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Outstanding Amarones - May 2019

PLEASE NOTE THAT WE HAVE NOW SOLD OUR ALLOCATION OF THE SAN BENEDETTO CAMPORAL 2009 DISCUSSED BELOW.  HOWEVER, PLEASE CONTACT US IF SEEKING 6 BOTTLES OR MORE OF THIS WINE.

The pre-amble

The May 2019 edition of Decanter (www.decanter.com) makes its usual, detailed, panel-based, blind-tasted analysis, this time of Premium Amarone (della Valpolicella ... that most opulent and celebrated of Italian reds.

We offer two of the three Outstanding (95-point +) wines that head that review, including the 96-pointer that tops it.

Scroll down if you'd prefer to get straight to the wines. This is the pre-amble, after all.

For news of the other wines in Decanter this month, click this link.

Amarone is a red wine classic, a global great. 

Not everything points to household name status. We don't, we believe, knowingly retail to psychopaths, but it's worth noting that Thomas Harris's book version of The Silence of the Lambs sees Hannibal Lecter ‘choose’ a glass of Amarone to wash down his infamous meal, not the now-celebrated "nice" Chianti (although this is actually a sardonic claim he makes, based on an irony regarding his medication). It was apparently felt by the screenwriters that global film audiences might struggle to identify Amarone.

<Personally, with liver, I'd choose a good Crozes-Hermitage or a nice Rioja, but then - fortunately - I'm not making quite the same choices as Dr Lecter>.

In a world of returning restraint and greater leanness in red wines - of lower 'octane', if you will - it's interesting to see just how popular Amarone remains. This is a wine that typically heads above 16% abv/alcohol and seeks, in its greatest examples, a very heady concentration of flavours indeed.

 

Amarone della Valpolicella - our Bullet-Point Guide

For the needing-of-info, the enthusiast, the WSET student, the curious - and not, we hope, the incarcerated maniac - we've a bullet point guide to Amarone below.

  • Amarone della Valpolicella hails from north-east Italy, from the Veneto region imediately adjacent to Verona.
  • Amarone defines the style of the wine (amaro = bitter); Valpolicella is the sub-region/district.
  • Classico is the term - as with most key Italian regions - used/permitted for wines for the core/better/more traditional areas of the Valpolicella region - a sort of Premier Cru, if you like. Plenty of Amarones come from outwith the Classico zone; many are very good indeed.

map from Decanter

  • Amarone must be made from 45-95% Corvina and 5-50% Rondinella; up to 50% Corvinone can be used in lieu of the Corvina and up to 15% of any other red grape allowed in the region may also be used: Molinara tends to feature here, but keep an eye out for Croatina and Oseleta.
  • Safe to say, then: it's a blend.
  • Corvina brings fruit and structure to that blend; Rondinella brings body/weight and sugar; Molinara adds fragrance and acidity. Regard this, if you like, as the same as the employment of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano (respectively) in a Rioja.
  • But the what is less important than the how. This is a dried-grape wine: the terms passito and appassimento are used interchangeably in Italy (the former more in the north (Amarone area), the latter more in the south.
  • It is not a late-harvest wine: grapes are picked before optimum ripeness, to boost skin thickness (and tannins - these are not tannic varieties) and acidity and minimise rot. Grapes are picked by hand: only the finest grapes are used in Amarone, as they need to be utterly rot/fungus free for...
  • ... the all-important drying. Grapes are dried on racks and spacious boxes indoors in special drying rooms (fruttaios) and winery lofts and on straw mats outdoors (weather allowing). Any fungus in these spaces can wipe out a whole crop at the worst time. Increasingly, temperature- and humidity-controlled spaces are more common, although most premium Amarone producers adhere to traditional methods.
  • Why use Corvinone instead of Corvina? Because it dries more easily and is more rot-resistant. It thus allows for a little flexibility and salvation in bad vintages.
  • Drying must (by regulation) continue beyond December 1st (ie at least 2 months from picking); in better wines, some months more than this is typical. Water content in the grapes is typically reduced by 40-60% while acidity (low generally in the main grapes) concentrates by around 25-30%. All of which is required for...
  • ... fermentation. This is tricky with grapes with high sugar and little water in the dead of a cold winter. Temperatures often have to be elevated and yeasts added.
  • A key fermentation point is that Amarones must be dry (ie not sweet) - or, at least, broadly so (<12g/litre of residual sugar) and must clear 14% alcohol - many hit stratospheric numbers above 16% ABV.
  • Residual sugar left in an Amarone above this level - sometimes as high as 200g/l (but with necessarily less alcohol) - makes it a Recioto (della Valpolicella) - another beautiful wine (see below).
  • Ageing/maturation - for once in Italian reds - is not all about new oak, which can overpower or denature the more subtle flavours of the grapes here (compared with, say, Nebbiolo, Aglianico and Sangiovese which positively need new oak ion many cases). Some are aged in steel tanks, but most better Amarones are aged in large oak botti, often in excess of 2,000 litres in volume.
  • Amarones must be aged for at least two years before release; wines aged for four years classify for Riserva status (key when we reach the review below). None of that ageing need be in oak, and there is no minimum bottle-hold time before release.
  • Vintages are important, but markedly less so than for most other great Italian wines. The pick-early-and-dry tends to even out many - but not all - vintage variation effects.
  • The classic flavours of an Amarone are of a (good) jamminess - of stewed fruits (plums, damsons, cherries), of steeping raisins, of chocolate and brown sugar ... and as it ages, of leather and spice.
  • Puritans and pedants can tell me that it's a lot more complicated than just the above. They are right. I know that. But I've only got so many bullet points in me.

 

The panel review (in general)

71 wines were tasted/tested. 

Crucially, these are/were 'Premium' Amarones (to use Decanter parlance). Decanter invited only Riservas, single-vineyard wines and special-selection wines to be tested (or some combination of these three; they are not mutually exclusive categories).

'Standard' Amarones - Classicos or not - were not - supposedly - on test here.

Three were rated as Outstanding (95 points and above), with another 19 ranked as Highly Recommended (90 and above). 

The average price of the Highly Recommendeds and Outstandings was almost £70, with prices ranging from £30 to somewhere north of £200.

One of the three Outstandings was that £200 number. I'm sure it's lovely, but we can't afford it and we figure only a very limited number of customers wll want to.

We have the other two Outstandings:

- one a truly sumptous, 96-point, classic specimen at £75; and

- a younger - elegant and unusual - 95-pointer at £31.95.

 

The poll-toppers

... are very different, in terms of

  • price (as above)
  • style (one richer, one leaner)
  • age (one 2009, one 2015 <only just in bottle>) and
  • definition (one a Classico Riserva, the other a special-selection Classico).

The Corte San Benedetto Classico Riserva 2009 scores 96 points, topping the review. It costs £75 from us at Exel (an exclusive to us). It's the most expensive Decanter Headliner we've offered yet, but we've done it for a reason. Which is: it is quite magnificent: words genuinely fail us. Even our quality-wine-sceptical Financial Director was wowed by it, and that's a thing.

Decanter said of it:

  • "this is a serious mouthful which is holding up well and could go on";
  • "deep and rich yet very refined and detailed";
  • "wonderful stuff!";
  • "big and bold"; 
  • "it will gain fans for its exuberance, depth and character".

We seldom take the commercial risk of offering wines at this price point, but we rushed to make an exception here.

It is the epitome and apotheosis of Amarones - rich, sumptuous, dense, complex - and beautifully balanced in a way that many Amarones are not. Fruit, alcohol, oak, tannins, acidity (wonderful after 10 years in bottle) are all in perfect equilbrium. From our tasting notes when we all tried it here (see photo) we have: "sour cherries", "great muscovado flavours and aromas", "soused sultanas", "wall-to-wall brambles" and "just utterly seamless".

The development time in bottle is, in part, the attraction here: we all felt that. Unlike many Amarones, this has held together beautifully and gone on to become something of a masterpiece. And the finish ... oh, the finish. Controversial to write, I know, but that finish will outlast Brexit. You pay for that, of course, but ... well, you judge for yourself... 

96-point poll-topper on left, Classico (see below) on right

This is a coup for us: the Camporal is a wine that was the preserve of some of the UK's finest restaurants (Martin Wishart, Murano etc) - and seldom available outwith them - until demand for it in Italy (vs only the little that's made) saw it coming off the UK market some years ago. We're delighted that Angelo and San Benedetto would like us to bring it back in again.

NB: We're aware of a "phantom" price out on Vivino of ~£54 inc VAT which may confuse the Exel customer. This is with an importer/retailer who have just two bottles remaining to clear (and none beyond). We'd love to offer it at that price, but, despite great relations with Angelo and the team at San Benedetto, we pay that ourselves ... before VAT! We've priced in our usual way: to sell this wine at low margin so that Exel customers will get to try it.

If £75 is a little over your Amarone budget, we also offer Corte San Benedetto's 'standard' (it is anything but) Amarone Classico from 2012 and 2014 at £39.95 and £34.95 respectively - see foot of page to buy. These are of a tremendous quality and depth (esp the 2012) and we recommend them highly.

We expect - Brexit willing - to have the San Benedetto wines with customers by Monday 22nd April.

 

The other way to get a top-flight Amarone for ~£30 is to go for Poll-Topper Number Two, the Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2015, which, at £31.95 from us - some £5 cheaper than the UK's other outlet - lands itself 95 points from the panel and is singled out for particular praise.

Now this is diffferent. It's a young Amarone, in every sense. Its three years of ageing (12 months in barrique, 24 months in large oak botti) mean that it's only been bottled in the last few days: indeed, both we and Decanter tasted a sample 'untimely ripped' (very slightly) from the botti at Brigaldara. 

Worth noting this: it means, with a little resting-in-bottle time in Veneto, it won't be with customers until around the 20th May.

The judges have gone a bit off-piste with this. This is the antithesis of the Camporal above and a light, elegant and refined take on Amarone. It has all the flavours, smells and appeal of a very fine Amarone, but it comes with much more red-frut crunch/bite and acidity. The panel's Andrew Jefford draws parallels with aged Barolo (to look at it, that also computes quickly). As they put it:

  • "an intense palate of bright fresh fruit underscored by notes of seasoned oak and charred spice";
  • "heady and distinctive";
  • "refined and elegant aromas, subtle and enticing and with great harmony";
  • "easy to enjoy, with a wonderfully transparent fruit and oak profile";
  • "a gratifying antidote to the caricature that contemporary Amarone can be".

It surprised us: it may not be a typical Amarone, but it has huge charm. It's somewhere between a typical Amarone (depth, body, alcohol) and a Tuscan red (acidity, cherry hit, red fruit profile). And that's a combination that works... it just took a few mouthfuls to work that out.

We felt - and respectfully disagree with Decanter (who feel it is "drinking beautifully already") - that some more time in bottle (a few months might be ample) would soften the wine further towards a typical Amarone. But that's all a question of how you like your Amarone.  The panel like it like the Brigaldara, and we all 'got" the Brigaldara and saw its 95-point appeal... we just didn't expect an Amarone like this!

95-pointer 2015 on left, single-vineyard 2012 special (Cavolo - alas now all gone) on right

In our usual way, we offer other chances to test the wares of the excellent Brigaldara, depending on your desires of an Amarone:

  • A single-vineyard specials from the excellent 2012 vintage - the Casa Vecie at £34.95: a big, bold, classic takes on Amarone with the age development of 7 years now showing well;
  • The curious may wish - and we'd highly recommend it - to to try the superb (sweet) Recioto from 2016 ...  in a half-bottle, note. Wonderful with cheese, this.

These two wines/bottles - unlike the Classico 2015 - will be with the customer by April 16th.

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Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2015 (1x75cl)

Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their May 2019 panel tasting of premium Amarone (see blue link below).

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2015 - May 2019 Decanter review

Click here to read our blog on this wine, the review above and Amarone more generally.

The Brigaldara winery is located just outside the town of San Floriano, in the heart of the Valpolicella region, north of Verona. It is at the entrance of the Marano valley, one of the four valleys that make up Valpolicella's classical area, the original and oldest wine production area of the region. The estate covers 50 ha, planted with vineyards and olive groves. In 1929, the Cesari family acquired the villa and surrounding land. During the 1960s and 70s the land was reconfigured to specialize in the cultivation of vines and olives. Brigaldara is a founder member of the Families of Amarone – a group of 12 wine producing families dedicated to maintaining high quality Amarone.

This wine has been made using Corvina 45%, Corvinone 45%, Rondinella 10%.

To see an information sheet and tasting notes for this wine that have been put together by the team at Brigaldara, please click on the blue link below.

Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - fiche technique

£31.95

Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Case Vecie 2012 (1x75cl)

The Brigaldara winery is located just outside the town of San Floriano, in the heart of the Valpolicella region, north of Verona. It is at the entrance of the Marano valley, one of the four valleys that make up Valpolicella's classical area, the original and oldest wine production area of the region. The estate covers 50 ha, planted with vineyards and olive groves. In 1929, the Cesari family acquired the villa and surrounding land. During the 1960s and 70s the land was reconfigured to specialize in the cultivation of vines and olives. Brigaldara is a founder member of the Families of Amarone – a group of 12 wine producing families dedicated to maintaining high quality Amarone.

This wine has been made using Corvina 55%, Corvinone 25%, Rondinella 20%

To see an information sheet and tasting notes for this wine that have been put together by the team at Brigaldara, please click on the blue link below.

Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Case Vecie - fiche technique

£34.95

Brigaldara Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016 (1x37.5cl)

The Brigaldara winery is located just outside the town of San Floriano, in the heart of the Valpolicella region, north of Verona. It is at the entrance of the Marano valley, one of the four valleys that make up Valpolicella's classical area, the original and oldest wine production area of the region. The estate covers 50 ha, planted with vineyards and olive groves. In 1929, the Cesari family acquired the villa and surrounding land. During the 1960s and 70s the land was reconfigured to specialize in the cultivation of vines and olives. Brigaldara is a founder member of the Families of Amarone – a group of 12 wine producing families dedicated to maintaining high quality Amarone.

This wine has been made using Corvina 55%, Corvinone 25%, Rondinella 20%

To see an information sheet and tasting notes for this wine that have been put together by the team at Brigaldara, please click on the blue link below.

Brigaldara Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOCG - fiche technique

£15.75
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