Valpolicella


You know how the synergy thing goes: great food, the wine that turns out to be perfect…Bingo! Such a moment occurred last Saturday on Pizza-and-Movie Night, as with a terrific guanciale-green olive-basil-and-radicchio pizza I opened a bottle of the Teunta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi Ripasso 2010, Valpolicella Superiore, from the Veneto region in northeast Italy. “Monti Garbi” is the Castagnedi family’s estate vineyard. The wine is composed of 70 percent corvina and corvione grapes, 20 percent rodinella and 10 percent croatina and oseleta, all traditional grapes of the Valpolicella area. “Ripasso” refers to the technique of refermenting the young wine on the pomace of the previous year’s more full-bodied and typically higher alcohol Amarone. Aging — usually 15 or 16 months for this wine — is accomplished in 500-liter tonneaux barrels, about twice the size of the standard French barrique; 30 percent of the barrels are new. What’s the result? A robust red wine of medium ruby color and a seductive bouquet of dried spice, dried flowers and dried black and red fruit, with notes of pomegranate and plums; try to imagine a pomander with potpourri, your grandmother’s spice box, macerated black and red cherries and a dose of smoky oolong tea and you get some idea of what I mean. Matters turn a bit more serious, mouth-wise, as the wine exercises its dry, slightly chewy tannins, its swingeing acidity — which contributes liveliness, buoyancy and freshness — and its graphite-tinged minerality, none of which detract from juicy ripe dark cherry and plum flavors (with a hint of sour cherry and orange rind) and rollicking spice. 14 percent alcohol. This was great with the pizza and would also be a treat with hearty pasta dishes and grilled or braised meat or a lunch of salami, olives and dry cheeses. Now through 2017 to 2020. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.


Casting about for a wine to consume with Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma — a concoction primarily of tomatoes, basil, garlic and eggplant — I opened the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012, made in stainless steel from a blend of 65 percent corvina Veronese, 30 percent rondinella and 5 percent molinara. The term “Veronese” is a signifier; the Valpolicella area lies to the northeast of the lovely ancient city of Verona that stands almost halfway between Venice and Lake Garda in the Veneto region. Allegrini is a family-run estate that was established in 1858; Franco Allegrini is winemaker. This wine, the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012, is basically a Valpolicella Classico, but the Allegrini family decided to finish the bottle with a convenient screw-cap; Italian wine-law does not permit a “Classico” designation on the label of a screw-cap wine. You are getting, then, a lot of complexity for the price. The wine is a dark ruby color with a touch of violet-purple at the rim; this is incredibly fresh and appealing yet with intimations of dark ripeness and spice, of an earthy, graphite-flecked nature that provides some depth and layering. Don’t get all het up though; the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012 is primarily a delicious and deeply berryish wine meant for drinking over the next two years. Aromas of red and black cherries and a touch of blackberry are tinged with tar and rose petals and some sandalwood-inflected rooty tea. The texture is easy on the palate, and acidity makes the wine lively and quenching; black and red fruit flavors open to hints of dry and moderately grainy tannins, while a few moments in the glass unfold just enough briery,brambly, granitic character to give the wine a bit of gravity. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.


We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from airninja.com.
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This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)
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Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
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With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
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We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
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And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
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I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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I have mentioned Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma on this blog several times; here’s a link to the post that describes the first time I made this hearty, flavorful, no-fail combination of deeply sauteed eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, basil and red pepper flakes. For wine, I opened the Allegrini Valpolicella 2009, a blend of 65 percent corvino grapes, 30 percent rondinella and five percent molinara, in others words a classic Valpolicella from that area northwest of the city of Verona. “Classic,” I say, but not only in the manner of its shape and proportion but in the sense of its superiority, because a lot of mediocre Valpolicella gluts the world’s markets, the result of thoughtlessly expanding vineyard areas and increasing yields. Allegrini, however, founded in 1858, is one of the best producers in the region. This wine undergoes no oak treatment, so its deep, dark, spicy nature is a product of the grapes themselves and careful handling in the winery. The color is intense ruby-purple; the bouquet, which requires a few minutes to open — this is no light-hearted, easy-listening red — reveals heady aspects of macerated black currants and plums, fresh and dried violets and rose petals, fruitcake and quince paste, smoke, dust and graphite. Allegrini Valpolicella 2009 is dense and chewy, permeated by graphite-laced, grainy tannins and concentrated flavors of black currants, blueberries and plums that feel slightly roasted and fleshy, all the while maintaining gratifying measures of appealing freshness and warmth. Quite a performance for the winery’s basic level Valpolicella and one of the best matches with Pasta alla Norma that we’ve had. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Winemaker was Franco Allegrini. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. I paid $20, but you see it around the country as low as $14.

A Leonardo LoCascio selection for Winebow, New York.