SEPTEMBER 2012

September 30 Fortified wines with Matteo

Matteo my tasting student is now preparing for his WSET exam on fortified wines.

In my youth I did some work for the director of the Madeira Wine Company. My job was to help  organize tasting of breathtakingly old vintages at venues in New York. I still have some older vintages of fine Madeira my wine closet.  I opened an 1899 Bual a few years ago to the amazement and amusement of my Italian and non-wine-trade English pals.  But I digress.

My role as tasting tutor for Matteo means that I help him determine identifiers for the wines so that he can spot them when he encounters them in blind tastings, and to help him write competent (exam-satisfying) tasting notes in English.  He has passed his first exams with flying colors.

I have a new experience: I sniff and taste bog-standard Madeira for the first time.  The vintage Madeira I am used to is an orchestra…this cheap one is one piercing – but mercifully short – note.

We plow away for an hour and forty five minutes on 3 wines.  I am going to have to loosen him up and increase his speed.  On the exam he will only have 10 minutes for each wine.  But speed comes with experience.  As does that essential component of trusting your instincts.  The first picture that forms in your mind is always the right one: listen to your instincts and pay no attention to the babble going on around you.

September 29  A PDQ Bach-ish moment at the Masi Fondation Awards Do

Every year the Masi Foundation awards a handful of truly exceptional individuals.  This year, among the winners (which included a Stop the Sale of Ivory and Protect The Elephants Activist, a journalist, a representative from the Institute of Masters of Wine and a linquist) was the exuberant 27 year old director of the Arena’s orchestra. This witty fellow also happens to be Toscanini’s grandson.  As part of the proceedings he and his group, which was waggishly called “The Latto B* Trio, plus the Page Turner” did a very funny PDQ Bach-ish potted opera.  While English-speakers are used to having fun with serious subjects, this is not something that comes naturally to Italians.  As one of the other winners said after the performance: “It was like oxygen. We need more of this irreverence and irony in Italy.”

*“Latto B” (known in English – for those who remember what a record is – as the Flip Side) is an Italian term for a posterior. An example of its use in a sentence: Pippa, Kate’s sister, has an attractive latto b, which she displayed at her sister’s wedding.”

September 27 Quintarelli with a fan

I received an email last week from a fellow in Massachusetts who reads this diary and felt moved to ask me to arrange a visit to Quintarelli for him and his wife as part of their holiday in Italy.

Trung and Martha swing by Verona: I take them to a wine shop where he buys a mixed case of Quintarelli and Dal Forno.  Then we lunch at the Carroarmato.  Trung wants to order Quintarelli Valpolicella for lunch. Annalisa dutifully goes to the cellar and comes back with the bottle.

“Oh, but you’re going to be visiting him this afternoon,” she says. “Let me recommend another Valpolicella (Villabelli) in order to give you an idea of the range of wines.”  We agree.  Let us pause for a moment and think about this.  She is holding a 100 Euro bottle in her hand and suggests one that is a third the price.  That is why I love the Carroarmato and my pal Annalisa.  She is a real wine lover and thinks of wine and the interests of the guest first, money doesn’t enter into the decision.

Off to Quintarelli.  Let me tell you right away.  You won’t find the place with a GPS. You have to remember that there is a long olive tree-lined drive that looks – as you whiz past it once or twice – like a regular country road.  The last time I visited the estate was at least a decade ago and that driveway tricked me yet again.

For those of you who do not follow Italian wine: Giuseppe Quintarelli was an institution in Valpolicella. He was a highly individualistic person who made wines that reflected his personality: great and graceful. He died this year after a long illness that set in in 2009.  The estate is now run by his eldest daughter Fiorenza, her husband and son.  When we arrive, she is in the vineyard next to the house, secateurs in hand, picking the last of the grapes.

Francsco Grigoli, Giuseppe’s grandson, shows us around the winery and takes us down to the dimly lit tasting room and lines up a few bottles of the distinctively labeled Quintarelli wines.

“My mother and my aunt used to make all the labels by hand,” says Francesco.

Francesco, who looks to be in his mid-twenties – opens the bottles, pours the wine, wipes the lip of the bottle and the foot of each glass with the slow, methodical movements of an old man.

Michael whispers to me: “He moves just like Giuseppe.”

“I used to help my grandfather by translating for him when he had English-speaking guests and I helped pick cherries from the orchard,” says Francesco.

2011 Bianco Secco It is composed of a blend of Garganega, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Soarine (an indigenous grape). Floral, fresh, with an uplifting grassy note. Fragrant and full on the palate.

Trung has never tasted a white from Quintarelli wine and is delighted with it.

Fiorenza & Francesco

2008 Primofiore IGT 50% Cabernet with Corvina and Corvinone. Deep, plummy.  A bright grassy-ness. Long finish. A slippery slab of fruit, with a lively vegetal (in a good way) buoyancy.

“It is aged for 2 years in bottle and is the youngest red we make,” says Francesco.

Valpolicella 2003 (Quintarelli’s current vintage – all the wines undergo lengthy aging). Made from 50% semi-dried grapes and 50% fresh grapes. A rich cherries-under-spirits nose. Velvety. A tapestry of fresh juicy cherry flavor, with a sprinkling of spices. Lively freshness on the palate.

This after 6 years in barrel.  Are you beginning to understand why Quintarelli became a cult classic for Italian wine lovers? Some months ago I opened a bottle of 1988 Valpolicella – it was richer, more complex, more interesting – and just plain better – than 85% of the Amarones that are currently available on the market.  Price of the 2003 at the cantina, should you wish to buy a bottle: 37 Euros.

Rosso del Beppe 2002 made with semi-dried grapes destined for Amarone production.

“When the vintage is not exceptional we label the wine intended for Amarone as “Rosso del Beppe” (Beppe is the usual nickname for Giuseppe). We think it is good it tell the customers that Nature is not always consistent,” says Francesco. “We think it is a good wine but it is not Amarone.”

Oh, how I wish more producers had the gumption to do this.

Need I add that the Rosso del Beppe could mop up the floor with most of the wines that flow out of Valpolicella with the name “Amarone” proudly printed on the label.  Price at the cantina: 75 Euros

2003 Amarone Deep ruby. Juicy cherries and an idea of incense fill the nose. The palate echoes the nose. It is the wine’s vivacity that astounds me. Nothing vulgar. Noting obvious.  Pure evolving, revolving pleasure. Price at the cantina: 340 Euros

“It’s so alive in the mouth,” says Trung.

“My grandfather considered Amarone a vino da meditazione.”

A vino da Meditazione is a wine that is meant to be drunk outside of mealtime. Its best accompaniment is good friends and conversation.

Alzero 2001 made from semi-dried Cabernet grapes. Alzero was first made in the 1980s. Opaque. Almost too much of a good thing.  This, too, is a vino da meditazione.  Price at the cantina: 215 Euros.

“Do you drink French wines,” Trung asks Francesco.

“No, we drink our wine” is the reply.

Recioto 2001 A weave of black cherries, an idea of wood smoke, a delicate note of caramel and once again that Quintarelli signature of lively vivacity on the palate.  Long finish, flavor merges into flavor. It is like a bolt of silk unfurling. Price at the cantina 170 Euros.

“We don’t like the Recioto to be too sweet,” says Francesco. “It must be well-balanced.”

Amabile de Cere. Amber color. Fresh hazelnuts, melting sugar, uplifting acidity. All the fragrances are amplified on the palate. The flavor remains in the long, lingering finish.  It is made from the same grape blend as for Bianco Secco, but here the grapes are semi-dried.  Price at the caninta: 220 euros.

Martha leans over to me and says quietly: “You’ve made Trung’s dream come true.”

September 25 Concorso di Scultura “Antonio Canova” at Villa Rizzardi a Pojega

Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it) hosted the third annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, which offers young Italian artists an opportunity for international exposure.  Works by the nine finalists were displayed at Villa Rizzardi, which is surrounded by a stunning garden designed by 18th century architect Luigi Trezza (www.pojega.it). This year’s winner is Alberto Gianfreda. Michael and I took a gander at the 10 finalist’s works and we both bet on Gianfreda to win.  But we also enjoyed works by Mattia Montemezzani, Marianna Lodi, Giulia De Marinis and Marta Colombi. I will happily admit to loving everything about this annual sculpture competition: its aim to encourage young talent, the exquisite setting and – tah dah – the elegant canapés. The caterer is absolutely the best: ConGusto www.congustovicenza.com. This company works all over Northern Italy and also has clients in Germany.

September 24 Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda’s new shop in Verona

We go to the inauguration of Castelnuovo del Garda’s new shop in Verona (via Leoncino 27 – 100 meters from the Arena!!). Nice little shop, offering patrons the chance to try the wines by the glass before buying.  Our party favor at the end of the “do” was Castelnuovo’s new bag-in-box wines.  I have never possessed a bag-in-box before.  The only useful thing I know about them is that the wily Australians, once the wine has been consumed, inflate the plastic sack and use it for a post-picnic pillow.  I also get a bottle of the company’s Valpolicella called “Vintage”.  I like this simple, juicy wine.

We run into a beaming Carlo Nerozzi, owner of Le Vigne di San Pietro.  His Bardolino has just won the coveted Tre Bicchieri (Three Glass) award from a prestigious wine guide.  His is the first Bardolino to achieve this honor.

September 22 The Illasi Valley’s and a chat with Romano Dal Forno

Beppe G. picks us up and we whiz out to Tregnago to the inauguration of the new offices of The Illasi Valleys group (www.visitillasivalleys.com), an organization put together by pal Bernardo Pasquali that involves some 50 members, including wineries, olive oil producers, travel agents, hotels and a host of other hospitality oriented business.

“We worked ‘til midnight to get everything ready for today,” says Bernardo. “Here in Tregnano (where they roll up the sidewalks at 9 p.m.) they thought were nuts to be working so late.”

I see Romano Dal Forno and ask him for a chat as I am writing a long article about Amarone for a Singapore-based magazine.  Here are the highlights of our conversation:

“The sudden international interest in Amarone was like an explosion – and, as with all explosions, not all the results are positive.”

“The message I want to communicate – and sometimes mine is like a voice in the desert – is this:  “We make Amarone, Valplicella and Recioto – we never resorted to making other wines. I will remain true to my conventions – ‘tll death do us part’, as they say in the wedding vows. “

“Amarone is not a wine for dinner. Amarone is outside the normal classifications. And anything that is outside the norm must be special, must provoke an emotion. This is the Amarone of my dreams.  Only in this way can we give the world an idea of what an Amarone really is.”

“If you want to make a great Amarone you start with the grapes.  I spent many years finding the best raw material.”

“When you have a wine that is complete, you don’t really need an accompaniment.  I think Amarone should be served after an important dinner, with, at the most, a good Parmesan cheese”

I also chat with Filippo and Ettore Garbole (info@fattoriagarbole.it). I visited their estate in July and was impressed.  When I asked them the food/wine pairing question.

“In my opinion,” says Ettore. “A great cheese or sometimes chocolate – something that is pure cacao. Ideally, a piece of parmesan, sprinkled with grated chocolate and a drop of balsamic vinegar.”

September 18 Go Chievo – for those who don’t know…Chievo is a soccer team

We take the bus to the end of the line and are disgorged into a netherworld somewhere between a suburb and countryside.  We are heading for the Chievo Calcio Fan Club do.  For 15 Euros we get a Chievo mug, a Chievo pen, a laminated Fan Club Card, pasta, dessert and wine in small plastic cups.  A fine time was had by all.

Below is a picture of Michael in front a trophy; Sabrina, Mistress of the Drinks Table, Sra. Maria and Luciano, an important player; and Sergio, the fellow who kindly drove us home as the buses stop running in that part of town at around 10 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

September 17 Terre di Pietra

We take the bus out to Marcellise to visit the Terre di Pietra winery, talk with Laura Albertini (co-owner) and taste the wines.

“I wanted to work in the vineyards but my father was against it. He said women worked in the office not in the fields,” says Laura. “Fortunately my husband’s father didn’t mind if I worked his vineyards.  We made our first wines in his garage.”

Her own father was not happy with Laura’s decision.  “For the first few years my father criticized everything I did.  Now he comes out to the field when I’m working just to chat,” she pauses and smiles. “So, it looks like I won in the end.”

Among my favorite wines tasted today:

Stelar Valpolicella Classico 2010  (in magnums) Vibrant ruby color. A sprinkling of black pepper. Lushly fruity – juicy cherry fruit.  Very satisfying.  Old-fashioned in the best sense of the word. .

“My wines always have good acidity because the vineyards are located high up.  When people say my wines are drinkable I take that as a compliment,” says Laura.

Her Amarone Rosson 2007 had an interesting spicy undertow. A very soft entry on the palate and a long finish.  Nice velvety texture.

September 10  Zipping up to Trentino with Fede and Antonella

Filippo Scienza

We are heading for a bookshop in Trento that is hosting a “do” for the Vallarom winery (www.vallarom.com).  The company has just been accepted as a member in a European organization that, among other things, is keen to reduce or do away with altogether, the use of sulfites.

“Most of the vine-growers in Trentino are heading toward organic production,” says Fillipo Scienza, owner (with his wife Barbara) of Vallarom.

Marzemino 2011 Medium deep purple-tinged ruby. A fullness on the nose. Blackberry hints, with the lingering idea of coffee.

 

 

September 7  The Venice Film Festival Adventure

We are off to Venice today.  It is our anniversary and our pal Ugo, who reviews films, has got us into a journalists thrash (a.k.a. an awards presentation that he has helped organized for several years).  He promises there will be celebrities.  Knowing Ugo this means people who are wildly famous in Bosnia or Puglia.

We arrive in Venice and immediately go to the dock to get a boat to the Lido.  We are disgorged into a suburb.  It is a perfect venue for a glittering international film festival because it is so mundane (I mean that in the nicest possible way).

When we went to buy our tickets for a film at the festival the girl asked if we were 60 or over and Michael said: One of us is.  I told her I had no I.D. to prove I was 60 to which she replied: I’ll take your word for it.  I didn’t know whether to be pleased or not.  At any rate, I had my first old age discount.  The film was Iranian: The Parental House and we saw it in a huge, comfortable cinema – the one used for major screenings…the one with the red carpet on which the stars tread.  The most striking thing about the experience was sitting in a cinema full of people who kept their mouths shut during the screening.  Bliss.

Then we go to Ugo’s prize giving do.  Silvio also arrives and offers to give us a lift back to Verona as he has brought his car over to the Lido on the Ferry.  After the Prosecco has been drunk and the prizes given, Ugo, Silvio, Michael and I do a little bar hop to Ugo’s favorite Lido joints.  The one I liked best: Osteria da Cri Cri & Tendina  (Via S. Gallo 159/a, Lido di Venezia) .

Happy bar customer

“The food is really good here”, says Silvio, as we tuck into some delicious shrimps in saor the host offered us to go along with our Campari Spritzes.

Then off to dinner at Ristorante Valentino (via Sandro Gallo 81, Lido di Venezia). Nice place, interesting food. I would go back there again.

When I start to fret about getting home to Stanley Dog, Ugo assures me that there are lots of boats from the Lido to Venice.  “They lay on more ferries during the festival,” he says.

At about midnight we get in Silvio’s car drive to the ferry and discover that the next ferry does not leave until 5 am.  We arrived back in Verona at 7 a.m.