Amarone should be chosen judiciously

October 8, 2012

What do you know about Amarone, asks Louisa? First off, Louisa, I love your name, which you share with my grandmom, Louisa De Rosa. She knew quite a bit about Amarone - most of all to serve it only in the right circumstances and to choose it judiciously. Amarone is very tough to make properly. For my money, too many old country winemakers are a bit heavy-handed.

In the old days, very ripe grape bunches, whose grapes are not close together, were harvested in October and left to dry in the sun on straw mats for about three months. The name for the process was rasinate or apassimento. More recently, the wines are made employing drying machinery. The results from using machines have helped produce a more consistent product. You can imagine the complications that relying on the weather might cause over three months.

After drying, the grapes are crushed. The must (do not confuse verjuice with must) goes through a dry, low-temperature fermentation for one to one-and-a-half months. The wine is then aged in oak barriques. This process produces a very ripe, alcoholic (15-plus percent), full-bodied wine with very little acid and a definite raisin flavor. Generally speaking, the wines are not released for at least four years. When you consider all of this, the pricing is quite amazing. The drying process alone will lower production by 35-40 percent. Most bang for the buck is the 94-point Tenuta Sant’Antonio Campo dei Gigli 2005, $70. Next best buy, Masi 2007 Costasera Amarone Classico DOC, $60.  The word Amarone means “the great bitter”in Italian.

If you bought any of the Zaca Mesa Santa Enez Valley Syrah 2006, you know it is in its perfect drinking window this next few years. We bought at $175/case in 2009. It is selling now well over $35/bottle. I wrote that the Zaca Mesa compared favorably with Sine Qua Non Raven Series for drinkers, but not collectors. The Raven series opened at $400 and is now selling at $250/bottle. Initially rated 98 and 99, it has declined, in most folk’s opinion, to 92-3 points. This is a classic example of hype and a cool guy winemaker clouding judgment of the “cognoscenti.” And yes, I am blowing my own horn! If you can’t locate 2008, search out 2004. I saw some around at $22. Your wine store buddy should be able to round up six under $180 and still pay his rent.

Poggio Il Castellare Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2007 just came on my screen at $35/bottle; free shipping on six. A screaming buy of a 94-point gem that opened at $55. It slid down after initial hoopla (Suckling in WS, by WE and by Jancis Robinson) wore off. It's now at $50 as it approaches its drinking window, which is 2014-25. Opens dark red cherry, floral nose, mostly rose petal, then moves to a bouquet of cola, ginger, cassis, eucalyptus, all of it riding a complex, well-balanced, round wine with a clean, long finish. No. 11 on Spectator's top 100 in 2009.

Antinori Solaia 2009 at $199, down from $275 on a presale/bottle, avoid! Way overhyped. If you must look in this area, buy the Antinori Tignanello 2009 for less than $70, or best, the 2006 under $90. I would definitely prefer six of the BdM to three of the 2006 Tignanello or one of the  '07 Solaia. In fact I would go after a 2008 Barolo such as the Burlotto Monvigliolo at $55 or Burlotto Cannubi at $60 before any of the above.

Fonseca Port 2009 also came on at $70, now selling in the $80-90 range and is a top-flight Vintage Port I wrote up last year. 2009 are comparable to 1997 and 2007. They also sell at $70; they are a steal. Smart buyers would locate a case of four each. The best Fonseca, the 1994, sells for $170/bottle. Rated 00-100 and still is. My only issue with 2009 Fonseca is the tannic grip is a bit light and may not meld with all the fruit and color over time. So I would not buy more than you can drink over the next 10 years. Now that is funny! Don’t forget to use; it is a great tool.

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