Sometimes, when the days are short and cold and summer is but a memory, I spend winter hours looking for wines that remind me of warmer times and sunnier climes.
I recently found two wines that took me back to a few days late last spring spent wandering the vineyards of the Veneto and Tuscany. Both wines are from Tommasi Family Estates, the 115-year old company now in its fourth generation of winemakers with its base in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region of the Veneto.
Tommassi, named after founder Giacomo Tommasi, has vineyards in four regions: Veneto; Olto Pavese in Lombardy; Tuscany (Montalcino and Maremma); and Manduria, in Puglia. From each of these regions come wines as distinct and unique as the vineyards where they grow.
The event was a simple gathering of good friends for a holiday dinner and talk, a simple yet warm get-together so remindful of previous dinners spent at the homes of winemakers around the world, where formality drops away and the talk turns to the state of wine in general along with family, current politics and wherever the mood take us.
Tommasi Ripasso DOC Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013 – As we all know, the story of Ripasso wines is intertwined with the story of Valpolicella and Amarone. Briefly, a Ripasso is made by refermenting Valpolicella on the skins left after Amarone is fermented. The result is a wine that’s darker and more intense in flavor than the original Valpolicella and goes well with winter-style comfort foods or even a grilled steak in the summer.
You could call a Ripasso a “baby Amarone” because the former uses the same grape varieties that go in Amarone (Corvina, Rondinella and, in this case, Corvinone) and you get some of the same aromas: dark cherries, dried cranberries, heather, and spice.
But it’s less-expensive, generally in the $20-25 range.
We had this wine with grilled chicken, fresh green salad and homemade bread. You would have thought it was July until the wind howled and snow blew past the windows.
Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo Toscana IGT 2013 – We opened this wine for the cheese course and while there’s nothing overwhelming about the wine, it brought a smile to everyone’s face. Maybe that’s the key – it’s not overwhelming, it just goes well with food and good company.
Plus, it’s one of those rare finds that is affordable, very tasty and pairs well most lighter meats, pastas and cheeses. And, if you’re into this sort of thing, you can close your eyes, take a sip and imagine you’re in the Tommasi vineyard in the historic Etruscan area of sunny Maremma in southwestern Tuscany, midway between the Tyrhennian Sea and Rome.
The wine is a blend (60 percent Sangiovese, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) from a sun-drenched vineyard on volcanic soil. The word “tufo” is Italian for the volcanic tuff found in the Maremma and a common building stone for Rome. The wine has bright flavors of dried Montmorency cherries, currants and hints of sage and white pepper. $12-$15.
Both wines are imported by Vintus Wines, Pleasantville, N.Y.
I mentioned in my last post that while I was in New York for VINO2011NY I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Marilisa Allegrini of the Veneto wine producer Allegrini.
We were attending a charity wine tasting benefiting the American Cancer Society where Marilisa was pouring some her wines alongside Cristina Mariani-May of Castello Banfi.
In spite of being close to the end of a long wearying day, with plenty of New York’s finest snow to negotiate and a late dinner yet to attend, I found Marilisa delightfully charming and eager to educate consumers about her Corvina-based (along with rondinella and molinara) Valpolicella wines.
Valpolicella, which translates to “valley of many cellars” (perhaps because of the area’s long history of winemaking) is a DOC wine-making region west of Verona and east of Lake Garda.
The Allegrini winery makes wines using a system where a single vineyard of locally grown fruit goes into each wine.
Marilisa said all of the Allegrini fruit is estate grown, she said, coming from 70 hectares of vineyard in the communes of Fumane, Sant’ Ambrogio and San Pietro, all within the Valpolicella Classico DOC.
When I asked her to explain the difference between her basic Valpolicella Classico (made of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara grapes) and the deeper, more concentrated Palazzo della Torre (Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Sangiovese) and the intense Superiore La Grola (Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, Syrah and Sangiovese), she said it starts in the vineyards, where green cropping lowers the fruit load on the vines dedicated to the Superiore.
Her brother Franco is the winemaker, and Marilisa said he adds to the wine’s intensity by using variations of the ripasso (double-fermentation) technique.
“This gives the wine more intensity and concentration as well as a longer aging potential,” said Marilisa, whose family name has been making in the area for at least 500 years and today is synonymous with fine Valpolicella wines.
She also described the Superiore as “halfway” between the basic Valpolicella and the Amarone.
Those at the tasting also had the chance to sample Allegrini’s La Poja, a 100-percent Corvina wine aged in barriques. Very dense and complex, it’s full of dark fruit and round tannins and a silky finish. A great wine for a snowy evening in New York City.
What a week in New York City.
And on and on.
Lucky to get out only 24 hours late.
Here are a few highlights from the four days of Vino2011, also known as Italian Wine Week, presented by the Italian Trade Commission and one of the best weeks of the wine year for fans of Italian wines.
One of my highlights was heading through the storm to NASDAQ and watching Cristina Mariana-May of Castello Banfi, Marilisa Allegrini of the Veneto wine producer Allegrini and Giovanni Montovani, the CEO of Verona Fiere (organizers of VinItaly and the VinItaly WorldTour) ring the closing bell.
Also along for the event were representatives (I’m sorry I can’t find their names in my notes, made soggy by the constant snowfall) to accept a $45,000 donation to the American Cancer Society by VinItaly.
Why would an Italian corporation make such a hefty donation to an American group?
Montovani said simply that he and others who spend their days in the world of Italian wine “feel very fortunate and it is our honor to share our good fortune with those in need.”
And to show how serious about sharing the Italians are, last September they gave an additional $25,000 to the ACS after a “VinItaly Day at Eataly” benefit.
Part of the ceremony too was the unveiling (at least for me) of the video campaign (which first was announced last November) for the commemorative 150th anniversary wines (one white, one red) with grapes from all 20 regions of Italy.
The 150th anniversary commemorative wine concept was conceived by Ettore Riello, president of VeronaFiere, after an idea from Giorgio Napolitano, the president of the Italian Republic. Folks at Vinitaly embraced the idea and the blends were created by a group of Italy’s leading winemakers.
The actual wines (don’t get excited: only a handful of bottles will be produced and, no, you don’t get one) will be introduced on March 17, the anniversary day of Italian independence.
I believe it was the VinItaly PR department that came up with the memorable “1 Nation, 2 Bottles, 20 Regions, 40 Grapes, 150 Years” campaign. You can see a list of the varietals here, with thanks to Serge Lescouarnec.
No one is saying just what the blends are nor how the wines taste, so that will remain a mystery until the first bottle is opened, if it ever is opened and not put in a showcase somewhere.
Later the same day of the NASDAQ festivities (which closed up for the day, probably due to all the great karma) a charity wine tasting was held at the ACS Hope Lodge featuring Banfi and Allegrini wines.
I had the opportunity to chat with (interview) Marilisa during a brief quiet moment toward the end of the tasting, just before she had to leave. It had a been a long day for everyone and she was off to dinner.
I’ll write about our conversation tomorrow.