Since returning from our year off, I have had many people tell me how much they hated me in the past year. And that hurts! But I get it – all they saw was pictures of beautiful European capitals, amazing food and drink, sailing with dolphins, then an endless camera roll of beautiful white sandy beaches, palm trees, happy-hour cocktails and Caribbean sunsets. I am sure that it all got pretty old when it was -20 in the middle of February. But the tables have turned, and now I am the one being tormented by my own photos. Every day, my social media feeds remind me that One Year Ago, I was somewhere amazing. Karma sucks!
A year ago, I was in Italy, eating a ridiculous amount of pasta and pizza, and drinking copious amounts of aperol spritzes and delicious Italian wine. Looking back at those pictures makes me want to drop everything and get on a plane. Maybe that explains the Italian kick I’ve been on lately. When planning our trip, I was a bit nervous about Italy. I had spent a lifetime hyping it up in my head. Would it live up to my expectations? It’s Italy—of course it did. It was everything I dreamed it would be, and more.
One of the surprises of the trip was how much I liked Verona, which may or may not have been influenced by the wonderful Soave wine tasting we crashed there (the Soave region makes dry white wines that match perfectly with—not surprisingly—Italian food – and we sampled tons of both!). It was during this tasting that we met Andrea Lonardi, oenologist, Chief Winemaker and COO of Bertani Domains, who invited us to his winery for a tour and tasting.
A couple of days later, we found ourselves weaving through the hilly countryside of Valpolicella in our trusty Fiat, en route to Cantina Bertani in the small town of Grezzana.
In typical Italian fashion, no one was there when we arrived at the pre-determined time. As it turned out, the harvest had just started, so Andrea was out in one of Bertani’s numerous vineyards and hurrying back to meet us at the winery. He arrived immaculately dressed yet with his pants rolled up in a completely laidback style that only the Italians can master.
Bertani is a long-standing producer in the region and has a strong reputation. It owns vineyards all across the Veneto region, including in the Soave, Valpolicella Valpantena and Valpolicella Classica wine regions. The two Valpolicella regions generally grow the same native grapes (corvina, rondinella and molinara), but are distinguished for geographical and historical purposes. Classica indicates the original centre of the winemaking region, while Valpantena (which means valley of all the gods) indicates the expanded area. Interestingly enough, Valpolicella, aka the valley of many cellars, boasts the second highest production in Italy after Chianti.
Bertani has been making wines in Valpantena since 1857. The founders, brothers Giovan Battista and Gaetano Bertani, had spent time in France and returned to Verona intent on planting French vinifera varietals. In a time when sweet recioto wines were favoured in Italy, Bertani innovated by making a dry amarone, which they baptised Secco Bertani (secco is the Italian word for dry). They produced their first vintage in 1867 using both native and French grapes (corvina, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and sangiovese). Even in this first vintage, Bertani was set in its vision and its mission: to produce quality wines in all respects without regard for popular tastes, preferring to remain true to its roots.
[For a reminder on Valpolicella and Amarone, read this post!]
In the mid-nineteenth century, Bertani acquired its Tenuta Novare vineyards in the Valpolicella Classica region. In 1967 it produced its first vintage of amarone, despite the style not being popular at the time. Bertani continued to make amarone year after year, becoming a benchmark for the region. It wasn’t until 25 years later that amarone sales really took off. But Bertani has always done its own thing, paying no mind to trends. “We don’t care about the market” says Lonardi. And while the winemaking is steeped in tradition, Bertani is no detractor of modernity. Research and innovation is an important part of their brand. As is quality.
Quality seemed to be imbued in every detail of the winemaking process, from the concrete vats lined with Venetian glass tiles, to the different types of oak barrels that lend specific properties to the various wines (e.g. Slavonian and French oak, chestnut, and cherrywood), to the soft-feel touch of the boxes. It is this attention to detail that gives Bertani wines consistently high quality from year to year.
A behind-the-scenes tour of winemaking at Bertani
Then came my favourite part: the tasting!
Our lineup was made up of the 2016 Valpolicella, the 2014 Ripasso, the 2014 Secco Bertani and the 2008 Amarone Classico. Here are my tasting notes for the ones that are available here in Canada.
Amarone: This is a knockout wine, recognized worldwide for its style. The hand-harvested grapes are dried on straw mats in the artisanal appassimento style for at least three months, then fermented in glass-lined concrete. The juices from the corvina and rondinella grapes are pre-blended before sitting in Slavonian oak for seven years, with an additional year in the bottle. We tasted the 2008, which was starting to turn a brick red colour with age. On the nose, it was still quite alcohol-y (normal at a whopping 15%), but on the palate it was all yummy stewed cherries, fig and baking spices like cloves. The drying of the grapes gives the wine a perceived sweetness, but in fact there are no residual sugars. It was definitely the favourite of the day. With nicely integrated tannins and still-fresh acidity, this 2008 vintage could have easily sat in the cellar for a few more years.
Unfortunately, the Amarone Classico is not available for the North American market. BUT you can get the Amarone Valpantena, with grapes sourced from Bertani’s original Valpantena vineyard. It will obviously have a somewhat different flavour profile due to the difference in terroir, but all the same quality. It’s available for a limited time in Vintages, for a very reasonable $39.95. My recommendation? Amarones have great aging power, so get a case and leave it in your cellar for as long as you can resist, then decant at least 30 minutes before drinking.
2014 Valpolicella Ripasso. Those of you who have followed Wining with Mel for a while know that I love a good deal. And to me, ripassos are a great way to get some of the same yummy flavours that make amarone so amazing, at about half the price. The corvina, merlot and rondinella grapes are fermented in vats for about two weeks in the fall, then fermented a second time in the spring with the amarone skins, which add the delicious chocolaty and spicy notes. The wine is then aged for 9 months in French oak barrels. Just the aromas of this wine got my mouth watering: black cherry, baking spice, dried fig, chocolate, a hint of mint, savoury herbs and blackberry, all of which make an appearance on the palate. It’s light-to-medium bodied, has a gorgeous mouthfeel and medium tannins, providing a bit of bite to offset the wine’s fruity character. I concluded my notes with one word: “yummy”.
And if white wines are more your style, try Bertani’s Soave, made from 100% garganega grapes—available in limited quantities at the SAQ for less than $15.
Drinking a wine from a faraway country can be a rewarding experience, but there’s nothing quite like drinking it in the place where it’s made, with the person who made it, after having seen where the magic happens. That experience really had an impact on me, and made me appreciate the wines I was drinking even more. So when I saw Bertani’s Ripasso on the shelves of my local LCBO a few weeks ago, I obviously grabbed a bottle (or four). Opening that first bottle was like being transported right back to Valpolicella, with the warmth of an Italian welcome in each sip, making me ask myself – can we go back now?
Cin cin! Happy wining!