Autumn 2022

Ottawa, ON, Canada

By Matt Steeves, Sommelier, Wine Writer and Valpolicella Wine Enthusiast.

This article showcases some of the best Amarone della Valpolicella wines from the 2017 vintage along with other highlights from Amarone Opera Prima which took place in Verona, Italy in June 2022.

Anteprima

In Valpolicella, their annual Anteprima event is called Anteprima Amarone and it’s generally held in the middle of the winter once the wineries have finished pressing their appassimento (withered) grapes following harvest a few months prior.

It’s customary for the most iconic wine regions in Italy to host annual previews of their vintages before the wines are released to the market. These are called “Anteprima” (preview), and they’re a wonderful opportunity to learn about and taste the unique vintage characteristics from a large sample of wineries throughout the region(s).

Valpolicella grapes during their ~3+month withering process (appassimento) in fruttaio where the grapes are naturally dehydrated by ~30+%. The withering process results in concentrated sugars, increased body and structure, and impressive transformations in the berries all in preparation for an eventual gentle press and long fermentation to produce the iconic Amarone della Valpolicella.
Risotto all’Amarone is one of the most popular dishes of Veronese culinary tradition, combining two of the finest products of the Valpolicella region: Amarone della Valpolicella and Vialone Nano rice.

The last Anteprima Amarone was held in late January 2020, where the impressive 2016 vintage was the spotlight. Naturally, hosting Anteprima Amarone during the cold winter months created the perfect conditions to enjoy the heart-warming red wines of Valpolicella with rich Italian cuisine, such as Risotto all’Amarone, a common dish in Verona, and I agree, the conditions couldn’t have been better, or so I thought.

Adapting during the Pandemic

After two years of practically no in-person events, it was great to be back tasting wines, and foods, in Valpolicella this past June. Like so many things these days this Anteprima was a bit different than the last. You could say the Valpolicella Consortium pivoted very well to accommodate the return of their in-person Anteprima event with dozens of wine professionals from around the world. This time they combined their annual vintage preview tasting with the launch of the Italian opera, Aida, in the ancient Roman Arena di Verona. They managed to develop a program with wine as as the central focus but that also incorporated important Italian cultural elements such as the appreciation for fine arts and Italian cuisine. It made for a truly complete Valpolicella experience, appreciating so many fine things Valpolicella has to offer, centered of course around the All-Star of Valpolicella wines, Amarone della Valpolicella! And while some may believe Amarone is best served with hearty dishes, we all experienced first hand how versatile Amarone pairings can be, successfully, all year round and with the most diverse international cuisine imaginable.

Amarone della Valpolicella Traditional Pairings

Since many associate cold weather wine and food pairings such as Amarone della Valpolicella with hearty dishes, and warm weather pairings with lighter bodied wines and foods (like Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie and seafood), when the Valpolicella Consortium planned an Amarone-focused wine and food event in the scorching heat of the summer it had many questioning how those big meditative red wines would show…

Amarone has been referred to as a meditation wine, a wine you may have envisioned enjoying snuggled up by the fire in the chalet after a day on the ski hill, or enjoying a glass of Amarone in the fall at your favourite fine dining restaurant with an autumn harvest meal, game dish, or braised beef stew. Amarone is a wine that just the thought of it can warm your soul, like a cup of hot chocolate or tea on a cold winter night. Like so many conventional wine and food pairings, or pairing guidelines, the more you experiment the more you realize how many great pairings exist which don’t necessarily follow the conventional ‘rules’. Instinctively this makes one question how many incredible pairings you’re missing out on by following those pairing guidelines.

Trailblazing with Amarone food pairings – Masterclass

Innovation, exploration, going off the beaten path with Amarone

Amarone food pairing Masterclass with Michelin Two Star Chef, Nicola Portinari of La Peca http://www.lapeca.it

Michelin two star chef, Nicola Portinari from famed restaurant La Peca (www.lapeca.it) led an eye opening Amarone and haute cuisine pairing Masterclass where he designed Italian-fusion dishes for four of the largest international markets for Amarone, including Central Europe (Germany), Southeast Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore), Northern Europe (Norway, Finland), and North America (Canada, USA). The objective of this session was to witness the vision of the Consortium’s President, Christian Marchesini, demonstrating the versatility of Amarone, the evolution of this premium wine and how it complements diverse, modern, international cuisine, far beyond a narrow category of heart warming dishes that for too long have been associated with Amarone as ‘the’ (one and only!) perfect pairing. Chef Nicola Portinari took us off-road in his “Amarone 4WD, off the beaten track” Masterclass and opened our eyes to the potential pairing options with Valpolicella’s All-Star and in doing so forever expanded the list of pairing recommendations many sommeliers and wine professionals will use henceforth. Scallops, eel, asparagus, watermelon, pulled pork cherry pie…such interesting textures, flavours, suavity, balance and elegant presentations, they were all impressive just as were the blind tasted flight of Amarone della Valpolicella wines that accompanied them.

Conventional wine and food pairings would not have necessarily associated Amarone with summer garden parties in 35C weather, nor would they have recommended pairing it with seafood, fish, asparagus, and watermelon… but that’s exactly what the Valpolicella Consortium did for an audience of international wine professionals and it was eye opening, memorable, and inspirational. Grilled eel, angostura sauce, and watermelon…with Amarone! As a sommelier and wine writer this Amarone pairing Masterclass was unparalleled and showcased the incredible versatility of this iconic Italian wine.

Finding World-Class in Small Producers – Masterclass

The second Masterclass focused on the next generation of Valpolicella producers, all of which are smaller producers (less than 100k bottles per year), and surprisingly out of the 322 Valpolicella producers roughly 250 fall into that category. The Masterclass explored six vintages of Amarone from 1998 to 2016, which were all selected by the talented JC Viens. JC Viens set out to show how this talented group which represents the next generation of Vapolicella winemakers is producing wines with elegance, freshness, balance, and an unmistakable sense of place.

Tasting a flight of Amarone della Valpolicella from 1998 to 2016 during a Masterclass focused on small producers and the next generation of talented winemakers in Valpolicella.

The wines we tasted included: Villa Spinosa (1998), Romano Dal Forno (2003), Cà La Bionda (2007), Le Guaite di Noemi (2010), Vigneti di Ettore (2012), and Villa San Carlo (2016). As you may expect, each of these producer’s wines showed perfectly, each with their own unique profile and style. The oldest wines tasted (1998 and 2003) showed the benefits of that additional bottle refinement (aging), producing superbly harmonious, intriguing, and complex wines which demonstrated perfectly the advantages of letting fine Amarone rest, while the more youthful bottles showed great structure and complexity which is essential for a wine of any age to shine as these great examples of fine Amarone did. Highly recommend acquiring, aging, and ultimately enjoying the Amarone della Valpolicella from these esteemed producers. They’re new generation of producers are making world-class wines which I had the opportunity to taste their newest vintages during my time in Verona, to my delight.

1998 Villa Spinosa – this classic, elegant Amarone shows how gracefully it’s aged over two plus decades. The nose showed dried fruits, floral, sweet spice, and menthol/Cyprus tree balsamic notes. The palate was fresh with great acidity, whilst showing the evolved dried fruit, some rustic notes one would expect, and all beautifully balanced. 94+ points.

2003 Romano Dal Forno – rich, opaque, all in the dried fruit spectrum. Super expressive, dark berries, sweet dried dark fruits, baking spices. It’s full bodied, silky tannins, rich and textured with dried dark fruits, sweet spices, and evergreen notes persisting. A masterpiece! 98 points.

2007 Ca’ La Bionda Ravazzol – Deep ruby, garnet hue. Rustic, delicious dried dark fruits, Cyprus, orange, and chocolate. Great texture, very well balanced. 93 points.

2012 Vigneti di Ettore Riserva – this slice of paradise shows a very classic style of Amarone, delicious dried fruits, cherry, and evergreen notes. Youthful and well integrated tannins support the great structure of this wine and will continue to for another decade and beyond. 92+ points.

Aging Amarone della Valpolicella

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines must be aged (refined is the preferred term these days) for a minimum of two years (minimum 4 years for Riserva), but many producers prefer longer durations of up to 5 or even 10 years to achieve the integrated, harmonious, and beautifully balanced style of Amarone they’re aiming to produce. Given these minimum aging (refining) periods, the Anteprima events generally are four years after the harvest they’re showcasing, as this gives enough time for many producers to get their wines in market (or soon to be in market) and for those producers embarking on long barrel aging programs, it gives them enough time to show a sneak peek preview via barrel samples, giving tasters a preview of the structure of their wine, the aromatic and flavour characteristics, and ultimately how balanced that wine is, something that’s critical in fine age-worthy wines.

It’s always a pleasure to taste wines with decades of evolution in the bottle to help understand the full potential of these majestic wines. Anteprima tastings offer that first glimpse and old vintage tastings offer another perspective which helps form a tasting/evolution timeline in my mind for each wine in each vintage.

The talented next generation of some of Valpolicella’s finest winemakers representing the wines we tasted during a fantastic Masterclass including: Villa Spinosa, Le Guaite di Noemi, Cà La Bionda, Vigneti di Ettore, Villa San Carlo, and Romano Dal Forno.

The 2017 Vintage of Amarone della Valpolicella – Softness and Longevity

A hot and dry summer led to an early harvest (early September) throughout Valpolicella with high sugar and acidity creating favourable conditions for well structured, balanced, and pleasantly soft/approachable wines. When tasted mid-2022, the 2017 vintage of Amarone della Valpolicella are showing well now with potential for long aging. This vintage is one for all types of wine lovers. A vintage that will benefit those serious collectors that enable medium to long term cellaring, and equally one for those looking to enjoy a great wine tonight or perhaps at the next special occasion on their calendar. The 2017 vintage is certainly a vintage to seek out, enjoy now and cellar too. This versatile and approachable vintage will be enjoyed by all. Matt Steeves – 2022

Memorable Amarone della Valpolicella offerings tasted during Amarone Opera Prima

In 2020 while attending the 2016 vintage Anteprima Amarone, I tasted nearly 100 Amarone’s, including several dozen from the great 2016 vintage. This past June I had the opportunity to taste several dozen offerings of Amarone (from various vintages), with roughly four dozen from the 2017 vintage alone, and here’s a short list of some of the most memorable wines.

The flight of 2017 Amarone della Valpolicella lined up at the Grand Tasting.

2017 Anteprima Amarone Highlights:

Here are some of the stand-out expressions of Amarone I tasted during the 2017 Anteprima event in Verona, Italy. These are all 2017 Amarones, some barrel samples, others recently bottled but not released, and some were recently available on the market. These all showed beautifully, with styles of Amarone that I love, and am confident North American based wine enthusiasts will enjoy too. Keep your eyes peeled for these as they become available in the market over the coming months and years. The 2017 vintage is one of softness and longevity meaning you can enjoy now and also cellar as you please and both approaches will be rewarded with outstanding wine experiences!

2017 Clementi Classico (barrel sample) – Freshness, cacao, citrus, integrated tannins, great textured, with dried fruit and chocolate on the finish. 93+ points.

2017 Le Guaite di Neomi (barrel sample) – super expressive, a very modern and approachable style of Amarone – loaded with sweet dried dark fruits, cacao, sweet baking spices, menthol/balsamic notes. Repeat on the palate – absolutely delicious, it’s refreshing, with expressive dried fruits, chocolate, and spice box on the long textured finish. A style that will resonate very well with many North American palates. 94-95 points.

2017 Sartori di Verona Amarone Classico Reius (barrel sample) – Classic profile, elegant with savoury dried fruits, balsamic notes, it’s fresh, with a lively palate, super well integrated, a lovely Classico Amarone. 93 points.

2017 Secondo Marco (barrel sample) – Expressive and elegant, showing a complex bouquet of dried fruits, citrus, tobacco leaf, floral notes, and chocolate. The palate repeats with freshness, elegance, and complexity in a fantastically harmonious expression of premium Amarone. 95+ points.

2017 Ca’ La Bionda Classico Ravazzol – Delicious rustic style, it’s very expressive with dark fruit, sweet spices, and minerality on the nose. Very youthful now, it’s big and bold with grippy black fruit, figs, and some smoke on the finish. Let rest and enjoy 2025+. 93 points.

2017 Ca’ Rugate Punta 470 – smoky, expressive dried dark fruits, earthiness, tomato leaf on the nose. Delicious dark fruits, cacao, beautifully integrated Amarone. 93 points.

2017 Cantine di Verona S.C.A. Torre del Falasco – Yummy! Sweet dried fruits, spices, tobacco, balsamic notes, great texture, juicy dark fruits, orange, chocolate. Very impressive wine. 93+ points.

2017 Corte Figaretto Valpantena Brolo del Figaretto – Inky, fresh and dried sweet dark fruits, dark chocolate, brandied cherry. Delicious black cherry and sweet spices on the finish. Exceptionally well balanced Amarone! Enjoy now and over the next decade. 94 points.

2017 Falezze di Luca Anselmi – Sweet dark fruits, delicious palate showing decadent dark and dried fruits. Ready to enjoy now. 92-93 points.

2017 La Collina dei Ciliegi Ciliegio – Med ruby with a garnet hue, this Amarone displays a super interesting and complex aromatic profile. Orange, chocolate, brandied cherries, dark fruit, and evergreen notes. Showing beautifully now. 94-95 points.

2017 Monte Zovo – Famiglia Cottini – A very impressive wine. Fragrant with baked cherry pie aromas. Bold and delicious with tobacco and dark cherries on the finish. 93 points.

2017 Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Famiglia Pasqua – Inviting profile with baked goodies, dried dark fruits, spices, tobacco, and pepper. Full bodied, dark cherry, sweet spices persisting on the long finish. 93 points.

2017 SalvaTerra Classico – Medium ruby, impressive intensity with a gorgeous bouquet of sweet and dried cherry, dried dark fruits. First impression shows big flavour and style, a very bold expression of Classico. Terrific aging potential. Enjoy over the next few decades. 93 points.

2017 Santa Sofia Classico – Great Classico profile, impressive texture, it’s fresh and elegant showing well now. 92 points.

2017 Terre di Leone Il Re Pazzo Classico – Complex bouquet showing sweet dried fruit, elegant cherry, fig, menthol and balsamic evergreen notes. Lovely Classico expression – fresh and beautifully balanced, it’s elegant with great structure. Meditative! 93 points.

2017 Vigna ‘800 Virgo Moron Classico Riserva – Deep and expressive, this Classico Riserva is packed full of juicy dried fruit, cherry, herbs, and a hint of orange zest – It’s big and layered with sweet dried fruits, beautifully balanced, great intensity and length on the finish. 93+ points.

2017 Tedeschi Ansari – Tedeschi’s Ansari Amarone 2017 is the Tedeschi family’s newest Amarone offering, now in its second vintage following its inaugural 2016 vintage, an exceptional vintage by all accounts. This rich and delicious wine is crafted following the selection of the three best barrels of Amarone by each of the three Tedeschi siblings: Antonietta, Sabrina and Riccardo (AnSaRi…). At 17.5%, it’s big and beautiful, with great complexity, texture, freshness, and overall balance. Expect ripe and dried dark fruits, cherries, evergreen notes, and cacao. An accessible icon in the making from this storied Valpolicella famiglia. Enjoy 2022-2035. Available at LCBO in Ontario, Canada. Tasted June 2022. 93 points. 

Hope you’re able to come across some of those beautiful Amarone expressions from the 2017 vintage when they become available in your market. They’re all top notch and will be a great complement to your wine program, cellar, dinner, and holiday celebrations to come!

Grand Finale

What could be better than tasting dozens of Amarone della Valpolicella…nothing really but dozens of Amarone della Valpolicella wines then attending the magnificent Aida opera in an open-air venue in the heart of historic Verona…that was an absolutely memorable occasion which capped off a weekend of enjoying world-class wine, food, and Italian culture.

Aida opera during the 99th Verona Opera Festival in Verona, Italy – June 2022
One of the many highlights of Amarone Opera Prima.
Matt at Amarone Opera Prima in Verona Italy in June 2022, were we had the pleasure of attending the iconic Aida opera during the 99th Verona Opera Festival.

I hope you can try some delicious 2017 Amarone della Valpolicella wines starting this autumn and winter as they become available at your local wine boutique.

When it comes to enjoying Amarone della Valpolicella, I encourage you to also experiment with these very food-friendly, approachable, and beautifully balanced wines. Try your favourite dish with one this season, be bold and see for yourself just how food friendly Amarone can be!

Cheers,

Matt Steeves

Matt Steeves – Wine Writer, On-Air Sommelier and former Director with the National Capital Sommelier Guild – follow Matt on Instagram @Quercusvino &r www.quercusvino.ca

A few of many highlights of Amarone Opera Prima 2017…