Italy: Veneto

Valentina Cubi (Fumane) ORGANIC

We first tasted (and were wowed by) Valentina Cubi’s Valpolicellas and Amarone in the wonderful Enoteca della Valpolicella in Fumane, just east of Lake Garda, twelve years ago.
Valentina’s father-in-law Federico Vasan was a big name in Negrar in the neighbouring valley until he sold his wine business in World War 2. Valentina and her husband Giancarlo Vasan found and bought an old winery in Fumane which produced and sold wine in bulk. They were trying to restore it but the building fell down when a worker accidentally knocked down a supporting wall. A complete rebuild was necessary.
If you think Valpolicella is simply a crunchy, harsh red to choke down with a pizza, you may be surprised by the elegance and complexity of Valentina’s wines. Her basic Valpolicella Classico, Iperico, is 75% Corvina with 25% Rondinella and is organic from the 2011 vintage. Her Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Il Tabarro is a blend of Corvina 65%, Rondinella 25% and Molinara 10%. Part of the distinctive flavour of high quality Valpolicella comes from being fermented on the skins of previously crushed grapes. Arusnatico is the Ripasso, the same blend as her Superiore but then the wine is “re-passed” over grape must. Her 2005 evokes autumn bonfires and late autumn fruit. Top of the line is Morar, her Amarone. The best grapes are selected from the best bunches, laid onto screens and allowed to turn into raisins. In January the raisins are crushed and fermented as normal after which the wine spends a year in barrels and a further year in big botti.

Roberto Mazzi (Negrar)

“Have you got any Amarone?” When the weather turns snowy and wintry many think about Amarone, the rich, deep and very alcoholic red from near Verona in northeast Italy. Yes, we have Amarone. When we first visited bear-like Roberto Mazzi and his sons a decade ago, we were invited to eat in their agriturismo restaurant, an informal weekend restaurant. It was one of those 8 course meals you think you may not survive. We were in trouble long before the climax of the savoury courses, their signature Risotto with Amarone. And having finally managed to choke that delicious plate down (just), a soup appeared (soup, after main course?)…and then dessert. It was a gourmet emergency.
They make two Amarones; Punta di Villa, the more elegant of the two (if you can describe a 16% wine as elegant- more like a boxing glove made from eider feathers?), the other, Castel doesn’t pull any punches. Then two beautifully breezy, survivable, truly elegant Valpolicella Classico Superiores; Sanperetto and their Cru, Poiega. Both made from 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara, high-class, elegant Valpolicella evocative of sour cherries, bitter almonds, violets and pepper. They also make a delicious red dessert wine, Recioto della Valpolicella called Le Calcarole. If you need a wine for a chocolate dessert, look no further.

Bosco del Merlo (Annone Veneto) ORGANIC

The Paladin family have been making organic wines under their Bosco del Merlo label for many years. Their organic Prosecco is a perennial favourite here at The Winery. Carlo and Milly Paladin have a spread of vines over the flat plains at Annone Veneto north-east of Venice, the Alps visible in the background. It’s an area rich with Roman history – the old Roman road, the via Postumia runs right by the estate. The wider Paladin family, which includes Carlo’s brother and sister, never seem to let the grass grow below their feet, frequently introducing new wines such as a refined, chocolatey Malbec (called Malbech locally) and a spicy, aromatic Traminer which seems to have adjusted to the clay-heavy soil on the estate.
They also seem keen to snap up estates in other areas. They bought Castello Bonomi in Franciacorta, widely held to be the best area for sparkling wine in Italy. They didn’t stop there and also scooped up a Tuscan estate – Castelvecchi in Radda, in the Chianti Classico Zone near Siena. We are fans of their very sleek, plush Capotondo Chianti Classico.