A Tasting of Cesari’s Classic valpolicella Wines
The Cesari Winery
The Cesari winery was founded in 1936 when Gerardo Cesari purchased 100 acres of vineyards north of the city of Verona in the heart of the classic Valpolicella zone. He began producing the traditional wines of the Valpolicella region such as Valpolicella, Bardolino and Soave in addition to what was at that time a little-known specialty wine called Amarone della Valpolicella (or more simply, Amarone).
In the early 1960’s Geraldo’s son, Franco, assumed responsibility for the winery’s operations. He expanded the winery’s facilities, acquired additional properties throughout the Veneto region and also fine-tuned and expanded the winery’s marketing initiatives throughout Europe as well as the rest of the world.
Today, the Cesari winery has a amazing collection of vineyards in prime areas of the Valpolicella zone and elsewhere in the Veneto and is one of the Valpolicella region’s leading wineries. The Cesari winery produce a range of classic wines like Amarone, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Soave and Lugana in addition to wines derived from “international” varieties like Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Chardonnay.
The winery’s holdings include four top-quality cru vineyards - Bosan, Il Bosco, J̀èma and Cento Filari. The first three vineyards are located in premier areas of the Valpolicella appellation and grow primarily the traditional Valpolicella varieties of Corvina and Rondinella as well as some Molinara. The fourth, the Cento Filare vineyard, is located at the southern edge of Lake Garda in the far western reaches of the Veneto region, and is the source of the native Turbiana variety and some Chardonnay used in the production of the estate’s Lugana wines.
The jewel of the estate’s cru vineyards is the Bosan vineyard near San Pietro in Cariano in the heart of the Valpolicella region. The Bosan vineyard covers approximately 25 acres and is the source of the Corvina and Rondinella grapes used in the production of Cesari’s top wine, the Bosan, a cru Amarone. The vineyard’s southern exposure, clay-chalk soil and normally cool and breezy climate allow for favorable maturation of the grapes.
As Franco expanded the winery’s operations he also broadened his reach into foreign markets. Today approximately 80 percent of Cesari’s total wine production is exported to the rest of Europe, the United States, Russia, Australia and some 20 other countries in South America and Asia.
The management of the family-owned and operated winery has also evolved over time as the third generation of the family assumes increased responsibilities at the winery. While owner and winemaker Franco Cesari manages day-to-day operations with the assistance of oenologist, Luigi Bemmi, Franco’s son, Gerardo, and daughter, Deborah, also work at the winery with primary responsibilities for marketing and sales.
I had the opportunity to sample Cesari’s lineup of wines earlier this year at their winery as part of a tour arranged by Anteprima Amarone. I subsequently attended a luncheon hosted by Deborah Cesari that featured Cesari wines paired with specially prepared dishes at Mario Batalie’s upscale and award-winning Del Posto restaurant in New York City. The pairing of the wines with specially-prepared dishes provided additional context for evaluating each wine’s character.
Following are my reviews and comments on each of the wines tasted in the order they were presented. These reviews may be more extensive than the typical wine review but I believe that in order to really understand and appreciate a wine one has to know something about where and how the wine is made.
Cesari, “Cento Filari” Lugana DOC 2013 (about $18)
This single-vineyard white wine is produced from grapes harvested from Cesari’s Cento Filari vineyard (whose name roughly translates as “100 rows”, the number of rows in the original vineyard) located immediately south of Lake Garda on the western border of the Veneto. The Cento Filari differentiates itself from the typical Lugana wine through the addition of a small amount of Chardonnay (5 percent) to the Turbiana grapes.
The grapes are hand-harvested in late September through late October, soft-pressed and then fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine undergoes extended maturation on the grape skins for several months after which it is bottled for sale.
The Cento Filari has an intense bright yellow color that borders on golden with subtle apple and lemon zest aromas. It is a dry, lively, medium-bodied wine has a good presence with delicate acidity and a rich fruitiness and supple texture that likely is attributable to its extended maturation on the skins.
While this wine was served at Del Posto as an aperitivo with various antipasti, this expressive and well-balanced wine is also a great complement to most fish, vegetable and poultry dishes.
Cesari, “Jèma” Corvina 2010 (about $40)
This single-vineyard wine is made entirely from Corvina grapes harvested at the estate’s Jèma 25-acre vineyard in the Valpolicella Classico zone.
Corvina is a late-ripening, thick-skinned grape variety valued for the deep color, structure and delightful flavors it imparts to wines. Corvina grapes are the ones that give structure and life to Amarone wines.
The grapes are late-harvested, placed in crates and sent to the fruttai (drying facility) where they are left to dry for 20 days. The partially-dried grapes are then gently pressed and fermented on the grape skins for another 20 days. After fermentation the wine spends 18 months in lightly-toasted French oak barriques after which it is racked into large oak casks for an additional 6 months. The wine is then aged in the bottle for 6 months prior to release for sale.
“Jèma” is local Veronese dialect for “precious gem” and that’s an apt description for this 100 percent varietal wine. It has a deep red to black color and complex, enticing black currant and raisiny aromas. It is deep, rich and spicy with some elegant “toasty” undertones. It has some sweet dark-fruit flavors with firm, dry tannins with a hint of sweet spices on the finish.
Cesari’s Jèma is a truly impressive wine that is best served alongside equally bold dishes like grilled steaks, wild game and rich stews. It also is a perfect match for risotto with wild mushrooms or sausage or aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano.
Cesari, “Mara” Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC 2012 (about $20)
This wine is named after Deborah Cesari’s grandmother “Mara” and as Deborah notes “it expresses the power and sweetness of the person.”
Ripasso is a classic wine of the Valpolicella region, made by “re-passing” new wine over the pomace, or pulp, of newly-made Amarone wine. This process will induce a second fermentation that infuses additional color, fragrance, structure and increased alcohol content into the wine. Although not as powerful as an Amarone it possesses some Amarone-like qualities. Think of it as a bambino Amarone.
After the secondary fermentation is complete the wine is racked and aged in large French oak casks for 2 months followed by 10 months in large Slavonian oak casks. The wine is then refined in the bottle for an additional 6 months prior to release for sale.
The wine is a little tight in the nose but follows-up with wonderful cherry and dried-cherry flavors infused with subtle notes of vanilla and oak in the background. It’s smooth, nicely balanced and elegant and displays a touch of brightness on the spicy finish.
This well-made, enticing and moderately-priced Ripasso is hard to resist.
Cesari, “Bosan” Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC 2011 (about $33)
This is another Ripasso wine from Cesari. The Bosan Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso is a single-vineyard, limited-production wine named after the vineyard from which the grapes are sourced.
The 25-acre Bosan vineyard lies near San Pietro in Cariano in the heart of the Valpolicella region. It is the estate’s prime vineyard and this vineyard's grapes are used exclusively for the production of Cesari’s best wines. It has good southeastern exposure and lake breezes keep the vines well ventilated and healthy.
The Bosan is aged in French oak barriques for 12 months followed by 6 months in large oak casks. It then spends an additional 8 months resting in the bottle prior to release for sale.
It is a full-flavored Ripasso with a sweet and sour push-pull of dark fruit flavors intermingled with an attractive spicy bitterness and soft tannins with a touch of sweetness. A long, velvety, dried fruit and sweet spice finish seals the deal.
This is an excellent Ripasso wine that at the current retail price scores high on a quality-to-price basis.
This full-bodied but not heavy red wine goes well with a wide range of dishes such as hearty pasta dishes, risotto, roast lamb and roasted or grilled red meats.
Cesari, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2010 (about $48)
The Cesari estate produces three versions of Amarone. The Amarone Classico is Cesari’s most affordable and approachable Amarone.
The 2010 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico made from hand-selected Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes that are placed in open crates and then dried for 4 months in the traditional appassimento process. The dried grapes are gently pressed in mid-January and then undergo a slow, almost month-long fermentation on the grape skins. Following fermentation, the wine is aged in a combination of French oak barriques and large Slavonian oak barrels for 12 months after which the wines are blended and then aged an additional 18 months in large oak barrels. The wine is aged for an additional 8 months in the bottle before release.
The result of the vinification and ageing regimens is impressive. The 2010 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is full-bodied and structured with aromas of dark cherries and raisins. It has sweet dark fruit flavors infused with subtle notes of vanilla and oak while its velvety tannins provide depth and structure. There are some delicious sweet spice notes on the lengthy finish.
Amarone wines are typically long-lived wines and this one will continue to evolve over the next 8 to 10 years. This full-bodied red is best paired with robust dishes like wild game, grilled red meats and aged cheeses.
Cesari, “Il Bosco” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008 (about $67)
The grapes for this single-vineyard Amarone come from Cesari’s Il Bosco vineyard which lies southeast of Castelrotto in the Valpolicella Classico zone. This small, 10-acre hilly vineyard is 500 feet above sea level and has a good southeastern exposure.
The 2008 Il Bosco Amarone is 80 percent Corvina and 20 percent Rondinella. It is aged for a year in medium-toasted French oak barriques and another year in large Slavonian oak casks. The wine then spends at least another year in the bottle prior to release.
The Il Bosco is a remarkable wine. It has an elegance and measured intensity that distinguishes it from other Amarone wines made with a heavy hand. It opens with ripe cherry fruit aromas that follow though in the taste along with sweet spice flavors. The oak influence is evident but not overbearing and the wine’s soft tannins precede a long, pleasing finish.
The Il Bosco was my personal favorite of the three Amarone wines tasted at the luncheon. That’s not to diminish the two other well-made Amarone wines that were also served. There are nuanced differences between the three but I particularly enjoyed the structure and flavor profile of the Il Bosco and its sense of restraint. My tasting-enjoyment calculus ranks it exceptionally high on a quality-to-price basis.
Cesari, “Bosan” Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2005 (about $90)
The Bosan is Cesari’s top-of-the-line and most expensive Amarone. It is a limited production cru wine made from the best bunches of Corvina and Rondinella grapes from the Bosan vineyard. The wine is extensively aged for a total of 6 years in a combination of French and Slavonian oak barrels followed by a year in the bottle.
The ’05 Bosan Amarone has richly aromatic sweet spice and ripe dark cherry fruit aromas. It is concentrated and full-bodied with a warm, velvety mouthfeel. It is ripe and bold and fairly coats your teeth with raisiny, dark fruit flavors with hints of balsamic and cocoa. This rich and robust wine should be savored slowly and appreciatively. While ready to drink now, the ’05 Bosan should age gracefully for at least another 10 years.
Cesari, Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2012 (about $46 for 500 ml bottle)
Recioto is the preeminent dessert wine of the Valpolicella appellation. Since Recioto is made with the same grape varieties, the same traditional appassimento grape drying process and basic vinification procedure as Amarone wines, it can be thought of as a sweet version of Amarone.
Cesari’s Recioto is made with a combination of Corvina and Rondinella and a splash of Molinara grapes harvested from several hillside vineyards in the Valpolicella Classico zone. The grapes are dried naturally for 4 to 5 months during which the grapes lose 40 percent or more of their original weight. The raisiny grapes are pressed and left to ferment on the grape skins for 3 to 4 weeks after which the wine is racked and aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. The wine spends an additional 6 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.
A gentle swishing of the glass releases lovely aromas of bitter cherries, coffee and sweet kitchen spices. The taste is deliciously sweet and pervasive with exotic black cherry, cassis and mocha flavors against a background of velvety tannins and some acidity to balance the sweetness.
It is a lovely wine that provides the perfect coda to an elegant dinner and will inspire your guests to linger at the table in a convivial mood.
It is best served slightly chilled alongside not-too-sweet desserts such as cookies, light pastries and aged cheeses. Personally, I prefer it served by itself as a digestivo with perhaps a bowl of walnuts or almonds within arm’s reach.
Opici Wines is the U. S. importer for Cesari wines.
April 2, 2015
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