Amarones at twenty paces

Amarone della Valpolicella is a most unique wine style.  Valpolicella is in Northern Italy, in the Veneto region near Venice.  The key grape varieties used in Amarone are Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, with grapes being air-died after picking (traditionally on straw mats, but modern drying rooms are often used now), which helps concentrate the sugars and flavours prior to fermentation.  This method is know as appassimento, and results in very rich wines of quite high alcohol.

The style of wine is very interesting as the concentration of the grapes gives it an impression of extreme ripeness, but because the region is distinctly cooler climate some of the aromas and characters tend towards an impression of lower ripeness simultaneously.  If a wine like this was made in some other regions, it may (almost certainly would) be criticised as presenting both under-ripe and over-ripe fruit and be considered poor winemaking.  But what might seem to clash for some seems to be interesting and complex to others, and now the best Amarones are considered truly world class.

And when it comes to the best, there are two names in Valpolicella that rise head and shoulders about the pack – they are Guiseppi Quintarelli and Romano Dal Forno.  I’ve been fortunate enough to try a few wines from each of these producers, but never the same vintage and side-by-side.  Until now when a couple of my friends coordinated to each bring a bottle to dinner, the Quintarelli 2006 vs Dal Forno 2006.

What an interesting comparison.  Even though the Amarone style in itself is so unique, so too was each of these wines.  The Quintarelli was no doubt a robust and full bodied wine, but also a wine of delicate aromatics, as well as balance and poise on the palate.  By contrast, the Dal Forno was high octane – a tsunami of flavour and body as it passed through your mouth.  The alcohol was high, the fruit intense, the palate thick, and some oak noticeable.

The Dal Forno was a vinous slap in the face; in a good way of course.  But the Quintarelli delivered a balance and interest that made it more compelling.  You kept wanting to drink it as it revealed more and more of itself.  But they were both excellent wines and really interesting, and no doubt many people would find their preference to be the reverse of mine.

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