June 29 Air Conditioning at the Osteria Sottoriva (a.k.a. Franco’s)
June 28 Recioto di Soave Extravaganza
Lorenzo S. is a great supporter of Recioto di Soave (the Veneto’s first DOCG wine), a Garganega-based wine made with the appassimento technique (that is, the semi-drying of the grapes before pressing). To help promote this undervalued wine he enlisted the help of The Soave Consortium to organize a blind tasting of 43 currently available Soaves. Top tasters were drawn from the Veneto and Trentino (and Michael and me). What I found exhilarating is that one wine came out top on every single wine taster’s list. This kind of unanimous positive response is rare and a certain indication of the quality of the wine. What was it? Tah-Dah: Le Sponde Recioto di Soave 2010 produced by Coffele. Here is my note: Vibrant pale amber. Sweetness and freshness are nicely-balanced. The nose is a cornucopia of fruit (mandarin, pear) and flowers (meadow blossoms. Very nice, indeed. It gives pleasure.
Four others that gave me particular pleasure were: Balestri Valda (2009), Montetondo (Nettare di Bacco, 2009), Ca’ Rugate (La Perlara 2008) and Martinelli – Terre dei Monti (l’Eredita 2008).
June 27 In Franciacorta with Ezio Z.
Ezio Z., who has organized today’s visit, picks me and three other journalists up at the train station. One of these is a compulsive talker. In one sense this is good as it relieves me of the responsibility of talking and allows me to remain in my head. On the other hand, compulsive talkers have an hysterical streak that is wearying: she reports conversations she has had with herself; she answers her phone and remains at the table engaging in long conversations in a stage whisper that could be heard at the back of the theatre and into the lobby; when a quiet Italian asks a question of one of the hosts, she immediately starts a loud conversation with the other host. Fortunately other journalists arrive and she is diffused.
We are in the Franciacorta zone. While both Franciacorta and Champagne are made with the metodo classico, that is, with the second fermentation taking place in bottle, and both have earned the right to use the name of their zone alone to indicate not only where they come from but also the winemaking process used to make them, it is Franciacorta that has the most rigorous production regulations and some 75% of Franciacorta estates produce less than 100,000 bottles a year. Around 90% of the producers here are small to medium-sized and grow their own grapes.
We are Vignenote www.vignenote.it
The complex – restaurant, musical venue, ultra modern suites for guests and, oh, yes, wine – is a lovely mix of historic buildings, with sleek, modern interiors and state-of-the-art technology.
The wine in their range that stood out for me is the Saten 2007 (in magnum) 100% Chardonnay. It has a soft sensation on the palate with sprightly acidity underneath. Flavors and scents of ripe pear. After 15 minutes it is still firm and has developed a nice lemony snap.
June 22 More Tasting and 5 bum-numbing hours in a Roman Arena.
“You bet I do. If I had swallowed 160 Amarones I would be in hospital right now.”
TIP for those tasting a sea of wines – drink lots of water and lay down a nice layer of soft bread in your stomach to absorb the acidity.
Paolo B. picks me up and off we go to Valpolicella to taste an unconscionable number of wines. (For Italians reading this unconscionable means unreasonably excessive).
We started the day with a group of Ripasso wines. The bulk of the wines in this category were tasted yesterday. After sniffing and slurping my way through today’s samples, I was supremely glad to have missed yesterday’s marathon. A whole day of these confused and constructed wines would have been cruel and unusual punishment. Yes, I am sure there are some nice ripassos out there – they just were not in today’s group. (Excerpts from my notes: hot, hollow, sour, chemical, horse sweat, rustic)
We then slurped our way through Valpolicella Superiore. Dear Reader, if you have a choice on a menu between Ripasso and Valpolicella Superiore, go for the latter. You will have a much, much better chance of getting a decent wine.
We then tackled IGTs made primarily from indigenous varieties. Some of the producers who emerged from the blind tasting with decent scores:
Monte de Fra, Masi (Campofiorin and Osar), Allegrini (La Grola), Zymé, Brigaldara and Fasoli Gino.
I am home for exactly two hours, and then we set off to endure 5 bum-numbing hours sitting on the stone steps of the Arena. For those who don’t know, the Arena is a Roman theatre in Verona’s main piazza. (Think the coliseum in Rome, but better preserved and made from lovely light-colored stone). I agreed to go only because the composer was Mozart. Hey – I thought – Mozart is always sprightly. I did not factor in the 20 minute waits between scenes in which heavy stage decoration was shifted – none of which was actually used as a real prop for the performance. We got home at 2 am. I tell Michael that henceforward I will only attend operas with comfortable seats.
June 21 A Graham and Braida Evening & Art
We take our pal Graham G. to visit Roberto Bravi, artist, juggler and sommelier. www.tinsonpanal.com. A gallery in Germany sells his work but he has no gallery in Verona. All my Verona friends reading this will understand what that means. Let me translate for the rest of you: Verona – for all its beauty – is a very provincial place.
Our pal Graham G. is the agent in the U.K. for Braida. For those who don’t know Braida is an estate in Piedmont. Giacomo Bologna (who passed away many years ago) was the first producer to take Barbera seriously. He was an incredible person – dynamic – larger than life. He is still missed by all those who knew him.
Graham has just visited Braida and has a box of 9 samples that he must taste so he proposes we go to dinner and taste them with our friends, Stefania, Ugo and Silvio. We do the range. The highlight for me was the Bricco dell’Uccelone 2008. Young? Yes, but the plums and cream and elegance that I expect to find in this wine are all there.
Can’t say much for the two whites we tried…but the Barberas were classy.
June 18 and 19 AMARONE A-GO-GO
The first 6 wines (of more than 160) Amarones are poured. Thirty-five minutes later the tasters are still blah-blah-ing and dishing out 86-point and 90-point scores. When I could stand it no more I said: “Wait! I think we should remember that we are supposed to be tasting Amarones. Just adding the word “Amarone” on the label means that these bottles will sell for a minimum 20 Euros a bottle to the consumer. Yes, there are no bacterial or chemical faults in the wines in front of us – BUT there is not one wine in this group that I could recommend to a friend at that price. And for me that is a factor when giving out awards: would I recommend this to a friend.”
And I thought but did not say: If they start out giving high scores to the 2009s what on earth will they do when a real Amarone pops up? – give it 110 points? All the tasters looked to Bernard P., who organized the tasting and is the final authority on all disputes. Fortunately he agreed with me and the points settled into the sane range. We also stepped up the pace.
The top Amarone for me and the one that received the highest score I have ever given was Quintarelli 2003 Amarone: supple, graceful, satisfying. My highest score in the Valpollicella group also went to Quintarelli’s 2003 Valpolicella Classico. For those who do not yet know, Quintarelli died a few months ago – Amarone and Valpolicella will never be the same. If you are fortunate enough to get the change to taste one of his wines please savor it.
In October of last year I brought a 1988 Quintarelli Valpolicella to a dinner at a friend’s house. Here is the note: Deep, bright black cherry/plum color. Nose: Fresh, cocoa, lightly candied cherries Palate: sprightly acidity. The flavor of cherries near the pit with a touch of cream. Silky verging on velvety texture. Long Finish.
“Cribbio,” said Annalisa, who was also a guest at that dinner. “For other wineries this would be an Amarone. Mama, che gioia! I’m tired of stupid wines that don’t give joy.”
“When I first met Quintarelli,” she continued. “I thought he was going to be huge but he was as small as me. I spent two hours there tasting. We talked about everything but the wine.”
After 30 minutes in the glass the wine was still fresh and firm. After 45 minutes coffee and cola notes emerge. After 1 and ½ hours, its freshness was breathtaking. “How is it possible that Quintarelli can make a Valpolicella that after 23 years is still giving sensual pleasure, when there are producers who are making Amarones that are dead after 5 years?” That is the question I asked last year…and I repeat today.
Every lover of Italian wine will miss Giuseppe Quintarelli.
Some of The Tasters: Sara & Paolo, Alessandro, Bernardo, Beppe
My favorite notes of Paolo’s:”snail sweat” and “decomposing rabbit”.
June 17 The Bastardino Show
June 12 Horses!!! & Soave
Alberto, Chiara’s brother and the winemaker at the estate, sits across from me.
“I want to be able to work the land with a horse. With steep terraces like ours Horses are much safer than tractors.”
“In the last four or five years I’ve run into quite a few winemakers who have said the same thing but so far nobody has done anything decisive,” I say.
Alberto smiles. “First you have to find the right horse,” he says. “And I have. Come along, I’ll show you.”
And so we met Lady, a powerfully built beauty.
Alberto says he will call me when he gets his plan up and running. Hooray.
June 8 Volcania in Soave
June 5 Trentino Tourism
We take the bus to Villa del Quar. (www.hotelvilladelquar.it) Representatives of the Trentino Tourist board are there and outline their very cool initiatives. Trentino DOC sparkling wine flows freely.
Then to dinner in the Villa del Quar restaurant. Lovely room. With dinner I gulp more sparkling wine.
Here are reasons to visit Trentino:
June 4 Francesco Z.’s wedding in San Gimignano
We arrive. I lie down for 20 minutes…
We put on our glad rags and head to the Cathedral for the wedding of Francesco Z. and his lovely bride. She is a Spanish television presenter and journalist. Both are very outgoing and generous people.
At the church the Spanish ladies are easy to spot – the colors of their dresses are livelier, with a bit more pizzazz. The kind of bright plumage you would never see in Verona (or most places in Italy).
A youngish woman looks me up and down, I register disdain in her curled upper lip. It is clear that I am not dressed up enough for her. She is Italian and wearing a Grecian inspired floor-length dress in a shade that lacks the punch to be copper or full-fledged brown. Her shoes are suede in three colors – fuchsia, rose and – what Daddy used to call – baby-shit-brown. None of these work with her dress. There, we’re even.
We see Franco Giacosa (former wine maker at Zonin and now wine consultant) “The priest,” he says. “Is unorthodox. He believes in reincarnation and he meditates! I meditated with him once. It was incredible.”
The reception was nice. I took no notes on the wine and food because – it was a wedding. What kind of person whips out her notebook at a wedding?