This is the third and final article in my recent series on Italian wines: earlier pieces had covered Barolo (from the Piedmont region) and Chianti (Tuscany).
First, a bit of geography: Veneto is the region in north-east Italy having Venice (the city of canals) as its capital, and includes Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet (115 km to the west of Venice) where the world's largest wine fair (Vinitaly) is held every April. Interestingly, with a population of only five million, the region gets 65 million tourists annually!
As in all regions of Italy, the grapes (and the wines made from them) here are unique: the best-known red wine Valpolicella is made from three somewhat obscure grapes (Corvina, Rodinella, and Molinara), while the white Soave uses mostly the equally unknown Garganega grape.
Most Valpolicellas are light, fragrant table wines in the Beaujolais nouveau style. However, some vintners also produce Amarone - uniquely made from partially-dried grapes, which are dried in the shade for 3-4 months so as to lose up to 40 per cent of their weight before being processed into wine. If the juice is allowed to ferment fully, the resulting Amarone wine is dry, complex and aromatic, full-bodied, high in alcohol (often exceeding 15 per cent v/v) and generally released only after 4 - 5 years; if fermentation is stopped in between, the wine (called Recioto) is sweeter and lower in alcohol.
The origins of the Recioto/ Amarone process lies buried in the mists of antiquity: I somewhat suspect that it started when some grapes could not be crushed in time after harvesting and on being finally processed the wine was so nice that it became a norm.
Wine Spectator lists 773 Amarone wines, with the highest-scoring MICHELE CASTELLANI Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Cinque Stelle being rated at 96 points, with a release price of $105; the Romano del Forno Amarone 2003 is 95 points/ $425. Notable Amarone producers with wines in the 90-plus points range include Masi, Tommaso, Tedeschi, Zenato, Allegrini, and Michele Castellani - release prices vary from $50 to $175.
In India there seems to be a singular dearth of Amarone wines: the only ones I have on record are the Masi Costasera 1990 (Brindco,Rs 8,760 in Mumbai), the Montresor 2003 (Fine Wines & More, Rs 6,400), and the Guerrieri Villa Rizzardi 2006 (FW&M, Rs 10,334).
Wines I've been drinking: Unfortunately not an Amarone - none are available at retail in Bangalore. But I did go through six wines, at a bacchanalia of sorts, last Tuesday at Sanctum, the new 'private members club' in Bangalore, paired with an outstanding continental menu prepared by Spanish chef Joaquim.
The wines (all brought in by Devesh Agarwal, a noted foodie): Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2007 (87 points), Bodegas Valdesil Godello Valderros 2011 (white), Chanson Pere & Fils Nuits-St.-Georges 2005 (87 points), Chateau Florie Aude Bordeaux 2009, Marques de Murrieta Ygay Rioja Reserva Speciale 2000 (88 points), and the Donnhoff Riesling Spatlese Niederhauser Hermannshole 2003 (92 points).
No, don't bother trying to remember any of these names (none is available in India, as yet): suffice it to say that since there were only seven of us, all were quite merry and suitably wined and dined by the end of the evening - the Rioja and the Riesling Spatlese being particularly outstanding.
Let's raise a glass to good wines and good food!
Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant