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Hello everybody: I’m back, having been roused from my long winter’s nap by a farrago of essentially prohibitionist propaganda.

The august New York Times, in a recent, wonderfully alarmist article, warned the nation of the deadly dangers of consuming even tiny amounts of alcohol. The ominous headlines say it all:

Even a Little Alcohol Can Harm Your Health

Recent research makes it clear that any amount of drinking can be detrimental.

Got that? Any amount. If it doesn’t outright cause your death, at very least it will mutate your DNA, with all the perils that implies for yourself and your progeny.

Hogwash, I say. I take such manifestoes with a whole shakerful of salt. By the lights of that medical research, I should years ago have died of kidney disease and/or cirrhosis, if not heart disease and an utterly destroyed digestive system.

And, logically, the same must be true of most of my colleagues in wine journalism, not just in the US but everywhere around the world. If a small amount of alcohol is dangerous, the prodigious amounts we all professionally process must be mortal many times over.

© HA! Humoristes Associés, 1980

Yet here we are, vocal and still imbibing. I’m 84, and I thoroughly enjoy my wine with dinner every night, as I have for the past 60 years, and most nights a small brandy afterwards. How is it possible I survive such a lethal regimen? Is there even a remote chance that alcohol could, for the human system, be preservative rather than deadly?

© HA! Humoristes Associés, 1980

I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I have nothing to do with alcohol anyway: I never touch the stuff. I drink wine, of which alcohol is but one – and far from the largest – component.

That’s more than a verbal quibble. That’s a whole difference in outlook, a whole different approach to the question. Ask different questions and you get different answers. Can drinking wine at dinner improve people’s digestion, mood, and outlook? We all know it can. Does being happier and more content improve one’s life and support one’s general health? That is the very essence of a rhetorical question.

To my mind, leaving such considerations out of the so-called investigation invalidates all of its conclusions. Our lives are not monothematic or one-dimensional, and any medical advice that acts as if a single component can be isolated from the whole rest of the corpus – pun intended – of our lives, or as if everyone’s metabolism acted and reacted the same way, is to my way of thinking just plain stupid. And I am, frankly, getting tired of having to point this out. Surely medical practitioners know the good effects of happiness?

Back in the days when philosophers (the only doctors of the day) talked about things that mattered to people, Thomas Aquinas considered the question of what was the right amount to drink and what was drinking too much. By all the available evidence, Aquinas enjoyed his meals, and it’s sure he didn’t wash them down with Pepsi, so we may take it that he knew whereof he spoke. After much consideration of pros and cons, he concluded that one could drink usque ad hilaritatem – up to the point of merriment, or joyfulness.

© HA! Humoristes Associés, 1980

I couldn’t agree more. They knew something about drinking, those old masters. Merriment and joyfulness will prolong more lives than abstinence, or any amount of medicine.

By the way, if you’re interested in a totally different-from-the-medical-spoilsports’ take on the cultural role of drinking, I recommend you take a look at Edward Slingerland’s Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization. As he asserts,

The sheer popularity, persistence, and importance of intoxicants throughout human history begs explanation…. My central argument is that getting drunk, high, or otherwise cognitively altered must have, over evolutionary times, helped individuals to survive and flourish, and cultures to endure and expand.

The whole book is entertaining and illuminating – much like a good glass of wine.


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Christmas 2022

For this holiday season, I’m wishing all my readers

a very merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule


and also

a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year.

Now, Ubriaco will be taking a small mid-winter break. You’ll find me here again soon, with a fresh supply of red wine, white wine, and purple prose, in 2023.

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Diane’s Rant

When you go to a medical doctor these days, no matter what you’re suffering from, one solution is always offered: cut out alcohol. If you won’t do that, you’ll be told the least harmful number of ounces you should consume a day. Doesn’t matter if you take it in whisky, beer, or wine – it’s all basically poison.
I have no particular brief for whisky or beer, but on wine I beg to differ. Wine is not alcohol. Wine is a complicated chemical substance that contains alcohol. It’s not a drink you take in order to get a buzz. Wine has many components and characteristics that make it an object for appreciation that is as much intellectual as physiological. Moreover, it is nourishing.
Every evening, Tom chooses from our storage one bottle that he thinks will go well with what we’re having for dinner. We drink it slowly and thoughtfully, with the meal of which it is an important component, and we unwind, review the day, babble to each other, and relax.

The above rant is something Diane knocked out on her computer, and then shared with me, after coming home from an annoying medical appointment. My wife, colleague, cook, editor, and web mistress is finding her patience with certain kinds of medical mumbo-jumbo is, as you read, wearing thin. Indeed, it can be no secret that alcohol is the American medical establishment’s great white whale. Whether you’re seeing a doctor for a hangnail or for terminal cancer, you’re always asked – sometimes bluntly: Do you drink? – and sometimes really offensively: Do you use alcohol? As if it were a power drill or a bandsaw.

There is a transparent error in the question itself: No one I know drinks alcohol, just as no one I know questions the danger of the pure spirit. But as the most elementary knowledge of chemistry should tell you, compounds alter their ingredients as surely as frying alters an egg, and wine is a complex compound, of which alcohol is only a part, and far from the greatest one. Compound that yet further with the interplay of a wine with the foods you drink it with, and your dreaded poison has been quite nicely domesticated.

None of this may seem like any big deal, but Diane and I find ourselves these days spending far more time with MDs than we ever thought possible in the carefree days of our callow youth, back when we were in our sixties and seventies. The sheer repetition and persistence of the question grows wearing, and its unintended offensiveness increases every time it’s asked. We aren’t stupid, and we haven’t gotten to be this old by making dramatically bad choices.

That so-called toxin has made and continues to make major contributions to our happiness, to our sense of well-being, and to our well-being itself.

Nobody sits down at a neatly set table to a hearty meal of chemicals and a nice glass of poison, and the sooner medical authorities acknowledge those facts and deal with them responsibly, the sooner one needless point of friction in some old geezers’ lives will be removed. “Be not righteous overmuch, but take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.”

End of sermon. Ite, missa est.

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Yesterday was the last day of 2021, and it was appropriately grey and gloomy, as much of the year has been. Covid’s grip doesn’t seem to be loosening, on my personal life, on my social life, on my professional life. I’m not sure how much I can continue to write about wine when I have access to so little news about it. I seriously doubt that very many people want to hear any more about bottles brought out of my cellar: Certainly, I won’t do another 12 cellar selections.

It’s all, as the King of Siam used to say, a puzzlement.

A paradox too. For me personally, wine has been the one steady consolation and joy available every day, no matter what. OK, that’s dumb: Diane and our life together is the first and foremost of those, and the many domestic pleasures we share – friends, food, books, music – come next. But at my now seriously advanced age, with the number of chronic aches and infirmities that sap my joie de vivre, wine looms very large among my pleasures. It’s probably literally true to say that wine is my surest physical pleasure. Certainly, I look forward all day every day to the bottle Diane and I will share with dinner – always a treat, always a little bit of a surprise, even to me who chooses it.

And that is one of the greatest joys of wine: It can always surprise you. No matter how well you think you know it, it can still catch you off guard, even with something as simple as the way this particular bottle of one of your everyday wines meshes with this simple pasta sauce that you make all the time. Things like that are a great everyday joy, and as long as they continue to be so, and as long as my palate holds out, I guess I’ll continue to celebrate them on this blog. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy them. Here’s to a Happier New Year!


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The corona virus has definitely closed down the wine season: no tastings, no lunches, no new-release launches, no winemaker presentations – what Li’l Abner would have called a double-whammy for sure. For a few years now, I haven’t been too happy with most of what has been going on in the world outside of wine. Wine is altogether a pleasanter topic, and I would much rather spread some cheer than increase anyone’s gloom, so usually in these posts, I just focus on a wine or wines, and try to ignore everything else. But the coronavirus has created a whole new ballgame, and it would fatuous of me to try to pretend otherwise.

Here in New York we have entered a kind of lockdown. The streets of Greenwich Village, where I live, are now blessedly clear of the roving bands of gawping tourists who used to make it impossible to walk around my neighborhood – but that’s the only upside. The streets are clear of everyone else too – deserted, lifeless, shops closed. Every day looks like early Sunday morning in the Village of the Fifties, before the tourist boom, before the Folkie invasion, when in the evening only Village old-timers and a few Beats hung out in a few old bars – White Horse, Kettle of Fish – or a few small jazz clubs – Five Spot, Half Note. Charming memories of another time, but most of those are long gone, and their successors – all the new bars and restaurants – are now closed “for the duration,” as they said during WWII.

It’s difficult to imagine the degree of hardship that’s being inflicted on all the people who worked in the entertainment and hospitality industries, all the kitchen- and wait staff, somms and baristas, actors and musicians, stagehands and designers, all the support people in how many different fields, who are suddenly without salaries or without prospects. Not to mention all the thousands of others in countless other fields who now have to figure out how to work at home and tend their kids or – worse yet – were simply laid off without any severance or help.

And that’s only what things look like in this country. It doesn’t begin to measure the misery in the rest of the world, especially right now in Italy, where I have many friends, and where the coffins are beginning to pile up faster than they can be buried. These are grim times.

But enough of that: Nobody needs me to tell them how dire the situation can be or how to help those who need it, and I’m confident that readers of this post partake fully of the compassion and fellow-feeling that the community of wine exemplifies even in normal times.

Diane and I have been lucky: “Sheltering in place” hasn’t been too hard for us, since it fits our age and lifestyle. We still go out as early in the day as we can to do our necessary grocery shopping, and we years ago decided that most restaurants were either too noisy or too expensive or just plain not good enough to go to, so we continue to cook and eat at home pretty much as we always have. And drink at home, of course: Unless this quasi-lockdown goes on much longer than anyone expects, we’ve got enough wine stashed here to see us through.

As is widely acknowledged, it’s the psychic and emotional toll that’s most telling – no theater, no movies, no live music, and worst of all for us, not being able to see our friends, to break bread and sip wine with them while excoriating the clowns in the White House who have so screwed this thing up. The absence of that whole social dimension, plus the steadily increasing anger at how all this could have been and wasn’t prepared for, combined with the daily flow of confusing, self-serving disinformation coming from Washington – all that just plain wears one down.

I never thought I’d say this, but thank god for Andrew Cuomo: Here in New York, our governor at least is speaking honestly and acting seriously. The world will get through this in some shape or other, but my world is never going to be right again until we can again gather people at our table for dinner and wine and companionship – what Alexander Pope, describing dinners with his best friend, called “the feast of reason and the flow of soul.” As far as this wino is concerned, all the rest is window-dressing. That’s what life is for, and the loss of those human moments is the greatest loss the virus has – so far – inflicted on us. Call that superficial: It may well be – but it’s also true. In vino veritas, eh?


Diane and Betty at our Last Dinner Party Until . . . ?

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Many, many Christmases back, for reasons too many to enumerate, I became a grinch. These days, the total triumph of commercialism over any other aspect of the holidays aggravates me more than anything else about the season. And in the ever-growing lump in my craw, the Thanksgiving-Hanukah-Christmas-New Year’s Eve superabundance of wine hype and what comes very close to wine scamming holds an uncomfortably large place.

As I’m sure no one reading this post needs to be told, wine appropriately forms a part of any festive occasion, and the conjunction of those occasions at this time of year rightly makes us aware of wine’s important role at the table. Wine advertising and wine publicity are prone to – shall we say lushness? (pun intended) – at all times, but for the past month-and-a-half to two months they have run amok. The gullible consumer – and that includes all of us, at one time or another – could be excused for thinking there is no such thing on the American market as an ordinary wine, or a wine unbemedalled or less than 95-pointed.

For me, the most outrageous of these hypes are those that try to snare the unwary and seasonally-softened-up shopper into not just a single holiday purchase or two but a long-term commitment: wine clubs.

Wine clubs should be a good deal for consumers. Their purchasing power ought to give them some leverage in keeping prices down, and their numbers ought to enable them to thin their margins and still show a profit. Their access to expertise ought to enable them to select really interesting wines that would allow their members to experience many different types. The whole enterprise ought to be helpful, enjoyable, and educational for novice wine drinkers and for those who enjoy good wine but don’t – understandably – want to undertake a whole apprenticeship in it.

The reality, it seems to me, is far from that. Prices are fixed at an arbitrary level, and choices seem pitched to wines and names that consumers will already feel comfortable with. I see no evidence that the selections ever go any further. I might be wrong about that – I don’t have a research team to investigate all wine clubs – but so far I’ve seen no evidence of serious educational, palate-broadening focus.

I offer WSJWine as an example of all this. I’ve pilloried it once before, and nevertheless it persisted. I have no particular onus against it. But it’s important. First of all, it bears the name of The Wall Street Journal, with all the prestige that carries – though a moment’s thought will tell you that WSJ’s business acumen doesn’t guarantee expertise in any other areas: I find many of its editorial positions deplorable, for instance. But when you discover, as I did, a fancy gold-paper, special offer of “The Wines of the Year for readers of The New York Times” tucked into one of the pre-Christmas issues of your daily newspaper, it kinda catches your eye.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times: that’s pretty big league, isn’t it? They should know about wine, shouldn’t they? Well, no: Their wine columnists may know a great deal about wine, but there is no indication that those people have anything to do with the wine club or its selections. Thus appeareth the first – and a major – misdirection.

After that, they come thick and fast – not outright lies, but imprecisions and fuzzy associations designed to make the gullible or inattentive think they’re getting access to really superior wines at bargain prices. (If you believe that, there’s a bridge I’d like to sell you.) “Wines of the year.” “Our best reds of the year.”  And then the individual bottles: “94-point”; “Gold-Medal”; “Double-Gold”; “94-point”; “Winemaker of the Year”; “93-point”; “94-point”; “Double-Gold.” As for the few unfortunate specimens that just didn’t gather enough points or medals to match the others: they become merely “Mighty”; “Mature”; “Hand-Crafted”; “Superstar.”

Overwhelmed?  You’re supposed to be – so much so that you don’t ask who or what awarded all those points and medals. Good thing too, ‘cause they don’t tell you. Would you invest in a stock on the basis of hype like that? I doubt it.

And what exactly are these eminent wines being offered for such extraordinarily low prices?  Good question: you’re learning fast. There’s:

  • A Bordeaux: just that, simply Bordeaux, which is the lowest common denominator of all of the Bordeaux region’s many appellations, made by the tank-truck-full from grapes from all over the very large zone.
  • A so-called Super Tuscan, an IGT wine of no particular distinction (it retails for about $19) made from unspecified grapes (probably some Sangiovese, plus ?) from anywhere in Tuscany.
  • A “Portuguese Gem” that retails for $10 or $11, from a maker of box wines.
  • A “Spanish Blockbuster” that retails in the $10-$11 dollar range.

Those last two items ought to make clear that these are not bargain prices the wine club is offering – in many cases, far from it. In fact, the leaflet’s claim that its $70 special offer represents a real value of $260 is an assertion worthy of the present US president.

I could go on through every single one of these wines, with similar sorts of deflation of their descriptions, but you get the point. These are the “Best Reds of the Year”? Once again, far from it. What I fear most is that the poor deluded souls who taste these wines believing that claim will simply conclude that, if this is great stuff, then they just don’t get wine: End of story. And that’s perhaps even worse than the deceitfulness of the claims themselves: the potential wine lovers lost, and their loss of lifetime of pleasure.

My apologies for the negative cast of this post, but I find this kind of thing offensive. I’ve written about things like this before; as I said above, nevertheless, they persisted. I try to sit on my grinchitude during the holiday season so as not to spoil everybody else’s fun, but the holidays are behind us now, and I need to vent about some of the vinous irritations of the past . . . is it only a few weeks? Seems like an eternity to me. Bah Humbug!

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Almost everyone who tastes Custoza, Lugana, and Soave regards them as charming and enjoyable wines. What isn’t immediately evident is that they aren’t simply drink’em-quick-and-young types but are capable of aging – Custoza for minimally three years; Lugana for five, six, or more; and Soave for ten, or considerably more. I don’t mean just survival here, but serious bottle development: All three grow deeper, more intense, and more complex with age. Remaining charming and enjoyable, they become much more impressive. Despite the dismissive myths, Italy has many white wines that can age as well and gracefully as Burgundies, and it’s time people started talking about them.


The Custoza zone lies on both banks of the Mincio river, at the southeastern corner of Lake Garda. It’s a small DOC zone, about 1500 hectares, with a nevertheless varied production – Bianco, Bianco Superiore, Spumante (Metodo Classico or Charmat method), and Passito. All are popular in Italy. I’m mostly concerned with the Bianco and Superiore, which are the bulk of the production.

On a recent visit to the region hosted by the Vignaioli Veneti (see preceding post), our group visited two Custoza producers, Cavalchina and Monte del Fra, quite different from each other. That’s because the DOC regulations are generous: The wine may include Trebbiano Toscano, Garganega, Trebbianello (a clone of Friulano), Fernanda (a clone of Cortese), and even some Chardonnay, Malvasia, Incrocia Manzoni, Pinot Bianco, and/or Riesling Italico.

Both wineries make a very sound basic Custoza and a more complex Superiore. Cavalchina’s Superiore, called Amadeo, blends 40% Garganega with 30% Fernanda, 15% Trebbianello, and 15% Trebbiano Toscano to produce a wine of marked minerality and lively acidity wedded to a palate-pleasing softness. The 2009 bottle with which the tasting opened gave ample proof of Custoza’s ability to age: It had a beautiful aroma of mace and nutmeg and May Wine spices, followed by an equally lovely spice-and-white-fruits palate, all still fresh and live.

Monte del Fra’s Superiore, called Ca del Magro, started from the same 40% Garganega, then went a different direction with 20% Trebbiano Toscano, 10% Fernanda, 10% Chardonnay/Riesling Italico/Malvasia, and 20% Incrocia Manzoni. This blend, in the 2014 vintage, yielded a wine of great roundness and balance, with the slightest suggestion of sweetness within its minerality. These flavors intensified and dried in 2013 and 2012 bottles, culminating in an utterly voluptuous 2009, seemingly just reaching its peak.


The Lugana zone borders Custoza to the west, at the foot of Lake Garda. Not much bigger than Custoza – about 1800 hectares of vines –it presents a very different varietal situation. Turbiano (related to Verdichio) accounts for 90% – often 100% – of the finished wine.

The Otella winery, owned by Michele Montresor and his brother Francesco, produces three labels of Lugana, all 100% Turbiano. The basic bottling, simply labeled Lugana, has a pleasing white fruit and flower nose with a delightful herby/flinty palate, distinctive and enjoyable. The cru wine, Le Crete, is named for its white clay soils, and presents as leaner and more muscular, while sharing the same marked flavor profile.

Francesco (left) and Michele Montresor

Otella’s Riserva, Molceo, ages for 16 months on the lees and intensifies the characteristics of its siblings. The oldest bottle we tasted, a 2007, was quite impressive – beautifully structured, with all the herbal/flinty notes heightened, and still at 10 years old fresh and lively. Again, a beautiful example of how well these too-little-known and vastly undervalued wines mature.

The other Lugana estate we visited, Le Morette, began life 60 years ago as a nursery for vines, and cultivating its own was an almost inevitable offshoot (sorry!) of that. Le Morette also produces three different bottlings: We tasted the current vintage and an older vintage of each. The basic wine, called Lugana Mandolara 2016, had a very Soave-like nose and palate, strongly mineral and very pleasant. Its older sibling, a 2012, showed more herbal scents and palate, suggesting Vermentino – quite intriguing.

Lugana Benedictus 2015 showed a bit more intensity and complexity, while still as easy drinking and enjoyable. It is a selection from older vines, harvested slightly later than Mandolara. The 2007 bottling showed dramatic evolution, with a slightly smoky, slightly botrytis nose, and on the palate a merging of Riesling and Sauvignon-ish characteristics – very, very interesting.

Le Morette’s Riserva  2013 is vinified from the fruits of its highest white-clay-concentration vineyards and is aged long on the lees. It shows a continuity of aromas and flavors with the two preceding wines, overlaid with a developing complexity of character and the promise of longevity. (No older bottle, because the estate only recently began making a Riserva.)

Soave Classico

The Soave Classico zone lies east and upland of Lake Garda, with its vineyards at usually higher elevations than either Custoza or Lugana. All three of these zones have soils of volcanic origin, but these are most prominent in the Soave Classico. We visited Ca Rugate, Pra, and Pieropan, all highly esteemed – indeed, among the most prestigious – producers of Soave Classico.

The Soave Classico DOCG requires a minimum of 70% Garganega, with the balance made up of Chardonnay and/or Trebbiano di Soave. Most of the best producers use 100% Garganega for at least one of their wines, but all prize the native Trebbiano di Soave, and none of the best producers use Chardonnay at all.

Ca Rugate’s basic bottling, San Michele, vinified entirely in stainless steel, showed great typicity and modest minerality, a completely enjoyable everyday wine. Monte Fiorentine, a cru bottling from 50-year-old vines, and also 100% Garganega, had a fine chalky, mineral nose and a palate of white fruits and dry stones in the 2016 vintage, while the 2010 showed a beautifully evolved metallic/mineral nose and a palate of apples, pears, chalk, and flint. This seven-year-old was our first indication of just how well Soave Classico can age.

Ca Rugate also makes an IGT wine, Studio, from 60% Trebbiano di Soave and 40% Garganega, a very interesting wine. The 2016 we tasted is, I think, still at the experimental stage – but it may develop very well with more bottle aging.

Pra has long been one of my favorite Soave producers: Its basic bottling, Otto, is more or less my house Soave. The 2016 we tasted was quite classic, fresh and fine with racy minerality, vinified from 100% Garganega. The 2015 Staforte showed extremely well, with great intensity and vivacity. Again 100% Garganega, Staforte is a selection of grapes from the best crus, with long maceration on the lees. Just a beautiful wine. 2014 Colle Sant’Antonio was vinified from slightly dried grapes to yield a wine slightly rounder and fuller than conventional Soave: I enjoyed it, but thought it needed a good deal more bottle age.

Epicurus and Brillat-Savarin Hard at Work

We then tasted the wine from Pra’s Monte Grande, a very steep vineyard planted roughly in  70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave. This was a stunning vertical – 2001, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2016. These were lovely wines, mouth-filling and persistent, all fresh and vigorous, with classic minerality and white fruits on the palate. I like mature wines, so for me the 2001 was outstanding, a wine that can stand on the table with any Chablis Grand Cru of the same age. The murmurs of appreciation around the table for each of these wines were very audible, and deservedly so.

Good as these wines were, our final Soave visit – to Pieropan – was undoubtedly the highlight of this portion of our Veneto visit. Four generations of the Pieropan family have been producing pace-setting wines from their 1470s building, both home and winery, within the town walls of Soave. Their production is small – they have 40 hectares of Soave Classico vines, a mere drop in the sea of Soave, as Andrea, great-grandson of the founder of the winery, told us: 95% of Soave is produced by a co-op, itself one of the largest wine firms in Europe. Pieropan does everything within the family, from growing the grapes to selling the wine – no consultants, no outside enologists. Their wines reflect their devotion: Each one stands at that exquisite balance point where passionate craftsmanship elides into sheer artistry.

Andrea Pieropan

Andrea first gave us the current releases: 2016 Soave Classico (his father’s 50th vintage), 2015 Calvarino, and 2015 La Rocca. The basic wine showed brilliant acidity and lovely minerality, with a fine, beguiling – and seemingly endless – finish. The two crus – Calvarino 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave, La Rocca all Garganega – showed very clearly the differences of their sites. Calvarino was seductive, with wonderful balance and a persistent, mineral-inflected finish. La Rocca was more forceful, lean and muscular, with amazing elegance. Both are unquestionably world-class wines.

Andrea then did a little tour de force, pouring two wines and not telling us what they were. Knowing how well Soave can age, I guessed they were of the 2006 vintage. Wrong! They turned out to be 1995 Soave Classico and 1992 Calvarino, from bottles that had been opened three days before, and they were both amazingly young and fresh, with beautiful acidity and that distinctive volcanic minerality that marks the best Soaves. These were simply extraordinary wines in every respect, and a perfect punctuation mark for our lesson in the age-worthiness of these remarkable white wines.

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Amarone is enjoying a surprising degree of popularity in the United States – surprising especially for a wine that many wine experts think is too big, too austere, too overpowering to match comfortably with any part of a meal except a course of strong, old cheeses. I strongly disagree. I’ve long been a proponent of Amarone: I love its heft and complexity, and I think it partners beautifully with equally hefty meats – unctuous prime rib roasts to be sure, and almost any game dish you can name, but also lamb roasts, or long-cooked braises of all sorts, as well as any number of cheeses. A well-made, well-balanced Amarone has no problems with any dish that can match it in scale.

We winos don’t talk very much about scale, but its importance can’t be overestimated – and it’s almost self-evident, as soon as you stop to think about it. A light wine can be as elegant, or complex, or balanced, as acidic or as tannic, as a big, full-bodied wine, but you would match it with different foods because of its size, its scale. It’s not just the meshing or counterpoint of flavors that makes a good wine-and-food match: It’s also important that, like boxers, the wine and the food belong to the same weight class. With as authoritative a wine as a great Amarone, that element of the match is crucial, lest the wine appear bullying and brutal.

We’ve been very lucky here in the US in that we have for years been receiving steady supplies of some of the very best Amarones, largely from a group of producers who were not represented in the blind tasting of 2013 Amarones that climaxed my week in Verona last month. (The producers who call themselves the Amarone Families withdrew from the Consorzio a few years ago. Allegrini, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Masi, Speri, Tedeschi, Tommasi, and Zenato are the best known here.) Consequently, I had what was initially the very welcome opportunity to taste wines from more than 80 producers, most of whom were unknown to me.

It quickly became clear that this was a mixed blessing. The 2013 vintage was sound but not great – a wet spring, followed by a hot, dry summer, followed by colder than normal weather during Amarone’s crucial drying period, resulted in wines with high acidity (normally good for Amarone) but also lots of tannins. (For what makes Amarone different from other wines, see here.)

Additionally, many of the wines in the tasting were barrel samples, and many of those that were in bottle had either been specially bottled for this tasting or bottled only a few weeks ago. A good many simply hadn’t pulled themselves together yet. Trying to judge wines this young is always an exercise in crystal ball gazing, and it is particularly difficult to judge anything definitively about a wine as long- and slow-maturing as Amarone. We tasters weren’t even dealing with infants but, for the most part, with premature births.

That said, and my expectations tempered to that reality, I was still very distressed by a lot of the wines I tasted. To put it bluntly, far too many wines tasted far too sweet to suit my expectations of Amarone. A few samples had so much sugar that I thought I had mistakenly been given a Recioto to taste.

This is a serious problem. The DOCG regulations for Amarone specify that the finished wine can contain a maximum of 12 grams of residual sugar per liter. For my palate, that is already high. I checked with a few of my wine colleagues (Michael Apstein, Ed McCarthy, Mary Mulligan, Charles Scicolone) about sugar levels in Champagne, just to provide a baseline for comparison. They all agreed: 5 g/l is above the detectable level of sweetness: 12 g/l is the highest limit of Brut Champagne. So 12 g/l is moderately sweet, but a drinker’s perception of that sweetness will depend both on other factors in the wine (acids, tannins, alcohol, etc.) and subjective factors (personal tolerance of sugar, e.g.). I’m not very fond of most sweet wines, and I can’t tolerate a sweet dinner wine, so 12 g/l is really pushing the envelope for me, and I consequently found many of the Amarones in the blind tasting well above my threshold for sweetness. I don’t think I’m way off base on this, so if my palate is any reflection of what the market for Amarone wants, there are serious problems here.

Having said all that, I have to stress that the total picture was not all negative. Even in the blind tasting of these unformed embryos, I found some wines that showed real Amarone character – and of course I tasted yet more mature examples on my round of winery visits. Here are the ones I liked best from both venues (unless otherwise noted, all are 2013 vintage):

From Stefano Accordini:

  • Amarone Acinatico. A forceful, grapey nose, followed by a big mouthful of fresh fruit. Very young but well structured. Will be excellent.
  • Amarone Acinatico 1981. The winemaker poured this to make a point, which he did indeed. A big, soft, delicious wine, marked by mushroom and earth flavors and great depth. It kept changing in the glass, getting even richer as it opened – as great Amarone always does.

From Albino Armani:

  • Amarone Cusianus. Good dry Amarone nose, slight sweetness on palate, with just softening tannins; should develop well. (Barrel sample)
  • Amarone Cusianus 2011. A big, well-balanced wine, with excellent fruit, maturing exactly as it should.

From Bennati:

  • Amarone. Tobacco, black pepper, and dark fruit in the nose and on the palate, coming together in a fairly classic way.

From Bertani:

  • Amarone Valpantena. Very closed on the palate, but the absolutely classic aromas and finish indicate it will be fine. Bertani is, of course, one of the pioneers of Amarone, and its older vintages are benchmarks for Amarone ageability.

From Carlo Boscaino:

  • Amarone San Giorgio. A still closed barrel sample, but like the Bertani wine, the nose and finish promise excellent future development.
  • Amarone 2012. An almost smoky, grapey nose; tobacco and berry palate; balanced, while still forceful and elegant. Aged 30 months in big old barrels (botti). Very traditional, very fine.

From Ca’ Botta:

  • Amarone Tenuta Cajò. Classic, dry Amarone nose, big fruity finish. Another fairly tight sample, but showing the proper signs: should pull together and start opening in a year.

From Ca’ Rugate:

  • Amarone Punta Tolotti. Needs lots of time to pull together its rich components – tobacco, tar, mushrooms, mineral, black fruits – but in a year it should start to be wonderful.

From La Collina dei Ciliegi:

  • Amarone L’Amarone. Tobacco, pepper, and earth, both in the aromas and on the palate; long finishing. Very characteristic and promising.

From Corte Sant’Alda:

  • Amarone Valmezzane. Fruity, peppery nose, lightish on palate. Still coming together, but should be fine.

From Corte Rugolin:

  • Amarone Monte Danieli. Despite being a barrel sample, this wine impressed me as very correctly made and properly developing. It needs time, but should be fine.

From Corte San Benedetto:

  • Amarone. Very like the preceding wine. Still slightly closed, but showing all the right signs in nose and finish.

From Fumanelli:

  • Amarone. Cherry and tannin all through. Big, fresh, and structured. It seems likely to develop very well.
  • Amarone 2011. A classic Amarone – very soft on the palate, with lots of fruit and lots of structure. The tail is still tannic, but it will soften in a year or so.
  • Amarone Riserva Octavius 2010. A huge wine, with an intense stemmy/tobacco nose; round in the mouth, with loads of soft tannins, smoky cherry, tobacco, and hints of chocolate. Still young, but balanced, on a big scale.

From San Cassiano:

  • Amarone 2012. Very young, with tons of fruit and tannins, plus excellent minerality and nice acidity. Needs lots of time: The producer says to give it five years.

From Santa Sofia:

  • Amarone 2011. Just lovely – austere and rich at the same time. Structured to go on for years. A fine traditional Amarone.

From Sartori:

  • Amarone Corte Bra 2006. At 10 years old, this classic Amarone was just entering maturity. Perfectly balanced, it felt light on the palate despite its rich fruit and impressive structure. Just fine.


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On the Road

I’m facing a period of prolonged travel – some of it vacation, some of it business, all of it pleasurable – but I won’t be able to put up these posts with my usual regularity. So please bear with me while I’m on the road.  The tales of my Campanian adventures will be continued in about two weeks.


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There will be no new posts on this site until power is restored to lower Manhattan.

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