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Raccolta Selection: Amarone

Raccolta Selection: Amarone - August 2004

Somewhere between the sublime complexity of the wines of Giuseppe Quintarelli and the dramatic port-like extract and drama of the wines of Dal Forno lives the real Amarone. No other great Italian wine shows such an extreme range in style than that offered by these two renowned Valpolicella producers. Giacomo Conterno and Elio Altare in Barolo and Montevertine and Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico may vary dramatically in style and method, but it is nothing compared to the differences between Quintarelli and Dal Forno.

In between these extremes are many excellent producers and, unfortunately, many commercial producers who use the commercial appeal of the Amarone name to sell wines of inferior quality. Featured in this issue are four very good, but very different producers that fall between the extremes: Speri, Novaia, Castellani and San Rustico.

Currently the wines from the small, but lovely and balanced 2000 vintage are now in the market, but many bottles of the very good 1998 vintage are still on the shelves and may be relative bargains due to better exchange rates when they were released. While Amarone certainly improves with age, the up-front hedonistic character and bit of residual sugar often proves too tempting and pleasurable so few wait to pull the corks - although, if you do, your patience will be rewarded.

Raccolta Selections:
2000 Novaia Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Vigneto Le Balze (15.5%) ($65)
Brilliant, bright ruby. Just translucent. Warm, rich baked cherry aromas layered with dense fresh raspberry with an earthy note adding complexity. Smooth, yet powerful on the palate with concentrated super-ripe cherry flavors that blend sweet dark fruit flavors with a hard mineral touch. The finish explodes with brilliant fruit and a smooth warmth that is balanced by a fresh acidity. A Jens Schmidt Selection-Imported by Montecastelli Selections

2000 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano (15%) ($60)
Brilliant, bright ruby. Barely translucent. Rich sweet and bitter chocolate notes blend with ripe, fresh cherry aromas and a concentrated minerality. Exceptionally rich yet firm and balanced on the palate. This is an intensely firm and flavorful wine with great complexity and depth of fruit. The concentrated bitter chocolate flavors blend with sweet cherry, bitter oranges, build on the palate and flow into a the warm, structured finish that ends with touches of mint and iodine. Ripe, complex and delicious. A Neil Empson Selection-Imported by Empson USA

2000 San Rustico, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (15%) ($40 - best buy)
Brilliant, bright ruby. Just translucent. Delicate rose and violet aromas expand into cherry liqueur and bitter chocolate notes. Firm tart cherry flavors blend with ripe cherry notes balanced by minty cherry cough drop highlights. The finish is firm with warm cherry fruit balanced by complex earthy, minty and mineral notes.. A very firm wine that has great potential in a few years. Very classic in style. A John Given Selection-Imported by John Given Wines

1998 San Rustico, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Vigneti del Gaso (15.5%) ($50)
Brilliant light ruby, just translucent. Warm, earthy nose with layers of cooked porcini blended with baked cherry, cassis, cigar smoke and a touch of iodine. Smooth, velvety deep bitter cherry flavors blend with fresh raspberries, cassis and fresh mint. The finish is very expansive with the mint flavors growing joined by bitter chocolate, bright cherry and menthol. Complex and exceptional layered - the lively long cherry menthol finish is amazing. This is not an overwhelming, port-like Amarone, but a balanced wine with fresh acidity to counter the alcohol and ripe fruit. A John Given Selection-Imported by John Given Wines

1998 Michele Castellani, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Monte Cristi ($40)
Deep, bright ruby. Just opaque. Pungent, raspberry jam and cassis aromas. Clean deep cherry fruit. Ripe and big on the palate. Long huge bittersweet fruit flavors blend with bitter chocolate and cassis liqueur flavors. The mouth-filling flavors are long and complex. Warm, lush dark cherry flavors broaden into a warm satisfying finish. A Mario Belardino Selection-Imported by Bedford International

1998 Michele Castellani, Amarone delle Valpolicella Classico, Cinque Stelle, Collezione Ca' del Pipa
Dark dense ruby. Big bittersweet black current nose with a pungent iodine note broadening into tar and burnt cherries. Bitter cherry cough drops with big, tarry black raspberry fruit flavors. Very tight and firm even with all this sweet fruit power. The finish is hard and soft at the same time with firm tannins and very ripe cherry and dark chocolate flavors going into a warm almost brandy-like burn. A Mario Belardino Selection-Imported by Bedford International.