Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Featured Wines: Italy's Gateway Drug

If any of the wines in this week's Featured Wines column tickle your fancy, you can order them directly from Jordan by email ( or find him in the Vintage Room of Everything Wine's Morgan Crossing location in South Surrey.

By Jordan Carrier

Amarone della Valpolicella is an effective gateway drug to Italian wines: the lower acid, fuller body, lesser tannins and elevated fruits serve as a friendly entry point for those wine drinkers arriving from Napa or Australia. The indigenous Valpolicella grapes of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara (which all sound like mild rashes) can’t achieve that kind of concentration on their own, however, being naturally lighter and thinner-skinned, so the Veronese put them on a weight-loss program of sorts, called Appasimento. After harvest, the grapes are left to dry for a minimum of 3 months (although most houses go way longer) in a well ventilated room, where they lose over 60 percent of their water weight, concentrating the flavours and thickening the juice. Since the resulting wine is so big, and normal Valpolicella can be so comparatively dilute, the Veronese gave it the name Amarone, which means “Big and Bitter” (although it’d be more fun if it meant “Blood of the Slaughtered Raisin”). 

Here are some amazing examples:

Masi Mazzano/Campolongo di Torbe 2009
We don’t often look to Amarone to find expressions of Terroir. The extra drying process places another perceptive filter between the soil and the glass, and can add a sort of corrective sameness to the finished wine (vineyard/vintage gave you under-ripe grapes? No problem, dry them longer!). The legendary house of Masi Agricola, however, gives us a terrific Terroir lesson by bottling two sides of the same valley separately. The sunnier side, Campolongo di Torbe drinks decadently ripe and lush, while the eastern-facing Mazzano vineyard (dried and vinified exactly like Campolongo) boasts Northern Rhone-like structure and austerity, as well as super-charged cellar potential. This is Nerd Amarone, to be sure, but a great example of Where being more important that What or even How. Very little came into BC, this is what I could get:
Masi Mazzano 2009, 95 points Wine Spectator, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $151.99 +tax
Masi Campolongo di Torbe 2009, 94 points Wine Spectator, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $46.99 +tax

Tezza Corte Majoli 2011
A teeny tiny winery from the milder Valpantena area of Valpolicella, near Lake Garda, this is boutique Amarone at a mainstream price. Brothers Flavio, Vanio and Federico Tezza don’t spare the oak, using only older French barriques (24 months) to soften the texture, but the nose is what shines, here. Way-cool bits of dark cherry, prune, spice, cola and cedar are all competing for your nose’s attention, but the delivery is butter and the finish is like comfort food: sweet spice and toasty glycerine. No ratings yet for this 2011 vintage. 3 cases available, $51.99 +tax

Fasoli Gino Orgno 2009
I have never been run over by an Italian locomotive wrapped in a purple velvet blanket, and now I don’t need to be. Produced by a 4th generation Amarone family, Orgno can’t be called Amarone because it’s made out of organic Merlot, an international grape, and somewhat of a banned substance in Valpolicella. Merlot is already a full, concentrated grape even before appasimento, so the drying process is kind of like crossing the Ghostbuster beams: it’s unnatural and it’s going to knock down buildings. Huge ripe red fruits and hints of leather, truffles and licorice, everything you taste after tasting Orgno will taste like Orgno. 2 six-packs available, $128.99 +tax

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