Amarone, Italy, sensory, sensory science, SOMM Journal, Valpolicella, Veneto, Wine, Winemaking
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Deconstructing Aged Amarone

In preparation for a vertical tasting of older vintages of Bertani Amarone della
Valpolicella Classico
presented by Bertani COO Andrea Lonardi last November, I revisited my notes for several of the wines, which I’d also tasted in a vertical flight in 2018.

Upon sampling them again, I was struck by their subtle evolution after an additional five years of bottle age; many of them seemed to have barely budged in terms of development, with the exception of a few very particular compounds.

Bertani Amarone, which ages for seven years prior to release, was characterized by Lonardi as having three stages. At seven to ten years old, it shows primarily cherry, plum, and orange; at ten to 20 years, it reveals sour cherry, chocolate, and fig; after 15 years of bottle age, it’s dominated by tertiary flavors of tobacco, truffle, and earth. The vintages I tasted in 2018 (’67, 75, ’81, ’98, ’05, and ’08) and the ones I tried recently (’67, ’75, ’87, ’98, ’00, ’05, ’11, and ’12) showed those characteristics and much more.

Bertani COO Andrea Lonardi brought an eight-wine vertical to San Francisco’s One Market Restaurant.

For Lonardi, the drying process known as appassimento that’s used to make
Amarone produces wines that are expressive of terroir. Researchers studying
the compounds found in Corvina—the indigenous grape that is the foundation of the wine’s blend—agree. Typical markers for Corvina include balsamic and tobacco notes that increase during appassimento, and the presence of these markers in aged wines points to specific vintage conditions.

Tabanones, compounds that contribute tobacco notes, are directly derived from the grape and are generally increased by oak aging. There’s a direct connection between levels of tabanones and vintage conditions; vines that have been subject to severe water stress in warm weather produce wines with higher levels of tabanones after several years of bottle aging.

These compounds can also be used as markers to identify vineyards that have a greater capacity to produce wines with tobacco aromas. I found tobacco notes to be more apparent in Bertani Amarones from warmer vintages.

Cineol, a eucalyptus note; p-cymene, which is minty; and the elusive vitispirane, with its camphoraceous aromas and earthy-woody undertones, all help to form the balsamic character of aged Corvina wines. They are generated from precursors that unlock over time, and they accumulate progressively as the wine ages. In the 1975 Bertani—a wine that shows orange zest, star anise, and bittersweet chocolate—they present as beautiful herbal notes reminiscent of Ricola lozenges.

Lonardi’s first vintage at Bertani was 2012, which was warm, with low rainfall. From that vintage onward, he revealed, he has eschewed malolactic conversion. Given his penchant for freshness in Amarone, which he describes as a “nervous profile,” this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s a rare exception in red winemaking—one that is clearly working in his favor. The 2012 Bertani is characterized by its purity of red fruit, savory resinous herbs, complex bitterness, and characteristic freshness.

Bertani is not resting on its laurels. In 2023, Lonardi will introduce a new line of Valpolicella wines that he referred to as “an evolution of style,” one that captures the region’s earlier, warmer harvests, made from grapes that are crushed after just 60 days of drying.

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