Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
by: Matt Steeves
These are my top rated expressions of Amarone I tasted during the 2018 Anteprima event in Verona, Italy in February 2023. Of these 2018 Amarone della Valpolicella wines, some were barrel samples, others recently bottled but not released, and some recently available on the market. Out of several dozen tasted, this is my short list of expressions that showed beautifully, with styles of Amarone that I appreciate, 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 as they’d certainly make great additions to your cellar and wine list, if you can get your hands on them.
2018 Vintage Characteristics
The 2018 vintage saw a variety of weather conditions, including above average precipitation in the early Spring followed by slightly above average temperatures during the growing season along with some storms, resulting in good overall conditions leading to a solid albeit slightly early harvest. Amarone grapes were picked slightly ahead of schedule to preserve freshness and associated high levels of acidity so critical in the production of beautifully balanced Amarone. The vintage did show variation throughout the region so expect some super stars amongst an otherwise great cast in general.
When tasted in February 2023, the 2018 vintage of Amarone della Valpolicella wines are showing well now. Even the youthful barrel samples were accessible with great balance and harmony, no rough edges encountered despite some producers planning another few years of barrel aging followed by bottle refinement before they deem their wines ready for consumers to acquire.
The 2018 vintage characteristics include soft tannins, wines that are finely textured and showing an immediate approachability. These are wines that can be enjoyed now but also structured to support medium to longer term cellaring. Another great vintage for consumers to enjoy upon release and equally well suited for the collectors – and if you’ve enjoyed well balanced Amarone with 20-30 years of cellar time you’ll know how wonderful, complex, and mesmerizing they can be!
Here’s a sample of Matt’s top rated 2018 Amarone della Valpolicella wines tasted during Amarone Opera Prima:
These are a snapshot of the memorable wines I tasted as part of a 67 flight of Amarone della Valpolicella wines, along with some notable others I tasted during my brief visit to Verona in February 2023:
2018 Clementi Classico (barrel sample) – Deeply coloured, opaque core, nose shows impressive freshness alongside the rich dried dark fruit and cacao notes. Great concentration and purity of the fruit with well integrated tannins, great structure, this early preview is impressive with great potential for when it’s released in the coming years. Enjoy 2028-2048+. 94-95 points.
2018 Ca’ dei Frati Pietro Dal Cero (barrel sample) – Rich deep colour, the nose shows dried dark fruits, cassis, prune, and sweet spices with great intensity. The palate is concentrated with delicious dried fruit and spices. Remarkable freshness on the long and beautifully balanced finish. This barrel sample of fine Amarone shows it’s approachable style while young while its great structure will enable medium to long term cellaring. Enjoy 2024-2040+. 94 points.
2018 Adalia Ruvaln Azienda Agricola Camerani Marinella – This wine, named after the two spot lady bug (Adalia Bipunctata), recognizes the important role nature plays in the vineyards, like the important role biodynamic Valpolicella winemaking pioneer, Marinella Camerani, has played in crafting premium Valpolicella wines following the biodynamic tenants which guide in the production of the grapes/wines for Adalia and the family’s Corte Sant’Alda winery.
This vibrant wine shows expressive dark fruit, spice, tobacco, and incense on the nose. The palate is perfectly structured with a beautiful medley of sweet and spicy fruits and an elegant fine textured finish. Enjoy over the next decade+ with rich and flavourful dishes. 94 points.
2018 Cantina Lavagnoli Amarone della Valpolicella – First time tasting Lavagnoli’s Amarone and very impressed. Ruby with a garnet hue, the nose shows delicate sweet spices, dried red berries, plum, leather, and tobacco notes. Very complex, beautifully balanced, the palate repeats the aromas delivering a finely textured and very approachable Amarone to enjoy over the next decade+. 94 points.
2018 Le Guaite di Neomi (barrel sample) – Deep colour, concentrated, super expressive. Loaded with dried dark fruits, dark chocolate, sweet baking spices, menthol/balsamic notes. This preview shows a very youthful and well structured wine that will be outstanding in the coming years when winemaker Neomi Pizzighella deems it ready (generally ~8-10 years following harvest, expect this one to be available for sale in 2028 only… note the 2012 vintage is what’s currently available). Enjoy 2028-2040+. 94-95+ points.
2018 Secondo Marco (barrel sample) – Expressive, crisp, clean, and elegant, showing a complex bouquet of herbs, menthol, plum, prunes, and tobacco. The plate is smooth and refreshing with delicious red fruit, spice, and beautifully integrated tannins. Their vineyards, in the heart of Valpolicella Classico area, benefit from warm breezes from Lake Garda in the morning and cool mountain air in the late afternoon to create the perfect conditions for ripening whilst preserving freshness. Winemaker Marco Speri vinifies and ages each of the varietals in his blends separately, then carefully assembles them when ready to produce the expressive and well structured wines Secondo Marco has become renowned for over the past decade. 2018, although a youthful preview, is another outstanding expression of premium Amarone from Secondo Marco. You’ll have to wait a few extra years to pick up your own case as it’s still got a few years to go before release. Enjoy 2028-2048+ 95-96+ points.
2018 Ca’ La Bionda Classico Ravazzol – Very fresh and expressive, the style winemaker Alessandro Castellani delivers with his terroir-focused wines, reminiscent of the terroir-focus of other world renowned wine regions, such as Burgundy. After spending some time in their vineyards and tasting a representative sample of vintages from the past two decades, I’m impressed with what I’m seeing in their vineyards and wines and the over arching focus on quality and elegance.
Ca’ La Bionda’s organic terraced vineyards are situated in the Marano Valley of the Classico region of Valpolicella, and since 2015 they’ve been picking a couple weeks earlier than most (as early as mid-August) to ensure the retention of that bright acidity in their wines, which is critical in support of their winemaking vision of producing terroir-focused wines with great freshness, complexity, and drinkability. 2018 Ravazzol shows delicious dried fruit, fig, cherry, spice, and tobacco on the nose. The palate is equally layered and complex, with great structure, freshness, and elegance. A premium Amarone to make room for in your cellar, every vintage. Enjoy now and over the next two plus decades. 94+ points.
(note, I also tasted the following vintages of Ca’ La Bionda Amarone della Valpolicella: 2001 (96 points), 2007 (93), 2011 (96+), 2012 (93), 2013 (95), 2015 (94), 2016 (94), and 2017 (94) and each vintage showed beautifully, with Ca’ La Bionda’s stylistic hallmarks of freshness, complexity, and drinkability apparent in each of the wines. Consistently 93 to 96+ points over two decades, affirmation of the great wines they’re producing each vintage. Although not the focus of this article, I must draw attention to Ca’ La Bionda’s Valpolicella Superiore wines which are bright, complex, and showing the greatness possible in this style of accessible and versatile Valpolicella wines. Highly recommended.
2018 Sartori Reius Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG – Inky, fresh and dried sweet dark fruits, dark chocolate, and brandied cherry on the nose. Full bodied, with dark cherry and sweet spices on the finish. Consistently a great expression of Amarone from this storied winery. Enjoy over the next decade with hearty dishes and aged cheese. 92+ points.
2018 Corte Figaretto Valpantena Brolo del Figaretto – Inky, fresh and dried sweet dark fruits, dark chocolate, brandied cherry. Dark cherry and sweet spices on the finish. Enjoy over the next decade. 92 points.
2018 Falezze di Luca Anselmi – Sweet dark fruits, luscious palate showing decadent dark and dried fruits with citrus notes. Showing great now. 93 points.
2018 Terre di Leone Il Re Pazzo Classico (barrel) – Complex bouquet showing dried cherry, raspberry, menthol and balsamic evergreen notes. Lovely Classico expression – great freshness and beautifully balanced with fine textured tannins and bitter chocolate persisting on the finish. Enjoy over the next two decades. 92-93 points.
2018 Vigna ‘800 Virgo Moron Classico Riserva (organic) – Fresh and elegant, this Classico Riserva greets you with inviting dried red berries, sweet spices, espresso and leather. Beautifully balanced, complex with great length on the finish. Another Amarone that consistently impresses with each vintage. 94 points.
2018 San Cassiano Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – Deep colour with a midnight black/completely opaque core. The nose is inviting with dried dark fruits, plum, prunes, tobacco and herbs. Great texture, balance, and length in this youthful Amarone. Enjoy 2025-2035+. 93 points.
2018 Villa San Carlo Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (barrel) – When tasted during the Anteprima tasting, it showed wonderfully. Very fresh, impressive complexity with spices, menthol, prunes, herbal, balsamic and dried cherry notes. Youthful fine-grained tannins, the palate shows refreshing bright cherry and dried fruits, some citrus and dark chocolate notes persisting too. An impressive preview of a wine that will be hitting markets in the near future, and one that will be enjoyed in the short, medium, and long term. Enjoy 2024-2035+. 93 points.
A bit of background about Villa San Carlo and their talented up-and-coming winemaker, Marco Signorini, who’s focused on producing expressive terroir wines across their portfolio. From their 20 hectare estate vineyards which are divided into roughly 40 sub plots, each with distinctive features, winemaker Marco leverages those differences to craft very expressive terroir-focused wines which when tasted side by side are striking. Although the focus of this article is on the 2018 vintage, I also tasted barrel samples offering very early and informative sneak peeks of the 2019, 2020, and 2021 (a perfect vintage btw) vintages, from specific plots including the Prima Vigna and the Vigna La Grotta vineyards where the Riserva Amarone is sourced. Those Riserva Amarone barrel samples (in their infancy), were showing incredibly well, and very different between the vintages and vineyards, which is always interesting to see how terroir and vintage show up in the glass. All three vintages were showing signs of greatness with early indicators for me of mid-90 ratings (93-95+ points) based on the harmonious balance, integration, and complexity of flavours and aromas. The La Villa vineyards which include a handful of plots across the estate are where their non-Riserva Amarone is sourced, and when tasting the 2019, 2020, and 2021 barrel samples they too showed great complexity, elegance, and potential across the board. Keep this winery in mind when looking for expressive and elegant Amarone, Valpolicella Superiore, and their unique Metronis Late Harvest (bone dry) 100% Garganega wine that winemaker uses frozen grapes (20%) to make such a truly unique and complex wine, with delicious honeyed orchard fruits, floral, savoury, lanolin, and nutty characteristics. Worth seeking out and trying to get some of the 2000 bottles produced in 2021 and 2500 in 2022.
Bonus review: Villa San Carlo Riserva Amarone della Valpolicella 2016 – Ruby red with a garnet hue, very expressive with some evolution on the nose. Dark fruits, dark chocolate, a hint of soy and balsamic showing in the bouquet. The palate is beautifully balanced, softly textured, with great complexity of flavours, some evolution presenting with hints of rustic elements but with exceptional freshness. An absolutely gorgeous expression of premium Amarone that’s showing wonderfully now and will over the next two+ decades. 95 points.
One of many must-see wineries throughout Valpolicella. A trip up to Villa San Carlo’s villa offers beautiful views of their vineyards, olive groves, and the Valpolicella region. You can also check out the original paintings in the villa, which the Riserva Amarone label showcases, painted in 1823, 200 years ago this year.
2018 FlaTio Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (barrel) – Rich and inviting aromatic profile, this preview (barrel sample) is full bodied with great structure, distinct fine chalky tannins and refreshing dried fruits, plum, and dark chocolate persisting on the finish. 92+ points.
2018 Domini Veneti Jago Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – From the renowned Valpolicella Cru vineyard, Jago, in the Classico region, Domini Veneti’s Jago Amarone shows impressive dried dark fruits, spice, balsamic and tobacco notes on the nose and repeating on the palate. Simply delicious, with a harmonious texture and balance, dried dark fruit, currants, and sweet spices persisting on the long finish. 93 points.
2018 Albino Armani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG – Albino Armani’s winery is located in Marano di Valpolicella, with vineyards reaching 500m in elevation. Armani’s high altitude terraced vineyards and the cool mountain breezes that work their way through those vineyards, help to produce the fresh and elegant style of high altitude Amarone which Armani is known for. The nose on the 2018 Amarone shows dried raspberry, cherry, herbs, and earthy notes. Very refreshing and elegant, its fine texture highlights the delicious dried red berries, cherry, and dark chocolate on the finish. Enjoy this refreshing Amarone upon release in Spring 2023 and over the next decade with a wide range of dishes from BBQ, pasta, and aged cheese. 92-93 points.
2018 Monte Zovo – Famiglia Cottini – Fragrant nose showing dark fruits, roasted beets, sweet spices, herbs. Palate shows tangy cherry, dried fruit, and subtle earthiness. Enjoy over the next decade. 90+ points.
2018 Zymé Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico (barrel sample)– Big and bold, deeply coloured, the nose shows rich dried red and dark fruits, with fragrant balsamic and tobacco notes. Fresh with great intensity of flavours, the palate is loaded with delicious dried fruit, raspberry, Fragrant nose showing dark fruits, roasted beets, sweet spices, herbs. Full bodied, with lively youthful tannis, there’s a remarkable freshness with dried dark fruits and raspberry notes persisting. An great wine from an iconic producer, and a wine you’ll want to enjoy over the next few decades. Drink 2028-2048+. 94-95+ points.
Keep your eyes peeled for these impressive Amarone della Valpolicella wines from the 2018 vintage when they start showing up in your market. They’re all fantastic, and distinct, expressions of premium Amarone della Valpolicella and would be a great addition to your wine program, cellar, or fine dining plans now and for years to come. Enjoy!
Matt Steeves – Canadian Wine Writer, On-Air Sommelier (TV, radio), Valpolicella Wine Specialist, and former Director with the National Capital Sommelier Guild – follow Matt on Instagram @Quercusvino & www.quercusvino.ca & www.topwines.ca
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