The prestigious Bertani firm, famous as a pioneer of Amarone, has recently undergone a major reorganization. A large part of the operation has been acquired by Tenimenti Angelini, which holds several important properties in key wine zones in Tuscany. The Bertani family, headed by Gaetano Bertani and actively led now by his sons Giovanni and Guglielmo, has retained the famous Villa Mosconi and key vineyards in the Valpolicella, Amarone, and Soave zones of the Veneto. These amount to some 124 acres, making them not only one of the largest single landowners in the Veneto, but also one of the few winemakers in the region able to supply all the grapes they need directly from their own vineyards. That – along with their 300 years of winemaking experience – guarantees that they will continue to be major players in the northern Italian wine scene.
Giovanni Bertani was in New York recently to explain the new arrangements and to introduce some of the family’s new labels and wines. The Bertani family wines will now appear under the Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve label, and they will continue to be overseen by consulting enologist Franco Bernabei and his son Matteo, an arrangement that now extends into its third generation the links of the Bernabei and Bertani families.
Giovanni explained that his father has long been in love with Merlot and other French wines, so the vineyards around the Villa Mosconi winemaking facility are planted with more French varieties than Veneto natives – Garganega for Soave, but also Chardonnay and Merlot, as well as small amounts of Cabernet franc, Sauvignon, and even Syrah. The Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara necessary for Valpolicella, Ripasso, and Amarone come from their vineyards in the heart of the Valpolicella zone.
Nine Tenuta Santa Maria wines were presented at the event, starting with a very nice and quite characteristic 2011 Soave Lepia, a wine that gave the lie to the claim that a Soave must be a Classico to show real typicity. In its modest way, this wine demonstrated the quality of Bertani’s vineyards and vinification.
Then followed a 2008 Chardonnay Pieve, medium-bodied, round and soft. Despite time in barriques, the wine happily showed no wood at all, but instead a concentration of pleasing white fruit and citrus flavors, suggesting a rather Burgundian approach to Chardonnay.
The red wines started with 2010 Rosso Veneto Pragal, a blend of Merlot and Shiraz. The Shiraz definitely showed in the slightly peppery finish, but what I was mostly aware of in tasting this young wine was the kind of elegance that only generations of experience can give.
The second red was a much more traditional and regional wine, 2009 Valpolicella Ripasso, and it was excellent, a lovely, soft wine with a big and very long dry fruit finish – black cherry and funghi porcini. It wouldn’t be wrong to describe it as a modestly scaled Amarone – and I definitely mean that as a compliment.
Next came a mini-vertical of Gaetano’s pet project, Merlot vinified in a modified version of the Amarone method – grapes picked ripe and allowed to dry for some months before crushing, and then fermented long and slow at low temperatures. The wine is called Decima Aurea, and the 2007, 2004, and 2002 were offered. I’d say the experiment was a glorious success. The Amarone process makes Merlot into a more substantial wine than one usually encounters, and does so without losing character, fruit, or softness. These three were fine wines across the board, with the ’02 impressing most – in part because it was the most mature, and in part because it was such a fine wine from what was a pretty dismal, wet year throughout Italy.
Giovanni also showed a 2007 Amarone, about which I’ll reserve judgment. It’s very difficult to tell how so young an Amarone will develop. This one was quite accessible, but didn’t seem fully balanced – a problem that may resolve in a few years, or a few decades.
The final wine of the day was a rarity that showed the continuity of Bertani tradition – a 1928 Acinatico. Acinatico is the old name for what is now called Recioto, a wine ancestral to Amarone. The wine offered at this tasting was one of a small trove of bottles hidden behind a farmhouse wall during WWII – when the wine was already 15 years old – and forgotten until rediscovered during restoration work in 1984. Its storage conditions turned out to have been ideal: the wine is live and fresh and completely mature without any sign of tiredness. It was the tawny brown color of old Madeira, and had a huge aroma of cherry liqueur. The palate was rich and intense – semi-sweet black cherry and chocolate – followed by a very long finish of the same flavors. Lovely and very much alive, it was a pleasure and a privilege to drink.
When a family can make a benchmark wine like that Acinatico, you have got to hope that the genes and the genius, in the vines, the land, and the people, persist for many generations more. Good luck, Giovanni.