Talk about high expectations.
After the very difficult 2014 vintage in Europe, 2015 has been universally acclaimed on the continent as being one of the best vintages of the century. Possibly one of the best vintages ever. Wonderfully healthy fruit on the vines – and plenty of it. Great weather with oft-ideal ripening conditions. In fact, there were virtually no problems whatsoever, and the amount of fruit – and wine – was often triple what the previous vintage was able to provide.
But Amarone is a very special wine with particular challenges. The process of appassimento increases the body, concentration and structure of a wine, while magnifying flavour (good and bad) and creating conditions for problems such as rot and volatile acidity. And the grapes need to be harvested a little earlier than would normally be the case to ensure that there is sufficient acidity to balance the concentration and extra alcohol that will result from fermenting such an intense wine until it is dry. This can make even a good vintage more challenging, and a bad one (such as 2014) nearly impossible.
Only 46 Amarone wines were presented at last year’s Anteprima Amarone 2014. I was expecting far more wines for 2015.
Amarone Anteprima 2015
In the end, there were still (only) 68 wines, and some 39 of those were barrel samples. That there were so many barrel samples is less surprising when one considers the great expectations for the vintage; the wines should be able to handle – and profit from – more wood than is the case for those of 2014, and so many of the wines were not yet in bottle by the time the Anteprima rolled around. In 2014, very few producers were risking extended oak ageing. In 2015, you would almost be a fool not to use some.
I like barrel samples. They are often both lovelier and far more interesting to me on a personal level than the eventual bottlings. Even at a sit-down tasting (as opposed to tasting in the cellar, where a barrel sample is often drawn directly from the barrel and poured into the tasting glass) they are usually presented unfiltered and with, often, far less sulphur than would be the case once the wine is bottled. I like to see what the wine is like before those things happen – and I almost always prefer them that way.
But, depending on the style of wine being made, they can also be far from ready – even deceptive. Sometimes poorly-integrated, off-balance and almost always extremely young, they may offer little real insight into the wine that shall emerge, and even less into its eventual development.
But those are troubles for another time; on with the tasting!
An Overview of What to Expect from 2015
Expectations were high, and, all-in-all, they were also fulfilled.
The vintage offers everything that one could want from a well-made Amarone: deep and healthy fruit, power and structure. But also good acidity, finesse and elegance. In fact, a couple of the wines were among the most delicate and elegant Amarones that I have ever tried.
Use of new wood and barrel ageing is markedly higher than in 2014, and the quality of the vintage means that the wines can generally benefit from a turn in oak. The early harvesting associated with the appassimento process means that acidity, while sometimes less than ideal elsewhere in Europe, is generally very good for Amarone in 2015, with the wines also exhibiting excellent tannins, fruit and overall balance. This is a vintage that, generally, will be approachable in the short term as well as offering long-term improvement.
There is a very broad scope to the possibilities afforded by the quality of the vintage, with house styles remaining true and single-vineyard bottlings more faceted than ever. There were some very exciting wines!
But there was also a bit of overconfidence. Volatile acidity was often quite high, and there were more than a few awkward wines. These were in the minority, fortunately, and some of them were simply the case of being a poor bottle. I can say this with confidence because some of my colleagues and I checked some of the wines again “downstairs” on the tasting floor directly with the producers. But it is unfortunate that there was so much bottle variation at the trade tasting “upstairs” at the Palazzo Gran Guardia in Verona. Not everyone has the time to go and re-check bottles.
66 Producers. 29 Bottle samples and 39 Barrel samples. 65 Classic and 3 Riserva bottlings. 38 Classico zone, 2 Valpantena, 29 from the rest of the zone
These were my favourite three wines from the Anteprima. Each differing completely in style, each shining in their own way. Presented here in the order in which they were tasted (which was alphabetical).
Gamba – “Campedel” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Bottle Sample
- The best wine of the tasting for immediate enjoyment. The wine had a fragrant nose of raspberry, mulberry and violet. The palate was full of soft red fruit and fine black fruit, and there was very fine, ripe tannin that, nevertheless, offered more than enough grip to be interesting and appetising. Great balance, very good freshness and structure. Drink now or keep it for years to come, it has plenty to offer!
Massimago – Amarone della Valpolicella – Barrel Sample
- It feels almost strange to use the word “pretty” for an Amarone, but here we are. Prettiest wine of the tasting, as well as the most unusual and unexpected Amarone that I’ve tried to date! Beautifully, even extravagantly floral and delicate. It feels like a light wine on the palate, though surely it is at least 15.5% abv. The tannins are superfine and ripe, the acidity is elegant and fresh. Vivid, vibrant and playful, you would be hard-pressed to find another Amarone that would offer more possibilities for food pairing.
Roccolo Grassi – Amarone della Valpolicella – Bottle Sample
- The motherlode. Dense. If there had to be just one Amarone from the tasting, this would be my choice. Sweet vanilla bean and fragrant violet wafting through your bedroom on an evening breeze. The palate is dense and compact, with a steely core but, almost unbelievably, yields mulberry, cherry and plush raspberry and candied violet like a silk wrap for that core. This wine is completely dry, but the fruit is so perfectly ripe that the attack is almost sweet, and by no means overripe. Floral notes persist from the attack all the way through the finish, which is very long indeed. There is a lingering savoury impression. Velvety in spite of huge structure, and by no means overly concentrated, this wine is not a bomb, nor is it over-extrated. It is a firm, compelling wine of stature, that could easily be enjoyed now but will reward patience for decades. Hats off.
Steffano Accordini – “Acinatico” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Bottle Sample
- Faintly port-like, with a fine dried fruit and raisin character. Good grip, a hint of forest floor. Nice and compact on the palate, and warming in the finish.
Aldegheri – Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Bottle Sample
- Loaded with ripe raspberry and seasoned with a bit of raspberry leaf. Also compact, with good red fruit persisting into the finish, which is a tiny bit hot. Lovely length, nice and fine tannin. Decent acidity keeps the wine fresh on the palate.
Bolla – Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Barrel Sample
- Bit of raspberry jam in the nose. Softer fruit, but more – and firmer – tannin. Very good structure, good, tight finish. Lovely intensity, with graphite and tobacco aplenty. Lovely!
Ca Rugate – “Punta Tolotti” Amarone della Valpolicella – Bottle Sample
- Spice and power! Floral, too, with s fine tannic backbone accompanying good acidity. The wood is no yet integrated, and there is plenty of grip to be found. This one is made for the future.
Gerardo Cesari – “Cesari” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Bottle Sample
- Lots of Mulberry, but the overall fruit impression is light and sweet – reminiscent of a good cake. Tannins are very smooth, nd the impression is of lower alcohol. Easy to drink and enjoy now.
Monte Zovo (Famiglia Cottini) – Amarone della Valpolicella – Barrel Sample
- Lots of juicy fruit and plenty of violets. Tannin is restrained, and the finish is a bit warm.
Falezze (Luca Anselmi) – Amarone della Valpolicella – Barrel Sample
- Juicy, with fine fruit tannin and some heat. Nice and vertical, already expressive.
Fasoli Gino – “Alteo” Amarone della Valpolicella – Barrel Sample
- Begins reductive in the nose, but sweet red fruit emerges swiftly, followed by great tannic presence and lovely freshness. The finish is long and shows big potential.
Le Bignele – Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Barrel Sample
- The nose was quite restrained and a bit reductive, but the palate reveals lots of red and dark fruit. Graphite and even more dark fruit going into the finish. Tight and compact, with a good, moderately long finish.
Le Guaite di Noemi – Amarone della Valpolicella – Barrel Sample
- Good sweet tomato that moulds into ripe red fruit on the palate. Wood tannin is pronounced without being offensive. Length is good and there will be plenty of ageing potential. This is a wine that is meant to be aged.
Tenuta Santa Marie (Gaetano Bertani) – Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva – Barrel Sample
- Sweet tomato, great fruit, good tannin, a bit of heat from the wood. Good balance, grand and full.