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Amarone Ante Prima Caresses but Confounds

Posted: Tuesday, 31 January 2012 14:13

Amarone Ante Prima Caresses but Confounds

Jan 31 : Amarone samples at the Amarone Ante Prima 2008 Tasting organised by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella for international journalists, professionals and wine lovers of Verona with about 60 producers showcasing their newest vintage of Amarone, were caressing for the tasters as much as confounding, writes Subhash Arora from Verona

The annual event organised by the consortium of Valpolicella sees a congregation of international journalists every year with a group of around 40 journalists from several parts of the world, invited to taste the latest vintage of Amarone released, which is 2008 for this year.

There is perhaps no other wine as caressing and relaxing as a glass of quality Amarone during the winter of Verona at -3° C or in Delhi where the winter temperature gets as low as 3-4°C.Generally termed as a ‘meditation wine’, the full bodied wine with alcohol upwards of 15%  (legally 14% but seldom are the labels under 15%  available now), keeps the body, mind and soul warm if it is of good vintage, well made and plays the right kind of music on your palate. Unfortunately, the wines served at the tasting with producers were too cold to give that comforting feeling even though some of them were of very good intrinsic quality.

Some but not all were of the quality that the brand Amarone conjures up the images in the mind- the quality was not consistent. In all fairness, several wines were more like the En Primeur of Bordeaux where the  wines are still in the barrels and would not be bottled for the next couple of years. Ante Prima organised by many Consorzio like Chianti Classico, Montalcino and associations like Albeisa in Piemonte and Assovini in Sicily are organised to taste the latest vintage available in the market around that time. When an Italian journalist pointed out at the inaugural speech of the President of the Consorzio, Emilio Pedron that perhaps it was too early to hold Ante prima when the wines were not ready to be sold in the market, he curtly replied that the wines were actually ready or were in the market.

He was only partially correct  in his assessment. Mr Emilio Pedron who is also the President of the family-controlled winery Bertani (represented by Berkmann Wine  Cellars India, it was finally sold last month to Angelini,  the pharma group that also has a couple of wineries  already in Montalcino) did not mention that his company would not in fact be ready to market Bertani Amarone Classico 2008 for another 3 years-but that is because this long aging wine made in their Villa Novare facility spends 6 years in barrels before sleeping for a year in the bottles after which only it is released. On the other hand, the Amarone from Villa Arvedi in the Valpantena property was bottled in July last year-it undergoes 2 years bottling, and released in November.

Another winery supporting his argument is Montresor- a century-old family-owned winery near Verona, that was represented by FineWinesnMore in India but after souring of relations between the two,  is actively seeking another partner in India. The winery released its Fondatore label in November last year. Their upper range wine- Capital della Crosara won’t be in the market for around 8-9 months more. Several smaller producers and those with passion for quality were aghast by the idea that Amarone 2008 could be released now- they were disappointed at best that they had to literally take out the liquid from the barrels and bottle it in order to showcase at the Ante Prima.

Earlier, while welcoming the journalists, producers and other invited guests in a packed hall of the historical Palazzo della Gran Guardia President Emilio Pedron displayed cautious optimism when he said that the sales of Amarone had shown a constant growth-reaching a level of 12 million bottles a year. He also rued the absence this year of a number of producers who supposedly placed their short term individual interests ahead of that of the region as a whole and did not participate.

He apparently made an oblique reference to Famiglie dell ‘Amarone  d'Arte, a break- away group of 12 Amarone producing families that left the Consorzio in February 2010 and formed their own group- Amarone Families. It consists of  Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini and  Zenato. These producers, like many others who share their view, felt that Amarone  is now threatened  with  overproduction, without regard for the areas most suitable for the production of Amarone. Using  the minimum production standards set out in the DOC appellation regulations, the quality has fallen and with pressure and influence of large scale distribution channels that include co-operatives there has been a  squeeze in prices forcing  producers to further sacrifice quality.

Last year saw a further erosion to the participation that has been stagnating for years with some of the  top producers staying away from the annual event. However, several of the ‘Amarone Family of 12’ were present last year for this event specifically, but this year stayed away en block. Although Italian producers in all the regions are known for their individuality bordering on obstinacy, water seems to be going over their head in Valpolicella.

Thomas Ilkjaer a journalist and author from Denmark who specializes in Amarone and wrote a book on Amarone last year is visibly unhappy on the turn of events. ‘One knows and is prepared for the top producers not participating in such programmes. But with the big twelve missing, this could be a severe blow to the viability of the whole programme. In my book, I had selected and focused on 75 producers which also included the top ones-this time only 28 out of the have been present only,’ further clarifying that all those 12 were in his list of wineries focused when he made the selection before this problem occurred.

‘I don’t blame the Family of Twelve from leaving the Consorzio though there exit from this event has certainly diluted it. The quality producers have been voicing their unhappiness over the continuous fall in quality and subsequent lowering of prices in the international markets and the Consorzio has not tried to stem the fall. The social co-operatives are perceived to be perpetuating the problem. I guess these producers felt that enough was enough and so they broke off, ‘Thomas adds.

Not everyone may agree with his assessment. Daniele Accordini, Vice President of the Consorzio and President of the big brother, Cantina Sociale di Negrar which is often obliquely blamed for lowering the quality and bringing the prices down to unfair and unsustainable levels for most small producers informed delWine in private conversation, ‘Masi who is a part of the break-way group and one of the largest producers in Valpolicella, buys a majority of the wine from small producers. How can he claim to control the quality when he buys so much of the bulk wine from outside-just because he has created a brand name for himself?’ Most of the smaller producers openly agreed with the reasoning.

With so many quality producers abstaining from participation, it becomes a very difficult proposition to decide whether the vintage 2008 is representative of the a better vintage than say, 2007. ‘With such a limited sample size I think it is unfair to say how the vintage has performed in general,’ says Thomas. ‘I have tasted some very good wines and some very poor quality ones,’ he adds.

Although the overall conclusion about the vintage 2008 of Amarone della Valpolicella has been that of an uncertain yes, the wine continues to caress the palate  of wine lovers throughout the world with a continuing increase in popularity. Unless the producers cut their feet with their own axe and continue to taking the high road, Amarone continues to be one of the top 3 Italian wines and the subsequent visits to the wineries showed, the future of Amarone 2008 and in fact the whole category is still quite optimistic.

Subhash Arora


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