Italy: Sights, Sounds, Culture and Flavors

by Elizabeth Cooper in Wine & Beer

Having just returned from a spectacular trip to Italy, it seems only fitting to dedicate the next few blogs to the wonderful sights, sounds, culture and flavors of the various regions visited. I made the trip with three close friends; we started in Venice, arriving in the early evening to stroll the ancient alleyways (no room for vehicles here) and canals looking for a restaurant recommended by a native Venetian friend. Venice is the perfect place for walking, but finding your destination is easier said than done. After much wandering and lighthearted bickering about the correct directions (turns out I’m not much of a navigator…) we happened upon a charming restaurant, Muro Venizia. The restaurant, small but bustling, was the perfect spot. We ordered several plates to share – traditional dishes of Baccala, carpaccio, housemade Orcchiete (below) and, of course, pizza – and a lovely bottle of La Braccesa Vino Nobile 2009, by Antinori. The wine was rich and full bodied, definitely showing the ripeness of the vintage, black cherry, violets and subtle spice; perfect for the food and setting – abutting one of the many canals.

Day two was filled with sightseeing and repeated stops for local brews and bellinis at the Hotel Danieli (www.hoteldanielivenice.com) just off the Piazza San Marco, this is a ‘must’ while in Venice. The evening closed with yet another lovely dinner at an outdoor cafe. There are so many wonderful places to eat in Venice; but be aware that reservations are necessary at most, year round.

We headed to Verona Monday morning with lots of time to spare before our 3PM meeting with Allegrini Estates, so we took the opportunity to walk to the arena and Verona city center for a quick bite and some sightseeing. Lunch, pictured below, was at the famous Botteca Vini (Antica Bottega del Vino, www.bottegavini.it). This spot is steeped in history and boasts by-the-glass availability of every wine in house (of which there are literally thousands). The wine list is an impressively published book; but we settled on a classic standby for the region, Pioropan Soave – bursting with ripe, fleshy yellow apple and hints of almond skin and flint – no better match for the Fois Gras Terrine, Polenta with local Gorganzola Dulce, fresh white sardines over polenta and artichokes with onions.

With full bellies, we drove north about 20 minutes to the town of Fumane for our appointment with Allegrini Estates. There, we were greeted by Gloria Mainella: a most charming hostess who, fortunately for us, spoke English easily and proved to be a wealth of information on the history and wines of Allegrini and Valpolicella. The Allegrini family has been producing wines in the Valpolicella region since the early 1500. They are the leading producer in Valpolicella Classica and one of the most highly acclaimed wineries in Italy and abroad. The winery consists of more than 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyard in the Classica appellation – producing exclusively from estate grown grapes. Over the past 10 years they have also acquired estates in Montalcino and Bolgheri.

Although the family has been producing wine in the area since the 16th century – the earliest on record was Allegrino Allegrini in 1557-, Giovanni Allegrini was the true innovator. His passion for the region and its wines drove him to modernize the winery and vineyard practices, laying the foundation for the successful estate is it today. Prior to his untimely demise in 1983, he purchased the hillside vineyard – La Grola (pictured above), with the intent to produce Cru class wines from the Valpolicella DOC, unfortunately he was not to live long enough to see it bear fruit. 

The estate was passed along to his three children, Walter (who has since passed), Marilisa and Franco, who have carried on the torch of passion and innovation.

After making our way through the barrel rooms, the drying facility – which was started by Giovanni and is operated as a coop to allow other Amarone/Recioto producers in the area to have access to a state of the art facility, the single vineyards and the beautiful Palazzo della Torre, We sat down with Gloria to taste through the lineup of Veronese wines in one of the breathtaking Palatial rooms the Palazzo della Torre – now owned and in perpetual renovation by the Allegrini family.

 

The lineup:

Valpolicella Classico, from the lower hills of Fumane in the Classico area 2011. A blend of 60% Corvina Veronese, 35% Rondinella and 5% Molinari. This is a perfect example of Valpolicella, showing bright cherry, black raspberry and red currant on the nose that 

quickly follows through to the palate. There are delicate floral aromatics of Fresia and Violet. The wine is crisp with a core of bright, youthful acidity and subtle tannins. This was perfect with local mortidella and Veronese cheese.

Palazzo della Torre, Palazzo della Torre vineyard, Fumane di Valpolicella 2009. A blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese this wine in unique in its origin as well as the winemaking process. From the single vineyard estate, PdT uses 30% of dried grapes traditionally used for Amarone (most Ripasso wines use spent Amarone skins) and 70% fresh. The color is deep purple with slight rose hues on the rim with rich black cherry, plum and cassis and heady aromas of violets, fennel, fresh sage and sweet tobacco. The palate reveals richly spiced orange peel, dark berry and spicey notes. This is a wine that continued to improve and evolve throughout the tasting.

La Grola, from the single cru vineyard site in Sant’Abrogio di Valpolicella 2009 is a blend of 80% Corvina Veronese and 20% Syrah. The Syrah definitely melds well with the Corvina, displaying black pepper and spiced meat notes accompanied by hints of black cherry, roasted herb notes and distinct mineral character (the La Grola soil is predominantly calcerous and basalt). This is a full-bodied, dense wine with toasty vanilla notes on a firm yet soft tannic structure.

Amarone della Valpolicella, DOCG Classico 2008. A blend of 80% Corvina Veronese, 15% Rondinella and 5% Oseleta – the grapes are dried on plastic racks for a minimum of 3 to 4 months before pressing and fermentation to dryness. The resultant wine drinks like a velvet glove. Flavors of orange spice, cranberry, cherry and desiccated rose petals combine with the aroma of violets, chocolate and smoky vanilla notes. Rich, complex and young (as Gloria poured the wine, she made note that we were “killing a baby here” as these wines are meant for serious aging) this wine definitely strays from the ‘typical’ stewed volatile Amarones that were so popular in years past. It has excellent structure and body, a real crowd pleaser.

La Poja, top of the La Grola vineyard, Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella 2007. From 100% Corvina Veronese this unique offering is imbued with black currant, black raspberry and huckleberry fruits and notes of balsamic, roasted herbs and spices. This is a wine that is made for serious aging – not to be thrown back lightly. As the tasting finished and I returned to the La Poja there was a lively peach and spiced orange note that had evolved, proving this is truly a unique wine.

Stay tuned next week – Tuscany!