Mon 28 Apr 2008
This post is not exactly about strict “regular” and “reserve” wines but about three wines made from the same three grapes at decidedly different levels of achievement.
Depending on the wine and the region, Italy’s wine regulations sometimes favor 100 percent varietal wines for reds — sangiovese for Brunello di Montalcino, for example, and nebbiolo for Barolo — or permit blending, as in Chianti Classico, where a minimum of 75 percent sangiovese may be supplemented with the traditional red canaiolo grape, the nontraditional cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, and two percent white grapes.
Another Italian red wine made from a combination of grapes is Amarone, a rare — it should be more rare — wine produced, in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, from grapes that are dried in special boxes in temperature- and humidity-controlled chambers. (The grapes are no longer dried on straw or wicker pallets.) The drying process deepens the color, the flavor and the tannins of the wine; pressing the grapes and fermentation, which usually occurs in January after the harvest, takes longer than with typical grapes and wines. A great Amarone offers tremendous depth and body and intensity.
Traditionally, the grapes permitted in Amarone are (mainly) corvino, rondinella and (the least amount) molinara, though after 2005 the blend was required to be up to 80 percent corvino and corvinone with rondinella anywhere from 5 to 30 percent. Interestingly, the same grapes go into the usually simple and direct Valpolicella as go into Amarone, the difference being the site of the better vineyards in more amenable areas, meaning not on the plains.
So, today we’re looking at three wines from Sartori di Verona, a producer that frankly does not achieve the apotheosis of these wines — we’re not talking about Allegrini or Quintarelli — but that nonetheless makes wines that are thoroughly authentic and enjoyable; Sartori’s single-vineyard Corte Bra’ Amarone attains pretty high levels of quality. Prices for all three of these wines are very attractive.
To begin at the basic station, the Sartori Vigneti di Montegradella Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2004 — 50% corvina, 40% rondinella, 10% molinara — teems with notes of black currants and plums, potpourri and tar; it’s dense and chewy in the mouth, bursting with rollicking spice and vibrant acid, ripe and intense black fruit flavors permeated by black tea, orange zest and dried herbs. The wine ages 15 months in Slavonian oak casks, so the structure is firm without being sodden with woody elements. A terrific wine to drink with hearty red sauce pasta dishes, beef and game. I rate it Very good, and at about $13, it’s a Great Bargain. 1,064 cases imported.
The Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella 2003, which ages two-and-a-half-years in Slavonian oak casks, is deep, rich and spicy, dense and earthy and minerally, packed with spice and black currant and plum flavors with a touch of bitter chocolate and dried flowers. The flavors are ripe and roasted, a little raisiny; vivid acid cuts a swath across the palate for an invigorating effect. The wine is, it goes without saying, quite dry, almost formidably so, and the finish is long, spicy, substantial and austere. Drink now with robust fare or wait until 2009 or ’10 to 2012 to ’15. I rate this Very good+. About $34.
The single-vineyard Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Corte Bra’ 2001 — a great year in northern Italy — is almost port-like in its intensity, vibrancy and smoky, spicy character, though it’s not sweet, only super-ripe and dimensional. Black currant jam and plum marmalade flavors are infused with cinnamon and cloves, sandalwood and orange rind, lavender and licorice. The blend here is slightly different, with 60% corvina, 30% rondinella and the same 10% molinara. The wine ages a staggering four years in Slovenian oak casks and another year in small French barrels, yet the result is not a wine that’s over-oaked and woody but one that has absorbed that wood and remained firm and structured, powerful and dynamic. Start to drink this in 2010 and keep at it through 2015 or ’18. Cases produced: 2,500. I rate this Excellent. About $41.
These wines are imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y. Visit banfi.com.