Verona


Wine attracts us by its color and seduces us with its aromas. It’s true that some wines, whites in particular, can be too aromatic, almost cloyingly so. This can happen with torrontes wines from Argentina, with viognier-based wines and occasionally with riesling. What I offer today are six white wines that excel in the aromatic bouquet area, as well as gratifying in flavor and body, easy in the alcohol department and being ever-so-helpful price-wise. Chardonnay figures only as a minority component in one of the wines, and sauvignon blanc occurs not at all. Primarily these are easy-drinking and charming wines, even delightful, and they may give you a foretaste of the Spring that most of the country so desperately longs for, even California, where it’s already an exceedingly, even dangerously dry Summer. As usual, these brief reviews do not touch upon the educational aspects of geography, history, climate and personnel matters for the sake of immediacy. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia 2012, Veneto, Italy. 12.5% alc. Gargenega 60%, chardonnay 40%. Pale gold color; super-floral, with notes of jasmine and camellia; lemon, yellow plums, hint of candlewax; very dry, with a seductive, almost talc-like texture but cut by shimmering acidity and a touch of limestone minerality. Lovely quaff. Drink up. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2012, Clarksburg, California. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold color; hay and straw, heady notes of jasmine and gardenia, roasted lemon and yellow plum; slightly leafy, with a hint of fig; very dry, almost chastening acidity and chalk-flint elements; but quite lively and engaging; tasty and charming. Buy by the case for drinking through 2014. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Bargain.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. 13.5% alc. An inexpensive chenin blanc that’s almost three years old? Never fear; this one is drinking beautifully. Shimmering pale gold color with faint green tinge; tell-tale note of fresh straw under quince, honeysuckle, lemon drop and lemon balm and a hint of cloves; brisk and saline, earthy, almost rooty, deeply spicy with a touch of briers; and quite dry. Impressive presence and tone. Drink through the rest of 2014, into 2015. Excellent. About $14, and Worth a Search.
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Eccoci White 2011, Girona, Spain. 13.3% alc. Roussanne 50%, viognier 30%, petit manseng 20%. Utterly unique. Medium gold color; a striking bouquet of roasted fennel, damp straw and lilac, with undertones of limestone, orange blossom, peach and pear; very stylish, sleek and elegant, with macerated and spiced citrus flavors, though clean and fresh and appealing; bracing acidity and a burgeoning limestone quality provide backbone, but this is mainly designed for ease and drinkability. Drink through the end of 2014. Excellent. About $20.
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Luca Bosio Roero Arneis 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% arneis grapes. Pale yellow-gold; peach and pear, hint of some astringent little white flower, some kind of mountainside thing going on; baking spice and mountain herbs; salt marsh and seashell; roasted lemon with a note of pear; starts innocently and opens to unexpected heft, detail and dimension. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $20.
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Trisaetum Estate Dry Riesling 2012, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley. 11% alc. Medium gold-color; roasted peach and spiced pear, mango and lychee, hint of rubber eraser or petrol (a good thing in riesling), a subdued floral element; lithe, supple, energetic, you feel its presence like liquid electricity on the palate; lithic and scintillating, brings in grapefruit rind and limestone through the dynamic finish. Faceted and chiseled, exciting. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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Italian Wine Week continues into its second week — The Week So Big One Week Can’t Hold It! — with the Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2009, Veronese, a wine for which the Allegrini family takes a general designation (“Veronese”) rather than the more specific Valpolicella or Valpolicella Superiore. This is a ripasso, that is, a wine made from a majority of normally fermented grapes (70 percent here) combined with a portion of grapes that were left to dry (in this vintage until January after harvest) and then added to the “regular” wine to referment. The result is a wine — deep, dark and spicy — that feels both robust and sleek, powerful yet elegant. The blend of grapes is 70 percent corvina Veronese, 25 percent rondinella and the surprise of 5 percent sangiovese, not a typical grape in the Veneto. Aromas of black cherries, raspberries and currants are permeated by notes of plums and fruitcake, cloves and cardamom (just a trace), and winsome hints of violets and lavender. It’s a very dry wine, rigorously yet seamlessly structured and balanced by ripe and delicious black and blue fruit flavors; the background is polished grainy tannins and vibrant acidity with a slightly earthy funky character highlighted by touches of bittersweet chocolate, dried orange peel and oolong tea. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with hearty pasta dishes and roasted or grilled red meat. Excellent. About $22.

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


Sometimes you feel like a theme, sometimes you don’t! (And who remembers the television commercial to which I allude?) The point being no theme today, just eight miscellaneous wines, some better than others, some quite exemplary, and touching many bases. Not a great deal of technical, geographical, climatic, historical or philosophical info here; these Weekend Wine Sips are intended as quick reviews, often transcribed directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest, whet your palate and claim your attention one way or the other. These were all samples for review. Enjoy!
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Apaltagua Carménère Rosé 2012, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carmenere grapes. Very pale pink-watermelon color; a pretty rose, quite delicate and fine-boned; notes of rose petal, watermelon, raspberry with a light strawberry backnote; pert acidity for liveliness, lies winsomely on the palate with spareness and trifling allure. I happily drank this with lunch over two days. Now through the end of Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Apaltagua Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw color; clean, fresh, spicy, typical pineapple-grapefruit with lots of steel and limestone and a hint of pear; good balance; sea-salt-bracing, tantalizing hints of jasmine, roasted fennel and thyme; lovely supple texture but crisp with acidity. One doesn’t often refer to chardonnay as delightful, but here it is. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and cola, briers and brambles, traces of rhubarb and violets; lovely balance among clean acidity, a lithe structure, black and red fruit flavors that come close to opulence and an essential earthy, loamy quality, all adding up to elegance that admits a slightly subversive wild berry nature. Exquisite. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $40.
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Artesa Artisan Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% merlot and 3% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; black currants, black cherries and a hint of plums; touches of black olives, cedar and thyme; velvety tannins with a graphite-lavender-licorice core; quite dry yet juicy and succulent and lively with vibrant acidity; solid, well-made, very drinkable. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $46.
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Berlucchi “Cuvée 61″ Brut Rosé, Lombardy, Italy. 11.4% alc. 50% pinot noir, 50% chardonnay. Pale onion skin color; dense array of tiny bubbles; fruit compote with pure strawberry, red currants, softly macerated peach; noticeably sweet but bright acidity dries it out from mid-palate back, clearing the way for some crisp limestone minerality. Very Good. About $24.
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Carpenè Malvolti Brut Rosé (nv), Veneto. 12% alc. 85% pinot nero (pinot noir) 15% rabaso. Pale onion skin with a light copper cast; constant stream of fine bubbles; strawberry and raspberry, hints of orange zest and pomegranate; moderate level of slate-like minerality; pleasant, tasty, not a lot there. Good. About $20.
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Piccini Memor? (nv) Vino Rosso d’Italia. 14% alc. 40% primitivo, 30% montepulciano, 20% nero d’avola, 10% merlot del Veneto. Just as in this country a wine that drew grapes from several states would carry an “American wine” designation, this dark and sassy little number is denominated “Vino d’Italia” because the grapes hale from four region: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto and Abruzzo. Deep ruby-purple color; blackberries, blueberries and plums, with high notes of cherries, fruitcake and bitter chocolate and a laving of spicy, vanilla-laced oak; very pleasing heft, supple texture papered with slightly shaggy tannins; another hint of warm oak on the finish; you could call it rustic, and why not? A terrific pizza or braised short ribs wine. Very Good. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Current release is the 2010, but this was in my white wine fridge, and it’s absolutely Worth a Search. Moderate straw-gold color; clean, fresh, sleek, deeply spicy and savory, rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touch of candied lime peel; bristling crystalline acidity and a tremendously resonant limestone presence, with supple oak in the background. Drink through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. An exciting chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
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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.

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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