Amarone



Yes, I know that it’s Saturday, but I was severely under the weather yesterday — but aren’t we always under some kind of weather? — suffering from the insult of a sinus infection added to the injury of bronchitis; my chest is wheezing like a broken concertina. Duty calls, however, so, for this entry of Friday Wine Sips, eight varied red wines from various places (because it’s cold today), arranged in order of ascending price (as good as any other order) and eschewing the details of history, geography, personality and winemaking techniques for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These were all samples for review.
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Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2010, Maule Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Weedy, briery, sinewy, tannic. Upon what evidence does this astringent wine claim to be pinot noir or anything drinkable? Not recommended. About $10.
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Roth Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 16% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Dense, intense, concentrated; grainy tannins and sleek oak; cedar, sandalwood, bay leaf and vanilla, black currants and cherries; briery, foresty finish; nothing offensive, but feels as if it were designed by a committee from a check-list. Very Good. About $28.
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Pombal do Vesuvio 2008, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. A table wine made from the Port grapes. Dust, graphite, stewed blueberries and plums, cloves; roasted and fleshy but with a distinct mineral edge; bright, clean acidity; real backbone and structure; earthy, robust, a little wild and rustic. Quite a mouthful for hearty braised meat dishes. Very Good+. About $28.
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V. Sattui Henry Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Lovely pinot but with grip and grit; black cherry, woody spice, rose petal and lavender, cloves and sassafras; mulberry, graphite; acidity that cuts a swath on the palate through black and blue fruit; beetroot, moss, briers, deep satiny texture. Lavish yet elegant. Excellent. About $39.
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V, Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Deep and rich but fleet and light on its feet initially; black currants, mulberries, plums; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit hedged by burgeoning tannins; earth, leather, brambles, Platonic dark cherries; dense and succulent but not plush or opulent; plenty of stuffing and grit. Excellent. About $42.
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V. Sattui Quaglia Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. Deep, spicy, very rich; plummy and jammy blackberry and black currant; radiantly floral; but very dry, very austere, ultimately unbalanced, tons of tannin; too dense, too thick, too cloying. Not recommended. About $39.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Selezione Antonio Castagnedi” Amarone della Valpolicella 2007, Veneto, Italy. 15.5% alc. 70% corvina, 20% rondinella, 5% each croatina and oseleta. Generous, expansive, rich, warm and spicy; deeply imbued with roasted and slightly macerated black currant, blackberry and plum aromas and flavors permeated by cloves and sandalwood; deep-down earthy and tinged with graphite-like minerality; brooding yet manageable tannins; exotic, savory. A modern Amarone perfect for venison and game birds, for the trappings of black truffles and blood sausages. Excellent. About $42-$45.
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Antiyal 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 41% carmenère, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 24% syrah. Ambitious, a bit showy; smoky, syrah-carmenère wildness and funkiness; black olive, cedar, thyme, black currants and blueberries; lip-smacking acidity, dry gritty tannins; lots of power and sheen. Bring on the dry-aged ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $65.
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Sartori di Verona, founded by the Sartori family in 1898, has never been known as a top producer of Amarone della Valpolicella wines — that distinction goes to such estates as Quintarelli, dal Forno, Tommaso Bussola and Allegrini — but perhaps the hiring of consulting winemaker Franco Bernabei in 2003 made a difference in technique and quality, because I was impressed by these examples of Sartori’s “regular” Amarone 2007 and the single vineyard Corte Brà Amarone Classico 2004. Unfortunately, the wine I was most looking forward to, I Saltari Amarone della Valpolicalle 2003, made from an estate purchased in 2000, was corked, that is, the wine was spoiled by musty damp cardboard aromas caused by a cork tainted by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). Reference books cite various studies that assert that 8 to 10 percent of the world’s wines are corked, a statistic that argues forcefully for the use of screw-caps or synthetic stoppers; my experience over 27 years writing about wine indicates more of a 2 to 3 percent corked rate, but even that is too much.

Amarone della Valpolicella, made around the city of Verona in Italy’s Veneto region, is a dried-grape wine. Nowadays, the grapes — usually corvina, rondinella and molinara — are dried in small crates under temperature-controlled conditions, though in the past they were dried hung up in clusters or spread on mats; the process concentrates flavors and increases the potential alcohol content, typically to between 15 and 16 percent. After fermentation, Amarone wines are long-aged, two years being the minimum with some wines being aged, as you see here, much longer. New rules instituted after Amarone received DOCG status in 2009, effective for the 2010 vintage, will allow the use of non-traditional grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot in the blend, though thankfully only 15 percent. I hope that producers will tread very carefully with these “international” varieties and with the use of French oak barriques, because they lead to the treacherous path toward homogenization.

VB Imports (Banfi Vintners), Old Brookville, N.Y. Samples for review.
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The Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella 2007 is composed of 50 percent corvina Veronese grapes, 40 percent rondinella and 10 percent molinara. The grapes dried on racks for about 100 days before being fermented in stainless steel tanks; the wine was then aged a minimum of three years in old Slavonian oak casks. What do we get after this traditional, lengthy process? A color so intensely ruby-purple that it borders on radiant motor-oil; a deep, lavishly dimensioned bouquet that teems with notes of leather and violets, mulberries and dried cranberries, fruitcake, cloves and allspice, oolong tea, macerated blueberries and a tinge of graphite. The wine is dense and concentrated in the mouth, but it manages to be neither heavy or ponderous; it reveals, in fact, a graceful agile, fresh black and blue fruit aspect that does not get completely buried by immense, dusty, chewy tannins, though the wine gets more chewy, more mineral-drenched as the moments pass. We drank this wine with fettuccine Bolognese last week, and it worked wonderfully with the rich, full, meaty flavors of the sauce, but the wine could profit from a few years rest; try from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 or ’18. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The grape composition of the Sartori Corte Brà Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2004 is similar to that of the house’s “regular” Amarone described above with the addition — and hence a bit of a reduction elsewhere — of 5 percent oseleta grapes, a strictly local variety that does not show up in Oz Clark’s Encyclopedia of Grapes (Harcourt, 2001), a usually reliable trove of the endangered, the undesirable and the obscure. This is single-vineyard, estate Amarone from the delimited Classico region, “Corte Brà” referring to the noble Veronese family that owned the vineyard for generations before it was acquired by the Sartori family. The grapes dried in small crates for up to four months, and the wine aged four years — as in 48 months — in medium- and small-sized oak casks. Corte Brà 2004 is, in a word, monumental. It’s very dense, intense and concentrated; voluminous, deep, multi-dimensioned and richly detailed, though it will take a couple more years in the cellar for those details to unfold. The wine is deep into fruitcake and plum pudding and smoky, roasted raisins, though, as with its cousin, it evinces a clean blade of pure black and blue fruit that lasers across the palate before the walloping tannins and ecclesiastical oak close in. The austere finish, not surprisingly, is packed with briers and brambles, moss and leather. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Alcohol content is 15 percent. Excellent (potential). About $52.
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