Sihao, Bruce, and I stopped by WineStyles last night, ostensibly so that Sihao could pick up the bottle of wine he had bought on back order, but really so we could partake in the store’s “Great Leap Wines” tasting. The theme was entitled as such to take note of the rare leap year of course, but the wines in of themselves fitted the bill perfectly. Each of the four wines we tasted had gigantic noses that simply jumped out at you.
First up was the Allegrini La Grola Veneto, Italy 2004 ($28 at WineStyles, $24 at Sam’s): A blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 15% Rondinella, 10% Syrah and 5% Sangiovese, the wine was aged 16 months in French oak. Big nose – lots of earth, chalk, and some plum. Need to start paying more attention to these Veronese wines…
Next up for the Punto Final Malbec Reserva 2005 ($25 at WineStyles – seems to retail online for ~$15): This wine was also fermented in French oak for 16 months (smell a trend here)… super dark color, almost violet. You could totally smell the oak on the nose. Quite a smooth finish – we debated for a while about picking up a bottle to go with Naples-styled pizza.
Third on the list, and my second favorite of the tasting, was the Nieto Senetiner Cabernet Shiraz 2004 ($18 at WineStyles, appears to retail elsewhere for about $10): The wine, yes, again, was aged in French oak, this time for about a year. Also a deep red. Big, almost gripping smell – first of aged cheese and some pepper. After a few minutes of talking, I sunk my nose back into the glass and was surprised to smell faint notes of citrus, then some herbal notes. Quite a delight.
Last, and my favorite of the night is the rare Mio Amarone DOC 2004 ($66 at WineStyles; couldn’t find a price quote online): Made of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Molinara, the wine had a strong raisin-y smell, with just the slightest tinge of sweetness. I loved it – it was a big wine, with 14.7% alcohol, and very concentrated. It should go well with aged cheese at the end of a big meal, but I definitely wouldn’t eat it with my meal as it’s too overwhelming. I took but two tastings of it, and could feel my palate tiring from all the explosions of flavors.
A brief overview of the Amarone grape from the Wine Lovers Page:
© by Tom Hyland
Amarone is one of Italy’s wine treasures that is loved by wine drinkers looking for ripe fruit, power, roundness and a sense of adventure in their red wine. Put a combination like that together and it should come as no surprise that Amarone is so popular these days.
Why is Amarone enjoying such renown and acceptance these days? Being a big – read 14 percent alcohol – wine doesn’t hurt and either does the name which most people can pronounce, unlike some Italian words. But it may be the singularity of this wine that makes it such a favorite.
Amarone is produced in the region of Veneto by estates that make Valpolicella, one of the most popular wines of this area in Northeastern Italy. The same grapes, primarily Corvina (usually the leading component in the blend) along with Rondinella and Molinara, are used to produce Amarone. But the difference between the two wines is usually striking; where Valpolicella is a medium-weight wine meant for consumption with lighter fare with in its first 3-5 years, Amarone is a much more robust wine that is perfect with game birds or other such sturdy fare over the course of 7 to 15 years.
The reason for the stylistic difference in these wines is in the winemaking. To produce an Amarone (properly known as Amarone della Valpolicella Classico), a winemaker will take the harvested grapes and lay them on a straw mat, often in an attic or other warm room. The grapes then dry over the course of several months creating a raisiny flavor that is a distinctive character of Amarone.
As Amarone comes from the Italian word amaro (“bitter”), most examples have a tartness or slightly astringent edge to them. Alternatively, you may notice a sweet edge to them that can be explained in the concentrated sugars the grapes pick up during the drying process. Certainly, the combination of raisiny and sweet black fruit can make Amarone an irresistible temptation.
That slightly sweet edge in the finish can also come from the fact that a particular Amarone may not be entirely dry. Amarone is actually a recent innovation, dating back only from the 1950s. Before that, the process of drying grapes in this fashion (known as appasimento) resulted in a sweet, super-rich wine known as Recioto. Legend has it that the first Amarone was a mistake, as a winemaker had let a barrel of wine ferment too long and the wine’s residual sugar had been eliminated. Recioto is still made today and its sweetness and richness make it a perfect choice at the end of a meal, often with powerful cheeses. (Many producers of Amarone also produce a Recioto – the official name is Recioto Della Valpolicella – with Masi and Tedeschi among the best.)
In the end, after many rounds about the store in search of the perfect pizza accompaniment, we settled on a bottle of Castellare di Castellina 2004, a Chianti Classico ($29 at WineStyles, seems to retail online for around $20 – BLEAH): I couldn’t find a picture of the 2004 label – the bird on the label changes every year (ala Mouton Rothschild with the paintings on the label commissioned to different artists every year). Supposedly, the winemaker is a bird lover and donates a portion of his proceeds to the conservation of the birds. Anyway, we thought this was the perfect example of a Chianti Classico after it’d opened up through the course of our meal (the truffle oil and pruciutto pizza, btw, was to die for). At first, I was a little surprised by how smooth and a little sweet the wine seemed, but after a bit, the tannins began to shine through.