In this article wine writer Matt Steeves discusses wine-related considerations for the changing of the seasons, from summer to autumn. Matt showcases some wines that are absolute dynamite in the autumn as they complement the hearty dishes we enjoy as the weather gets cooler and cooler.
With the changing of the seasons from the beautiful summer we enjoyed to the rather abrupt transition into the cool autumn season, we’re getting a glimpse of what’s in store for us northern hemisphere folks and yes it means cooler weather, winter jackets and gloves becoming essential attire for the next 4+ months, and before too long, snow and ice to add to the fun and enjoyment… Now this may sound like a great excuse to escape to the southern hemisphere but for most Canadians we embrace the cool weather and look forward to (some of) the things it brings with it. In addition to Alpine skiing, for me it’s the hearty meals paired with rich and delicious red wines that I crave more and more as autumn and winter arrive.
A few weeks ago I got a head start on enjoying a lot of autumn-perfect red wines during a trip to the Valpolicella region in Italy. Although when I was there the weather was 30+ centigrade it didn’t stop me from enjoying a few dozen Valpolicella wines each day. This red-wine focused region produces delicious wines. I had the pleasure of tasting them in the late summer sun while enjoying charcuterie platters, risotto and beef dishes, and although I thoroughly enjoyed them in the summer, I find they shine even brighter this time of year as the mercury begins to drop. Upon my return to Canada, just as autumn was arriving, it was the perfect segue for me to begin the ‘Autumn of Amarone’.
When I’m asked for wine pairing recommendations if I recommend a Valpolicella wine I often hear “Val-pol-what?” along with a slightly confused/intrigued look as if I’ve just come up with a new wine region out of the blue!? For some reason a lot of North Americans aren’t super familiar with Valpolicella, and even if they’ve heard of that region, they don’t seem to understand the wines well enough to choose those wines over single variety wines that are sitting next to the Valpolicella wines on the shelf at the local wine store, which is a shame when you taste what’s in those bottles and understand just how easy going the wines are! It’s a paradox because Valpolicella wines are some of the best selling (especially Ripasso and Amarone) in North America, but at the same time many wine lovers have yet to explore the delicious wines from that storied wine region, and therefore aren’t taking advantage of those great wines when they show up in our markets at the convenient times such as throughout the fall and winter.
It’s nothing complicated, the region and style is Valpolicella and it’s home to one of Italy’s most famous group of wines, and Romeo and Juliet of course. The Valpolicella region is situated around the city of Verona and goes up into the Lessinia mountains which are essentially the foothills of the Alps. In Valpolicella (DOC/DOCG) they produce five different styles of red wines, each a blend of a handful of local grape varietals, from the tasty and not overly complicated Valpolicella Classico to the Valpolicella Superiore to the super value-priced Ripasso, the iconic Amarone, and of course the sweet ending of Recioto. These are fun and incredibly food friendly wines which are also easy to drink making them super popular to those fortunate enough to know what Valpolicella has to offer. They typically display powerful aromatic bouquets, velvety smooth textures with rich dark fruit, cherries, and dried fruits persisting on the enjoyable finish. Valpolicella wines also tend to be softer and less tannic than the wines from other popular regions such as Tuscany, Piemonte, and certainly Bordeaux, making them ready for immediate enjoyment although the high end offerings also have the legs to celler for decades. Throughout the Valpolicella region, many producers experiment with unique blends of local and international varietals, sometimes drying the grapes, and these are labelled as IGT wines, not inferior to the Valpolicella-proper (DOC & DOCG) wines, just different, kind of like Super Tuscans and Chianti wines from in and around Tuscany. Both are great, one follows more closely the traditional rules, whereas one (the IGT) not so much giving them unlimited creative opportunity to craft wines in whatever style they think consumers want. Just like with Super Tuscan wines, IGT wines out of the Valpolicella region can also be some of the most expensive and highly prized and wow are they ever delicious!
Here’s the famous Valpolicella Quality Pyramid that describes the differences in the five styles of wines in a pretty easy to understand way. They should have #sexywine somewhere on this pyramid but you’ll just have to take my word on that and taste for yourself.
So here are a few (I’ve got a very long list of recommendations that I’ll continue to share throughout the fall) of the autumn-perfect Valpolicella wines that I’d recommend checking out this fall and throughout the winter!
Torre del Falasco, Ripasso, $17.95 at LCBO and as seen on CTV
A blend of Corvina Veronese, Corvinone, and Rondinella. Cantina Valpantena’s Torre del Falasco Ripasso underwent a second fermentation on the skins of the premium Amarone Torre del Falasco which added flavour, texture, and colour to the wine. The nose shows buckets of dried cherry and dark berry preserves, and after it opens up it really shines. This easy going Ripasso is interesting and tasty and perfectly suited for a gathering of friends in the fall and winter. Enjoy with hearty dishes, pasta, or ripe cheese. Great value. Tasted September 2016. 88 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Sartori’s Corte Bra estate vineyard Amarone
Sartori’s Corte Bra estate vineyard Amarone is a blend of: 50% Corvina Veronese, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella, and 5% Oseleta, producing an elegant, fresh and flavour packed wine that’s guranteed to please. Ruby red with a garnet hue, it’s packed with dark cherry, plum, spice with long finish. 2009 was a terrific vintage and the Corte Bra is a great expression of that fine year. Tasted September 2016. 92 pts – Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Sartori’s President, Andrea Sartori, speaking about how consumer-friendly and enjoyable Amarone is. Amarone is for everyone, and there’s no better time to enjoy it than now and into the winter.
Terre di Leone‘s 2005 Amarone
Terre di Leone’s 2005 Amarone represents their first vintage of Amarone and what a beautiful vintage they had to work with! Now after a decade of aging, this Amarone is beginning to show the evolution of the dried fruit, dark cherry, plum, raspberry, and baking spice, by showing hints of Sherry with rustic notes beginning to emerge, making it that much more complex and intriguing especially to those that appreciate aged Amarone.
Grapes were harvested from a gorgeous terraced vineyard sitting high in a valley near the village of Marano (at over 400 metres above sea level). The 2005 is a blend of 40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, and 10% Oseleta, that was hand picked then carefully left to dry for 120-140 days before maceration and fermentation began. The result is a rich and concentrated Amarone and at 16.5% this robust wine is remarkably smooth, graceful, and refined – a testament to the hands that crafted this gem. Currants and spice persist on the long finish, and when paired with braised dishes it’s terrific, or enjoy with 75% cacao after a meal and be as equally impressed with the versatility of pairing options you have with delicious Amarone. Tasted September 2016. 95 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Terre di Leone‘s 2007 Dedicatum
Terre di Leone’s 2007 Dedicatum is a rich and delicious blend of 14 different varieties grown throughout the beautiful region of Verona, Italy. The grapes were hand harvested and allowed to dry for 80 days using the famous appassimento method, thereby concentrating the flavours and aromatic profile of the wine. Dedicatum is a deep ruby red colour with a garnet hue. The nose shows rich layers of dark plum, cherry, baking spice, and leather. The palate is fresh and luscious with bold concentrated flavours all wrapped up with a velvety smooth texture. A stunning IGT blend from this fine family winery. Highly recommended! Tasted September 2016. 94 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Massimago 2011 Amarone from their high elevation Cru vineyard
Massimago is a very impressive, youthful, ‘outside of the box’ winery that’s making a great international impression of the creativity and innovation that’s happening within the storied and admired brand of Valpolicella wines. Their 2011 Amarone from their Cru vineyard at 350m elevation, is elegant and vertical. Cherry, mint, balsamic, and warm baking spices on the nose. It’s fully integrated, with soft tannins providing a refined and elegant mouthfeel with just the right amount of power to impress those that appreciate hearty Amarone. Winemaker and proprietor Camilla continues to strive for and achieve greatness in her Amarone from this gorgeous estate vineyard. Highly recommended. Tasted September 2016 at the winery. 94 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Farina’s 2010 Montefante Amarone available at LCBO – $59.95
This is exactly the style of Amarone that so many love, including myself. A blend of 45% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella, 5% Molinara, and 5% Dindarella from Farina’s Montefante vineyard was aged for two years in Slavonian oak barrels, followed by another two years in barrique, before one year in bottle prior to release. Montefante shows a terrific blend of sweet dried fruits, black cherry, cassis, dark plums, baking spice, along with rustic and savoury notes that provide further complexity and add even more food pairing opportunities to an already super versatile style of wine. Full bodied with no corners anywhere in sight, it’s round and refined with a great medley of sweet dried fruits, baking spices, and those rustic and savoury flavours including leather, pepper, smoked meat, with dusty tannins on the long finish. After five years this beauty will deliver decades of pure enjoyment for those willing to tuck it away. If patience isn’t your strong suit, not to worry, it’s gorgeous now! Enjoy the finer things in life and pour yourself a glass of Amarone tonight. Tasted October 2016. 94 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Farina’s 2013 Amarone – available at LCBO $39.95 and as seen on CTV
Bold, layered, and full flavoured – Farina’s Amarone is a wine that everyone will love! Rich and delicious, it’s packed full of black cherry, plum, dried figs, nutmeg, BBQ smoke, and cedar. Full bodied with a velvety smooth texture, sweet dried fruits and refreshing savoury flavours persist on the long finish. It’s no wonder why Canadian’s love this Amarone so much! Enjoy with Risotto all’Amarone, beef medallions with figs and blue cheese, and save a splash for dessert and enjoy with dark chocolate – all incredible pairings with this wine! Tasted October 2016. 93 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Pasqua‘s Mai Dire Mai (never say never) Valpolicella Superiore
Pasqua’s Mai Dire Mai (never say never) Valpolicella Superiore from the Val d’Illasi east of Valpolicella is the debut of this ultra premium low-production Superiore. A blend of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Oseleta that were hand-picked, carefully sorted, gently pressed, and aged in mostly new French oak for 18 months. The nose shows dried cherry, spice, balsamic notes, and savoury smoked meat. Well structured with great texture and balance, the tart dried cherry finish persists for ages, until the next sip. This wine has decades of life in it but no reason to wait as it’s showing beautifully now. At 15% it’s one of the most powerful, yet strikingly elegant, Superiores you’ll come across, which is telling of the quality of the fruit and the hands that crafted this work of art. Enjoy with braised beef dishes and rich risotto. Tasted September 2016. 93 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Pasqua’s Mai Dire Mai (never say never) Amarone from the Val d’Illasi east of Valpolicella is the debut of this ultra premium low-production Amarone. A blend of 65% Corvina, 15% Corvinone, 10% Rondinella, and 10% Oseleta that were hand-picked, dried for four months, then gently pressed and underwent a cold maceration for half a week prior to fermentation. After 40 days of fermentation in steel tanks the wine spent 24 months in new French oak which contributed to its richness and complex texture.
The nose shows sweet dried fruit, clove, cedar, dark chocolate, and fine leather. The palate is incredibly soft with fine integrated tannins producing such an intriguing texture. Dried cherry, coffee, dark chocolate, spice, and cedar on the long finish. Beautifully balanced with great structure, this is an icon in the making with all the components to age for decades. Enjoy 2016-2041. Tasted September 2016. 93 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Pasqua‘s ‘PASSIMENTO’ or ‘Passione Sentimento’ (Passion and Feeling) IGT (Valpolicella) Blend – $13.95 at LCBO
Pasqua’s ‘PASSIMENTO’ or ‘Passione Sentimento’ (Passion and Feeling), pays tribute to the delicious appassimento wines (and Romeo & Juliet) from the city of love, Verona, where this unique blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Corvina, and 30% Croatina is produced. After the grapes were picked they were carefully placed in wooden trays and left to dry for one month, similar to how the famous Amarone wines are made, which results in rich, flavourful, and concentrated wines, ideally suited for BBQ and hearty cool-weather meals. This super value priced wine is jam packed with juicy dark cherry, roasted beets, dried herbs, and sweet spice. A wine that’s destined to be enjoyed and loved by many, and unlike Romeo and Juliet, there’s no tragic love story anywhere in this wine’s future! Tasted September 2016. 90 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Kairos is Zyme’s second label (baby brother) to their iconic Harlequin. Similar attention to detail and the highest standards used to produce this gorgeous IGP Venteo. Just like Harlequin, Kairos is produced with a minimum 15 varieties: 4 whites and 11
reds, including: Garganega, Trebbiano toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syraz, Teroldego, Croatina, Oseleta, Sangiovese, and Marzemino.
The 2011 vintage, saw about 10,000 bottles produced. Grapes were hand picked, only the finest and ripest bunches, then dried using the traditional appassimento method for up to 40 days before pressing and fermenting in both concrete vats and stainless steel prior to being transferred to French oak barrels for 36 months without racking, then transferred to bottle for a minimum one year prior to release.
Kairos is a big and bold wine with deep dark colour intensity. The nose is full of dried fruit, dark cherry, sweet baking spices, leather and subtle savour notes. Richly flavoured with great texture and weight. Layers of dark plums, dried fruit, and vanilla make me think this a beautiful blend of traditional old-world Valpolicella and new world Napa, combining two of my favourite wine regions and styles. 40 Euros at the winery. Tasted September 2016. 92 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Zyme‘s 60 20 20
Zyme’s 60 20 20 is a powerful blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Merlot. This Valpolicella-Bordeaux blend is further enhanced by drying the Merlot for a number of weeks prior to pressing, thereby enhancing the richness of this wine. After 2+ years in new French oak it spent another year + in bottle prior to release.
Deep ruby red with a dense core. Super rich raisin and dried dark fruit aromas and flavours. The palate is rich with deep and concentrated flavours complemented with dusty tannins and a touch of charcoal on the finish. A truly incredible IGP Veneto that will be loved by anyone that loves Amarone, Napa, and Bordeaux as it blends the best of these three iconic wine regions seemlessly into one great wine. Highly recommended. 94 points. Tasted September 2016. 23 Euros at the winery. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
A sneak peak at some of the most modern components of Zyme’s incredible cellar, that’s founded 15m below grade, and includes a natural spring. The balance of the cellar dates back to 1400AD, hello #midieval cellar!
Zyme‘s La Mattonara – the epitome of Amarone
La Mattonara is Zyme’s ultra premium Amarone which is produced only in the finest vintages using nothing but the cream of the crop, meticulously selected hand picked grapes. A blend of 40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta, and 5% Croatina to provide complexity, structure, and ageability. After drying the grapes for three months to concentrate even further the rich concentrated flavours, the clusters are pressed and fermentation occurs for two months on the skins in concrete vats. The free run is then transferred and spends nine years in Slovanian Oak before it’s bottled in its 10th year. Needless to say this is a perfect wine that has great power, structure, depth, harmony, and has achieved full equilibrium in every way. It’s rich, young, and fresh, which is striking for such an old wine, but shows the incredible life it has in front of it and just imagine the bottle-aged evolution that will blow your mind over the next 4-5 decades. Highly recommend this iconic Amarone. 180 Euros at the winery. Tasted September 2016. 98-100 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Check out Zyme in this video
I hope you can try some tasty Valpolicella wines this autumn and throughout the winter and see for yourself just how great these wines are this time of year!