Our Shanghai correspondent, Michael Knuppel falls l’amore with the Veneto region and the wines of Allegrini
A friend of mine, when asked what she might like as a small gift when I returned from Italy, she simply said that her greatest reward would be for a visitor to return enamored with her beloved Veneto. I could do that. I did that. I am.
My appointment at Allegrini was a crisp, bright 10.30 am on Thursday August 2. I was kind of nostalgic already, leaving as were in two days to head back to Shanghai, the humidity. Here, though, the sun was already at 30 degrees, with a slight wind coming off Lake Garda just doing enough to keep me cool. If I were a vine, I’d be pretty content here.
The Valpolicella region of Italy rightly boasts as one of Italy’s premier wine regions. The “valley of many cellars” dates from ancient times, and Allegrini, synonymous world wide with both outstanding quality and Italian innovation in the Veneto, dates to the 1500’s when ancestors of the late, pioneering Giovanni Allegrini inhabited the hills of Fumane.
The Veneto is not a region you drop in on: you have to stay, experience sunset and sunrise, eat, drink, talk to locals, drive and walk the hills. Anything less and…well, you miss the point. We stayed at Villa Giona, Allegrini’s stunningly beautiful 18th Century Villa in the heart of small town San Pietro in Cariano, not 10 minutes by car from cellar door.
Villa Giona is the quintessential 18th Century Villa laid out in a Palladian style, and has been hosting weddings and other grand occasions for the best part of the last twenty years.
Paulo, the svelte, charming and irrepressibly hospitable General Manager, glides down the stairs to effortlessly lug your cases into accommodation that marries antique Veneto with modern Italian flair. Paulo is worth the visit himself. A local of the Veneto, he has cared for Villa Giona since 1994, so he brings with his grace a definite sense of continuity in this gorgeous property.
To swim in the pool here, overlooking the valley to Verona is to capture in a moment just what beauty and serenity the Italian landscape-no, the landscape of the Veneto-possesses. Nothing is too much trouble, you are welcomed as a friend, and I for one have it in my head to hold my 50th birthday party there. It is an unforgettable experience.
I met with Fabio Rey at Allegrini’s cellars in Fumane. They offer a range of hospitality packages and I urge anyone with a passion for wine, history, Italy and especially Valpolicella to research this option. Their extensive website has every detail you will need.
But on to my visit. Fabio and I discussed wine philosophy, and the vision shared by the Allegrini’s that first and foremost is their commitment to excellence in winemaking. You should know that Giovanni’s dream was continued and built upon by his children, and today Marilisa leads the way with innovative marketing, and Franco produces outstanding wines.
This can come at a cost of having a wine, such as La Grola, not labeled as a bona fide DOC. What is more important with a wine such as this, which is a standout blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Syrah, is that the vision of the wine, its purity of fruit expression, is not compromised by the need to attach a certain classification to it.
And this is where we get interesting with Allegrini, because you might think they then eschew traditional winemaking practices. On the contrary, their Amarone is always seen as the top three benchmark Amarones in any given year in the Veneto.
The 2008 is especially seductive, aged in barrel for 3 years and only now released. It is headily perfumed with notes of herbs, marjoram, fruitcake and spice, sweet raisins and a floral perfume that belies its age. It is beautifully balanced and I can’t recall a new release Amarone being so approachable in its youth. Still, pedigree says it will evolve with layers of complexity until 2022, and beyond.
Fabio and I ventured up the hills to where you gain a true appreciation of real Valpolicella. Standing at the base of their prized La Grola vineyards, looking out to the shores of Lake Garda, the views are absolutely stunning. Rolling hills, some vineyards still terraced in a traditional way, and the terroir of calcareous stone, which contributes so much to the acid, and minerality we find in all of Allegrini wines is obvious.
Grapes work hard here. They dig in. Later I would taste all of the range of Allegrini Veneto wines, and when I tasted the La Poja, their 100 % Corvina wine from the top of this single vineyard, Giovanni’s dream of creating a Veronese Cru to rival the great Crus of the world, and think Bordeaux and cabernet, Burgundy and pinot noir; is realized.
This is an absolutely cracking wine. He wondered, Fabio tells me, why Corvina could not rival the great wines of the world, and indeed the thread of Corvina which runs through most of the red wines in the Allegrini portfolio attest to the depth, quality, breadth and complexity of this noble grape.
It’s fruity, aromatic expression in the young, cheeky 2010 Valpolicella Classico bookends the deep, layered, complex, long palate we find La Poja. This iconic Veronese corvina cru wine is very complex: layers of dense sweet fruit, again those herbal, aromatic flowers, and the Allegrini signature balance in the mouthfeel. They are wines that evolve beautifully, and are so approachable when young.
Another stunning new release is the 2009 Palazzo Delle Torre. A vibrant purple in the glass, this opens with strong, robust fruit driven flavours; we could smell it the moment Fabio poured it. A blend of Corvina, Rondinella and some sangiovese, it has the spicey fruitcake qualities but with lovely judicious oak treatment which imparts a slight vanillin creaminess to the palate. Bracing, grippy tannins support a round, complete, again very approachable wine, crying our for char grilled lamb. Fabio reckons this is the biggest selling wine in the States for Allegrini.
The Allegrini family have extended their influence in not only the Veneto, but in Italy, dramatically boasting outstanding vineyards in Bolgheri, at Poggio al Tesoro, San Polo in Montalcino (more of that in a subsequent article), as well as producing a much more forward, modern and accessible when young range of Veronese wines under the Corte Giara label.
These wines, whilst still meticulously made by Allegrini, do not need to the ageing some of the more robust and complex Allegrini wines, though the Corte Giara Amarone has developed quite a cult following according to the sommeliers I spoke to in Rome.
I can attest to the gorgeous sweet, deep fruit in the 2010 Corte Giara Ripasso. It is a complex, floral, sweet fruit, softly tannic…simply a lovely complex Corvina and matches roasts, all Italian cuisine, and extends to any food really which possesses strong flavors, even Asian cuisine such as Yunnan Chicken or Thai beef and noodle. It’s a seriously underpriced wine that is probably one of my value wines of 2012.
If you are at the end of a long day, and need some sun, solace and sanity, one wine I strongly recommend for contemplation if you can find it, is the Solosole, a vermentino from Allegrini’s Bolgheri estates.
Having wound up my tour with a comprehensive tasting amid the grandeur of Villa Della Torre, basically Allegrini HQ, it was refreshing to sit in the gardens of Villa Giona, cold Solosole to sip, and tuck into reading some Raymond Carver.
Now there’s two worlds poles apart, Carver’s minimalist descriptions of America’s unheroic working class, and the palatial grounds of Villa Giona.
I felt like the kid whose noisy school bus has just left and finds himself alone, in a deserted corner of a remote world. Having escaped the noise and confusion. Solosole speaks tropical fruits, racy acidity, passion fruit, some light toasty oak…and the ideal wine to drink on its own in the late afternoon in Italy.
Put Carver down for a minute or two, and I thought back to my visit. As I walked to my car after appointment, carrying a few precious bottles, my notes and paperwork, I ran into a couple with German number pplates. “Is it open yet?” they asked, nodding to the gates of Allegrini.
“Yes, they sure are. You’re at the right place”
They nodded. Looked at each other. Looked squarely at me with a knowing smile.
“Oh yes, definitely. There is only one place here. We come here all the time, just love the Palazzo Delle Torre. Can’t get enough of it”.
Address: Via Giare 9/11 37022 Fumane di Valpolicella, Verona
Tel: +39 045 6832060 / 39 045 6832011
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