It’s Tasting Time for the 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella Wines

 

Anteprima Amarone 2011

Each year at the end of January, Verona Italy hosts the wine extravaganza Anteprima Amarone (or Preview of Amarone). This two day event is dedicated to celebrating the release of the newest vintage of Amarone, the most aristocratic and cherished wine of the Veneto region and, along with Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello, one of the most acclaimed wines in all Italy.

This year, the event celebrated the current release of the 2011 vintage Anteprima Amarone 2011 logoof Amarone wines and was held over a two day period - Saturday, January 31st and Sunday, February 1st. Most of Saturday was reserved for the wine trade (producers, importers and the wine press) while Saturday evening and all day Sunday were open to non-pro wine enthusiasts who had the opportunity to sample all or as many of the 64 Amarone wines as they wanted. It goes without saying that it was a very popular and well-attended event.

So, if by any chance you happen to be in Verona next year at the end of January, you may want to consider attending and, if so, plan accordingly.  It is an interesting event. It’s not only fun - Amarone is always a pleasure to drink - it also gives you a heads-up on what is going on with the Valpolicella region’s most important wine.

The event is sponsored by the Consorzio per la Tutela Vini Valpolicella DOC (Valpolicella Consortium), the trade organization for producers of Valpolicella and Amarone wines. The Consortium has a two-fold objective: to safeguard the quality of wines produced in the Valpolicella region and to promote Valpolicella wines in the domestic and international markets. The international market is especially important because it has grown significantly over the past decade and today accounts for 80 percent of total Valpolicella production. Approximately two-thirds of total exports are to Europe and the remaining one-third is shared by the rest of the world.

Sixty-four of the Consortium’s 272 members exhibited their Amarone wines at Anteprima Amarone. The Amarone wines presented are those from the 2011 vintage, the newest vintage to meet the minimum Registration desk for Anteprima Amarone 2011ageing and other regulatory requirements to qualify as Amarone and as such are eligible for release and sale into the market. This means that the youngest Amarone wines available in the marketplace in 2015 will be the 2011 vintage.

Not all Amarone producers are members of the Consortium. A few years ago some of the major producers decided to start their own association called Famiglie dell’Amarone (or Amarone Families).  While small in number (only 11 members) the Amarone Families includes some of the largest Valpolicella producers. While Amarone Family members are large in size, collectively they account for only a small pportion of total Valpolicella production.

The 2011 Vintage

2011 was another in a string of back-to-back very good-to-excellent vintages in the Valpolicella region. Mother Nature smiled benevolently on the Valpolicella region in 2011. The weather for grape growing was about as good as it gets - warm and sunny days with measured rainfall at critical points during the grapes’ maturation. These wines are not ready to drink yet but should provide excellent sipping in subsequent years and will be excellent in their prime 12 to 15 years from now. To enjoy Amarone wines at their best, much pazienza is required.

Following a cold, wet and humid winter, the weather started to improve and March 2011 experienced above-average temperatures. The above-average, warm temperatures continued through April, May and early June which led to early budding and flowering of the vines, about 10 days earlier than the historic average.

Rainfall was below-average in the spring but heavy, well-spaced rainfall in June and July contributed significantly to healthy growth of the fruit. For much of the summer the temperature remained above average with long sunny days.

The temperatures remained above average with modest rainfall in August and September, the two most critical months for healthy maturation of the grapes. There was some rain in early September that provided adequate but not excessive water for the vines and the grapes were harvested about a week earlier than usual in mid-September.

The long and gradual maturation period and the warm, dry climate brought the grapes to their peak development. The quality of the grapes was excellent with high sugar content and high levels of polyphenols and their thick skins were ideal for the appassimento process that is a critical part of Amarone production.

But an unusual weather-related factor also played a positive role in the subsequent drying process which should make 2011 an especially memorable vintage. As the grapes were drying in the lofts during the first week in October, the temperature suddenly dropped from 68˚F to 53˚F in a matter of hours and continued at this lower level for several weeks. This unusual temperature drop stretched out the drying process and the longer drying contributed positively to the character and development of the grapes during the appassimento process.

Overall, I think this will turn out to be an excellent vintage similar in many respects to the highly-regarded 2007 vintage. The '07 vintage also had an unusually mild spring, a warm and dry summer and an early harvest.

Aromatic and Flavor Profiles of Amarone Wines

It is important to remember that Amarone wines have great ageing potential and the aromatic and flavor profiles will slowly evolve over their long maturation period. This is a wine that takes years to divulge its nuances and complexities, so one needs to keep that in mind when tasting wines that have just been just released or in some cases are just barrel samples because they have not yet been formally released .

That’s not to say that they’re not good now or can’t be appreciated on their own. All of the wines I tasted have excellent concentration as well as good acidity and structure. But the real task is to deduce from current samples what the wines will taste like when they have more fully evolved a decade or two down the road.

A young, well-made Amarone wine should exhibit red cherry fruit flavors with considerable aromatic depth. The fleshy, dark fruit flavors should be accompanied by some exotic spice notes with perhaps a touch of wood, all of which are backed up by good acidity and assertive tannins.

As the Amarones mature they should exude subtle floral notes and the vibrant black cherry flavors should develop more complex and varied dried fruit and balsamic elements with a pleasing touch of nutty bitterness on the finish. A well-made Amarone should as it matures begin to exhibit a silky texture with soft tannins, reduced acidity, rich flavors and a robust structure. At full maturity an Amarone is warm and inviting and the perfect companion to help soften winter’s harsh weather.

Tasting Notes

Sixty-four producers had their 2011 Amarone wines available for tasting at Anteprima Amarone. While I didn’t taste all 64 wines I made a valiant effort and came close to doing so. Overall, I tasted a lot of winners, a few mediocre wines and absolutely no losers. Given excellent grape quality I would expect a mixture of some very good to excellent wines and that is exactly what I found.

As usual, there are some notable differences in the aromas, flavors and characteristics of the wines sampled. Listed below are some of the most promising 2011 Amarone wines among the many I tasted at Anteprima Amarone 2011. The wines are listed alphabetically by producer.

Accordini Stefano
The bouquet of the estate’s 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Acinatico” is laden with ripe cherry and plum notes and a hint of balsamic. The wine spends 18 months ageing in oak barriques. It's rich and warm with loads of ripe berry and kitchen spice flavors complemented by good tannins and structure. There are no rough edges to this wine. The alcohol clocks in at 16.5 percent. Even though the wine is in its youth it is a real pleasure to drink.

Albino Armani
The winery is located near the town of Dolcè in the rugged northwestern reaches of the Valpolicella zone but has several high-altitude vineyards located throughout the Valpolicella zone. The estate’s Amarone della Valpolicella “Albino Armani” is very pleasing, fresh and elegant with red cherry and blueberry aromas and a hint of vanilla. It is rich with acidity and tannins and has 14.5 percent alcohol.The scheduled release date is May 2016.

Cà Rugate
This wine is made from a selection of the best grapes from Ca Rugate’s vineyards in the hills around Montecchia di Crosara. The Amarone is aged in oak for at least 30 months before it is bottled. This is a big wine with concentrated ripe black fruit aromas enhanced with hints of cedar and balsamic. It is rich, complex and full-bodied and its ripe cherry and plum flavors have an almost “chewy” texture. The wine has 15 percent alcohol and is currently available for sale in the market.

Cesari
The Cesari Amarone Classico has dark fruit aromas, spicy and rich flavors and good structure. It is an elegant wine with a soft, velvety texture and a long, lingering finish. It has 16.3 percent alcohol and shows great promise for the future. It will be released for sale in March 2015.

Corte San Benedetto
The 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico produced by brothers Angelo and Loris Lavarina spends 3 years ageing in oak. This is a truly impressive wine - well-structured, complex, elegant and velvety. The wine will receive further ageing with an anticipated release date of January 2017. This Amarone is worth the wait.

Corte Sant’Alda
Wines from this Demeter-certified biodynamic winery seldom disappoint and the 2011 Amarone is no exception. The 2011 Amarone is stunning with pronounced cherry and raspberry flavors supported by good structure and acidity and impressive complexity. The alcohol level is 15.5 percent. This wine will undergo further ageing and will be released for sale in April 2016.

Guerrieri Rizzardi
Although the family-owned Guerrieri Rizzardi estate was established in 1914 the estate’s vineyards date back to the 1450’s. The 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Villa Rizzardi” spent a year in oak barriques and 2 more years ageing in oak barrels. Its dark fruit and black spice aromas are rich and intense and the flavors evocative of prunes, raisins and cola with a touch of black pepper. The long finish is marked with a pleasant, slightly bitter aftertaste. The 2011 Amarone will be released for sale at some yet-to-be-determined date in 2016.

Monte Zovo - Contini
Monte Zovo’s 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella spent 24 months ageing in French oak barrels. This big, full-bodied Amarone opens with dark fruit aromas intermingled with exotic spice notes. It is soft and round with a big, full mouthfeel that fairly coats your teeth and tongue with dark fruit and spice flavors. There is a touch of sweetness on the finish. The wine has 15 percent alcohol and is not yet available for sale and no release date indicated.

San Cassiano
San Cassiano is located in Mezzane di Sotto in the hills overlooking the Mezzane valley. Twenty-five acres of vineyards are farmed organically. Fermentation for Amarone San Cassiano 2011 was very fast with deep extraction and aged in new French oak barrels for 24 months and 12 months in the bottle. It is a spectacular, full-bodied Amarone with good definition. Sultry red fruit and floral aromas fuse with sturdy dark berry, plum and dried fruit flavors to create a structured and seductive bottle of wine. The wine has 16 percent alcohol and is to be released for sale in June 2015.

Secondo Marco
Marco Speri, the proprietor of Secondo Marco, is a fifth generation family winemaker in Valpolicella. The 2011 Secondo Marco Amarone della Valpolicella Classico spends 3-1/2 years in various oak barrels and an additional 6 months in the bottle prior to release. Deep ruby red in color, it is redolent with dark cherry, prune and exotic spices. It is a firmly structured, full-bodied wine with muscular tannins and a complex, velvety mouthfeel. This is a truly outstanding wine that will only improve with further time in the bottle. It has 16 percent alcohol and will be released for sale in January 2017.

Ugolini
The estate’s 22 acres of vineyards are on the hills of Fumane and San Pietro in Cariano that surround the estate’s beautifully renovated palazzo. All the estate’s vineyards are organically farmed. The 2011 Tenuta Ugolini Amarone Classico is a particularly accomplished wine made with commendable restraint. Fragrant and vigorous dark fruit and spice aromas and a solid core of dark fruit are decisively balanced with spirited acidity and refined tannins. The Amarone will undergo some further ageing before release in mid-2015.

Valentina Cubi
The Valentina Cubi vineyard is certified organic and progressing towards biodynamic status. The estate’s 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Morar” is a powerful but elegant wine. It is made in a ripe, inviting style with good structure, prominent tannins and a bracing 16.5 percent alcohol content. There are plenty of spice and toasted nuances on the finish. This one will require some cellaring to let the flavors coalesce and the tannins settle. The scheduled release date is April 2016.

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©Richard Marcis
February 8, 2015

For other reviews of award-winning Italian wines and producers see Italian Wine Reviews.

 

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