This week, I’m focusing on Veneto, home to some of my favourite Italian wines, such as Bardolino, Soave and, of course, many Irish people’s favourite: Amarone della Valpolicella.
Count Giuseppe Rizzardi, the owner and winemaker at Guerrieri Rizzardi, was in Dublin recently and conducted a masterclass covering several vintages of their glorious top wine.
Amarone is one of those wines where it pays to spend a little bit extra, as many inexpensive versions are pallid.
Guerrieri Rizzardi was founded in 1913 when the counts Guerrieri and Rizzardi came together through marriage, both families having made wine in the region since at least the mid-17th century.
The best red grape here is Corvina, and the larger-berried Corvinone (long thought to be related, but now proven otherwise).
The region’s white grape is the perfumed Garganega, loved by growers for its productive nature, but to coax its full range of scents and textures, yields must be restricted, as it is by better producers in the Soave Classico region.
To make Amarone, the better houses dry their grapes in whole bunches on racks for a number of months, sometimes into late January.
The grapes lose a substantial amount of water and become concentrated and fuller flavoured and the wines can have up to 16.5% alcohol.
As the wine ages, balsamic and chocolate flavours come in, along with tamarind, dates, eucalyptus and exotic smoky and dark fruit aromas.
Despite the density of the wine, Giuseppi Rizzardi does not like to decant it, as it remains somewhat delicate.
We tasted as far back as the 2001 vintage, which had aromas of figs and baked raisins, while the 2003 was a little fuller and denser, due to the warm year.
I adored the 2008 for its savoury complexity, while the 2009 had more earth and smoky notes.
The 2011 was also a star and there is a full tasting note on that below.
I also recommend, from the Rizzardi range, their Soave.
I didn’t have space for the Rizzardi Tacchetto Bardolino Classico (€16.45) or big brother Munus Bardolino (€21.45) from some of the best sites in Bardolino, but both are a little fuller and richer and are recommended.
Do also try Rizzardi Clos Roareti Merlot, which is on special at €19.95.
Rizzardi Bardolino Classico, Veneto, Italy — €14.95
Stockists: O’Briens Off-Licences Nationwide
Bardolino is from the eastern shore of Lake Garda and although it is somewhat in the shadow of its more famous neighbour, Valpolicella, it deserves to be better known.
This has ripe bright juicy cherry aromas, supple and fruity with plums and blackberrys on the middle palate, good acidity and freshness and a light tart kick on the finish.
Rizzardi Costeggiola Soave, Veneto, Italy — €15.45
Stockists: O’Briens Off-Licences Nationwide
From old vines grown on one of the best sites on the hill of Costeggiola to the east of Verona.
The Garganega grape can be rather light and insubstantial if over cropped but Rizzardi have clearly kept their vines in check.
Lemon and herbal aromas with a background stony freshness, full flavoured and ripe with a pleasing tartness and a textured dry finish.
Il Capolavoro Appassimento, Italy — €14.95
The success of the dried grape wines of the Veneto has led other regions to try this method and you will find Appassimento style wines from a number of Italian regions including Sicily.
This is from partly dried grapes and is ripe and supple with dense chocolate tinged cherry fruits, good ripeness and a fruit-focused palate.
Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy — €19.99
Stockists: World Wide Wines, Alan & Christines Kenmare, Sweeneys, Myles Creek, McHughs, Vintry, 64 Wines, Whelehans, Mortons, www.wineonline.ie
From an organic vineyard, Pieropan bristles with floral, lively lemon and creamy almond aromas, textured and complex on the palate with supple rounded fruits, fine acidity and a nutty fresh finish.
Pojega Poega Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto, Italy — €20.45
Stockists: O’Briens Stores Nationwide www.wineonline.ie
From a single vineyard on the Rizzardi estate this is re-fermented on the skins and lees of the Estate’s Amarone and takes on some Amarone character.
This has similar dried fruit and smoky aromas to its big brother but in a lighter tone, supple and fruity but with lighter fruit flavours, baked cherry fruits with touches of red plum.
Rizzardi Villa Amarone, Veneto, Italy — €42.95
Stockists: O’Briens stores nationwide www.wineonline.ie
This is 43% Corvina and 31% Corvinone plus some Rondinella and Barbera.
2011 was a warm year and this has big ripe aromas of black cherry, ripe dark fruits and spice notes, fruity and luscious on the palate, rich and complex and with a savoury quality, hints of dark chocolate and surprising elegance for such a big wine.