by law must be at least 45 percent of the blend; rondinella, which must be between five and 35 percent, and up to 25 percent of other approved varietals such as the indigenous molinara (normally in every blend) corvinone and oseleta (in some blends); or barbera, sangiovese and even small amounts of cabernet sauvignon and merlot (which I cannot recall ever having in a Valpolicella wine).
In November, Olga Bussinello, director of the Consorzio Valpolicella and Alberto Brunelli, its enologist were in New York and presented a selection of a dozen Valpolicella wines from its 275 producers to the members of the Wine Media Guild. Not all are available in our market, so I have limited my comments to those I was able to find that had an importer.
(photo: John Foy)
Brunelli reported the 2014 vintage in Valpolicella was marked by colder, rainy weather, yielding wines with a higher acidity level. But Mother Nature was kinder in 2015 with her sunshine and warmer temperatures. The growing season was ideal, and the wines have excellent balance of sugar and acidity. .
The 2014 Monte Zovo Valpolicella with its light body and the juicy cherry and strawberry flavors is a good example of the Valpolicella appellation-designated style. It is similar to the structure of Beaujolais or a regional Chianti. 87 points. Expect to pay about $16.
Antonio Fattori is the third generation winemaker of his family winery. The 2015 Fattori Valpolicella Col de la Bastia is from a recently purchased 30-acre vineyard in the eastern corner of Valpolicella zone, named Col de la Bastia.
The vineyard is rich in limestone and yellow sandstone, considered ideal for the corvina grape that comprises 65 percent of the wine’s blend. Strawberry predominates the aroma and flavor with an undercurrent of cherry; this Valpolicella is fruit driven from the first scent to the last sip- and makes a perfect partner to a Marghertia pizza. 87 points. Not yet in the market, but T.Edwards in NYC imports Fattori wines.
Cesari Winery (photo courtesy of Cesari)
The 2015 Gerardo Cesari Valpolicella Classico is one of the older and larger wine companies in the region. Its 2015 Valpolicella Classico is a blend of corvina, rondinella and molinara grapes; the bitter cherry aroma and flavor, medium body and mildly stony finish is classic Classico. 88 points. Expect to pay about $15. Opici Wines is the importer and national distributor, which should make it easier to find.
Buglioni was founded in 1993 in the Valpolicella Classico village, San Pietro in Cariano. The composition of 60 percent Corvina, 25 percent Corvinone,10 percent Rondinella and five percent Croatina in the 2015 Buglioni Valpolicella Classico Il Valpo yields enticing herbal and ripe strawberry scents with immediately pleasing cherry and strawberry flavors. A dry, mineral finish provides length and balance. 89 points. Not yet in our market.
Earlier in 2016, I tasted two other excellent Buglioni wines: The well-made 2012 Il Bugiardo Buglioni Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso. Il Bugiardo means the liar, which is what a sommelier called the first Buglioni Ripasso in 2000 when he mistakenly thought it was an Amarone. The name was too good to ignore.
It is made from a blend of 60 percent corvina, 20 percent corvinone, 10 percent rondinella and five percent each croatina and oseleta. After the harvest, the grapes were divided into two lots: one part was destemmed, crushed and fermented, the other was placed on trays and dried until November, then fermented.
After the Amarone was fermented in January, the pomace was added to the Valpolicella Superiore and refermented —creating the ripasso– aged for one year in Slavonian oak barrels, 20 percent of which were new, and transferred to stainless-steel tanks for an additional six months aging. The 2012 Il Bugiardo Buglioni Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso was bottled and aged for another six months before being sold.
The resulting wine has a truthful, pronounced black-fruit aroma with an oregano-like accent. Black-fruit and bitter-cherry fruit flavors are supported by a dry, stony finish that cries for prime rib or grilled lamb chops. 90 points. Prices range from an honestly good value $22 to a reasonable $28.
The non-lying wine is the 2009 Buglioni L’Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. Made from the same blend as the ripasso, the grapes were dried until January 2010. Following fermentation, the wine was aged for two years in French oak barrels (only 20 percent being new).
The nose is more refined than the boisterous ripasso, and the limited use of new French oak barrels preserved the pure, pungent red-fruit aroma with a raspberry-like inflection. Black-cherry and tart-cherry flavors cross the palate with integrated tannins, giving the 2009 Buglioni L’Amarone della Valpolicella Classico a long, harmonious finish. 93 points. Retail ranges from $50 to $65. Wilson Daniels is the national importer.