Some jobs you just don’t turn down. For the past several years, I have had the insanely good fortune to work with Patrizia Marin of the Marco Polo Experience to host a wine lunch at the National Italian American Foundation gala weekend in Washington, DC—including, happily, the wines of the Amarone Families—which is exactly the sort of gig that I got into this line of work in the first place hoping to get. Because there are precious few wines that elicit the same level of excitement and passion among Italian-wine lovers as the great appassimento red from Valpolicella, and, among the producers of Amarone in general, you’d have a hard time finding a better group than the Amarone Families, the names of which read like a who’s who of the appellation: Allegrini. Begali. Brigaldara. Guerrieri Rizzardi. Masi. Musella. Speri. Tedesche. Tenuta Sant’Antonio. Tommasi. Vetturini. Zenato. (A confession: Just reading the names, and thinking about their wines, makes my heart race a bit.)
The Amarone Families follow a stringent set of self-imposed rules regarding the farming of the grapes and the production of the wines, from the position of the vineyards on which the fruit is grown and the techniques with which the vines are farmed, to the way in which the drying of the fruit is undertaken and how the wine itself if crafted. Click here to see their manifesto, which is well worth reading, and see below for my reviews of the wines, which were tasted and reviewed like all of my other samples: With no preconceived ideas about how much or how little I’d like them, and without regard to any previous work I have done presenting the wines. These reviews, in other words, reflect my unbiased impressions of the wines. It just so happens that the sample vintages I received—after hosting the event at NIAF this past autumn, and from an entirely different firm than the Italy-based one that I’ve worked with on the Washington, DC events—were seriously delicious. In this season of celebration, big meals, and surrounding ourselves with friends, family, and other loved ones, I highly recommend every one of the bottles below.
Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Capitel Monte Olmi” 2006
Dark garnet color, just starting to show age-appropriate bricking at the edges. Aromas both sweet and earthy, with raw beef kissed by blackberry and black cherry, mushrooms, mint, and spice. On the palate, this is big and chewy, with fabulously textured sweet tannins, maturing yet still vibrant, framing a velvety texture with a deep well of black cherry liqueur, melted licorice, cardamom, fenugreek, sasparilla, and a finish that speaks of mineral, flowers and a hint of smoke and raisins, both of which are also present on the mid-palate. Wonderful, complex, and utterly delicious.
Guerrieri Rizzardi Amarone della Valpolicella “Calcarole” 2009
Aromas of espresso, cafe viennoise, fresh pastries filled with wild strawberry compote, plum and spice cake and a hint of aromatic licorice lift. On the palate, this is a big wine, with a serious undertow of muscle and alcohol, but it carries it well, the flavors of mulberry and plum cake, chocolate ganache and melted black licorice big and generous and made for food: Braised meat, please! The finish shows hints of Middle Eastern spice and dried flowers, and it ends on a spicy, almost savory note. Lives up to its reputation.
Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano” 2010
A nose of leather, spice, blackberry liqueur, and cigar tobacco are deep, rich, and super expressive, and lead to a palate of pure silk, with power and elegance to spare. Flavors of black licorice, black cherry compote, spice cake, and cigar tobacco as well as incense and sandalwood. Fantastic now or for another two decades.
Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2010
Shimmering and jewel-like in appearance, with a nose of warm-souled and vaguely nutty molten chocolate cake, almond and clove-spiced ganache, maduro cigars, and sandalwood. Deep and lush aromatically. On the palate, this is fun and serious all at once, with Fig Newtons, raisins, black plum, exotic spice, more of that clove on the finish, and a pulsing sense of kirsch-filled and espresso-tinged chocolate truffles. The finish lingers with black licorice and espresso grounds. Amazing tannic structure, yet this remains fresh from impeccably balanced acidity. Drink now with decanting or hold for a decade or two.
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2010
The nose here is beguiling, with high-toned cardamom, black cherry, and old school Sen-Sen candies all swirling together and leading to a palate both powerful and supremely elegant, silky in texture with significant power. Excellent concentration yet full of finesse, and flavors of black cherry, spice cake, licorice, charred vanilla, black-plum pudding, and wonderful acidity keeping this fresh and making it perfect with food. Finishes with black tea, a hint of chamomile, and dried lavender whispering through.
Tommasi Amarone Classico 2011
Kirsch, blackberry and boysenberry on the nose, with dark chocolate ganache and a hint of mineral, leather and tobacco. On the palate, this is big yet framed beautifully, with well-integrated and medium-grained tannins, all carrying flavors of blackberry, mineral, Amarena cherry, cafe viennoise, sandalwood, a hint of drying violets, leather and cigar humidor. Excellent.