Banfi Enrichment Trip Day 4 – Amarone – Not Just for Dinner Anymore and the Lambrusco I did not Know

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Photo Courtesy of bolla.com

We spent much of Friday morning in the Bolla vineyards.  Our initial discussion focused on the natural methods for pest control that Bolla uses in the vineyards .  Devices that resemble a red piece of wire are attached at srategic locations throughout the vineyard. These devices are are laced with pheromones that prevent olfactory communication between the sexes.  As each species of insect releases a unique pheromone, specific undesirable insects can be targeted.  Thus, reproduction of the targeted species can be significantly reduced while desirable species are unaffected.  The results of this treatment were translated by Lars as “Sexual Confusion”  (This same idea came up again in the Maremma, so I think the translation was accurate.)

Insect populations are monitored at collection sites throughout the vineyards to determine the efficacy of the treatment.  These methods are employed in the Bolla vineyards and by independent growers that are under contract with Bolla .  Bolla’s enology department distributes a bulletin to its partner growers that guides them through the prescribed process of vineyard management.

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We drove up the hill to visit a vineyard which is the source of some of Bolla’s more prized grapes for Amarone production.  Here, we toured the warehouse where the grapes are stored after harvest for drying.  The vineyard tour was interesting, as it was the first place that we saw terracing and a pergola training system employed.

Stone used to separate split in vine Pergola-trained vines in the Hills of Verona Terraced Vineyards in the hills of Verona

We also inquired about some vines where we noticed rocks inserted between splits in the trunk.  We learned that the splits occur in older vines and could become an area prone to disease.  The rocks were inserted in order to separate and aerate the area between the split, thus allowing the exposed area to heal.  This low-tech solution allows an older vine to continue to thrive.  Even so, after around 40 years, vines are replaced.  (Fortunately, I’m not a vine)

We were instructed on how to distinguish the different grape varieties in the vineyard.  Subtle differences in leaf shape were the primary means of identification.   Even after this detailed lesson, I am quite sure most of us would leave identification of the vine up to the enologists. (I am not an expert, but I slept near a vineyard last night..)

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From the Bolla Vineyards, we headed to Verona to visit the Sartori winery.  We arrived at the beautiful estate where Andrea Sartori greeted us.  The Sartori winery, was unlike other wineries we had visitied, as it was located in the middle of a city.  Andrea explained that the winery was once isolated and the city grew up around it.

Satrori is a mid-sized facility with a two-story fermentation area.  The “caves” house numerous concrete tanks that are built into the walls.  Pipes and tubes are everywhere and are used to move wine to and from different areas of the winery.  At one end of the caves, there was an area where a few concrete tanks had been removed.  The open space was converted into a library of bottles from many older vintages.  Everyone searched for vintages that held some significance to them – Birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

Sartori Tasting LineupWe concluded our visit with a tasting guided by Franco Bernabi, consulting winemaker.  Franco is a true “flying winemaker” (or a fast-driving winemaker) and consults with aAmarone DOCG number of producers in Italy.  The wines of Sartori are sleek, modern, and precise, a hallmark of the Bernabi style.  They provide a notable contrast in style to the Bolla wines.  The Regolo Ripasso, which I did not taste when Franco and Andrea visited Houston last year, was a standout.  The normale  Amarone 2010 that we tasted was the first to carry the DOCG designation.  Corte Bra, a single-vineyard bottling from 25-year old vines and I Saltari from 50-year old vines were excellent.  It would be great to revisit each in around 10 years.

Andrea Sartori, Lars Leicht, and Franco Bernabei

We left the winery and sat for a wonderful lunch with Franco and Angela in the hills of Verona.  The restaurant provided beautiful vistas of the surrounding countryside while a cooling breeze passed through the open windows of the terrazza.  We started our meal with one of my favorite wines that Sartori produces, the Ferdi.  Ferdi is a white wine made from the Cortese grape usine the same drying technique employed the production of Amarone.  I fell in love with this wine when I tasted it in Houston as detailed in my previous post.

Porcini Cropped Ferdi Cropped 2 Amarone Overload Cropped

We had another “ah ha” food moment with a salad of seasonal porcini mushrooms and a local pecorino cheese.  Dressed with a little olive oil, it was divine.  We were also treated to a special “Amarone” pasta.  The pasta was made from flour and Amarone, no eggs.  The meat inside was beef braised in Amarone and the whole dish was topped with an Amarone reduction  – Amarone Overload!!

Our first Amarone was a 2004 I Saltari.  It was a wonderful opportunity to gauge how the I Saltari would age.  At nine years, the wine had mellowed and integrated nicely, but was definitely on a trajectory for a long life. We also sampled a special 2009 Amarone bottling to commerate the Centenario  1913-2013 of the Verona  Arena.  It was dense and layered, but could definitely use some time in the cellar.

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Both Amarones were served in a special glass designed to allow you to get your nose into the glass as you were actually drinking, so as to heighten the experience.   It was the coolest concept in stemware that I have seen in a long time.  We finished up with a homemade apricot brandy over ice that was stored in an empty Grappa di Amarone bottle that was labeled by hand “Albicot”.  Sweet and light.

We were stuffed and buzzed as we shook hands, air-kissed and expressed our gratitude for a lovely visit and meal.  Everyone slept on the bus as we headed for Reggio Emilia.

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Shortly before we arrived at our hotel, Lars opened a bottle of Riunite.  As we sipped Lambrusco from our plastic cups, Lars told us the story of Riunute, the Lambrusco I did not know.

Lambrusco was first introduced to American consumers in 1967.  Some or you may remember the ad campaign “Riunite on ice, so nice”.  Just in case, here is a reminder.  You will see that this was a different time…

Americans quickly fell in love with Riunite.  By 1976, it had become the #1 wine imported by the US, a position it held for 20 years!  This prolonged and steady stream of profits enabled Banfi to expand and grow into the empire that it is today.  Here in the home of Lambrusco, Emilia Romagna, we were drinking the same basic Riunite that you’ve seen on the shelf of every grocery store and wine shop you’ve ever been in…and It was everything it was intended to be, unpretentious, delicious and refreshing!!

After freshening up briefly at our hotel, we boarded the bus and headed toward Albinea Canali, Riunite central headquarters.   I think we were all looking forward to tasting a variety of Lambruscos.  With our entire group being wine geeks of varying degrees, we all knew that Lambrusco was more than just an off-dry fizzy wine. However, due to limited availability, most of us had not sampled a wide variety of Lambrusco.  The truth is, save for the ubiquitous Riunite, (Somms love the word “ubiquitous”) there really isn’t much else in the way of Lambrusco widely available in the US.

After touring the vineyards and winery, we were seated for dinner.  The first wine thatAncestrale Cnali we were served got all of our attention.  It was a dry Lambrusco made in metodo ancestrale.  Per my expert Lambrusco source, this wine should be referred to as Lambrusco Ancestrale or Lambrusco Frizzante Secco.  Wines made in this way are partially fermented in a tank.   Additional unfermented must is added to the wine prior to bottling.  A secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide naturally carbonates the wine.  This carbonation process it the same method that is used in the production of Champagne.  However, in metodo ancestrale, the bottle is not disgorged (i.e. the yeast is not removed from the bottle).

For this reason, wines made in this way are often cloudy.  While most of these wines finish dry, without stringent control on the ratio of yeast to sugar, bottle variation ranging from dry to off-dry is common.  The wine we were served was quite dry with great acid.  It was paired with a local Proscuitto and Salame.  It was a great start.  We were already geeked!  Production is small, so I’m not sure if this wine will make it to the US.

The next two wines were Riunite bottlings.   Both were dry.  Ther first was served with a ricotta-filled ravioli dressed with Parmesano Reggiano, the second with a Lambrusco infused risotto.  With each dish, the dryness and acid of the Lambrusco cut through the creamy elements of the dish and refreshed the palette.  We also had Lambrusco with another very rare meat course.  It all made sense.   We finished with two sweeter bottlings, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the dry Lambrusco we were served.  This dinner experience was exactly what I had hoped for.

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What Lambrusco needs is a few good somms to get behind it and reintroduce it to the wine consuming public.  I speak with people every day that are seeking to extend and enhance their wine experience.  In the proper context, Lambrusco makes as much sense as any wine available on the American market today.  Any restaurant serving a brunch could offer a Lambrusco by the glass.  Don’t call it Lambrusco, call it “Canali Sparkling Red”, for example.  It is a hand-sell, but don’t you think your patrons would appreciate it?  The margin for profit exists without having to fleece your patrons.  People are flocking to Prosecco, why not Lambrusco?

Hey somms – With this experience I am thinking how cool it would be to organize a Lambrusco dinner to reintroduce wine enthusiasts to this underappreciated wine.

We topped off our dinner with a sip of a Nocino Riserva.  A liqueur made from a base of fermented green walnuts, locally grown of course.  It was sweet – nutty, delicious.  We finished our night with a shot of Fernet back at the hotel.  Into bed for another short night.

Si Si Si, so the somm said…

We were in for a shock to the system tomorrow.  Stay tuned for the Cheesemaster, the Gentleman, the Mad Butcher, and Extremely Drunken Somms.