EWS Tasting - March 27, 2007
We set high standards for all EWS tastings, so it is only natural that attendees arrive with very high expectations. Therefore, it is a rare tasting in which expectations are clearly surpassed. It happened tonight. When we titled this tasting “Amazing Amarone,” we were ill prepared for just how amazing these wines can be! All five of our favorite Amarone producers (Bertani, Allegrini, Quintarelli, Bussola, and Dal Forno Romano) turned in stunning performances.
Frankly, after a tasting like this, we’re surprised that Amarone isn’t more popular than it is. You could probably make a strong case that Amarone is a wine that was ahead of its time, as many of today’s highest rated wines have much in common with classic Amarone. Twenty years ago, Amarone stood out for its deep color, raisiny sweet flavor, and an obscene alcohol level of 15%! Today, these characteristics could describe numerous wines.
We love great Amarone, but don’t seem to taste enough of them. So we created this tasting to pull the corks on bottles we hoped would give us that Amazing Amarone experience. Concentrating on the best producers and vintages, our lineup of 15 Amarones (many extremely rare and hard to find) should have been memorable. But it turned out to be more than that. It turned out to be...amazing!
Special thanks to collectors Rick Weissman and Michael Fedak for helping us assemble this great lineup!
The following are consensus tasting notes, written to share commentary, descriptors, and convey the overall impression that participants had for each wine as it was showing tonight. Rating reflects the quality of the wine and the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) displayed by our group of 19 tasters during in-depth discussions of each wine. This was NOT a blind tasting. Wines are listed in the order they were poured.
We began with five excellent vintages from Bertani, one of the best and most important of the traditional producers.
1964 Amarone (Bertani) - 92 rating
Light garnet hue with amber tones at the rim. Expressive, earthy, ripe, complex nose is exotic and attractive, with notes of cherry fruit, leather, smoke, mushroom, and tobacco leaf. Lots of bite and attack on entry; more about structure right now as the fruit is secondary. The 1964 is still tannic, and shows a lot of alcohol. It becomes softer as it sits and offers a long, dry, burnt orange peel finish. Unfortunately, with further aeration, the aromas fall apart like a cheap suit.
1967 Amarone (Bertani) - no rating
Fairly deep, youthful color. Nose shows signs of oxidation and smells like decaying meat left on the counter. We also get notes of tar and rubber. There’s a nice smoky quality in the background, but clearly this bottle is in a state of decline. Rich and dry in the mouth; excellent acidity but the fruit is faded. It’s powerful and heady with too much alcohol showing. Modest length and a bitter finish seal the verdict: this was the only weak wine in the tasting. A bad bottle or dead soldier?
1974 Amarone (Bertani) - 91 rating
Medium garnet hue. Sweet, floral aromas of spice, tobacco, violet, wild mushroom, and rich dark berry fruit. Quite rich in the mouth with a strong presence of acidity. It’s juicy, intense, and nicely balanced. But like the 1967, the fruit is somewhat faded into the background. Moderately long finish, showing a dried cherries note and a little too much alcohol. This was a controversial wine; our 91 rating represents a compromise. While some people were very impressed with the 1974, others complained that it was “too thin” and “past its peak.”
1977 Amarone (Bertani) - 92 rating
Fairly deep color. Attractive, sweet nose of crushed cherries, licorice, and spice. Youthful and vigorous on the palate with vitality, power, and lots of attack. The 1977 offered superb balance of acidity, fruit extract, sweetness, and noticeable tannin. The finish was powerful, dramatic, and extremely long. In sum, the 1977 was most enjoyable this evening, but has upside potential with further cellaring.
1985 Amarone (Bertani) - 92 rating
Medium-deep, consistent color. Sweet, attractive nose is similar to the others in this flight. We get rich black cherry and blackberry fruit at the core, with vanilla, spice, tar, and smoke. It gets better as it opens in the glass. Rich and beautifully balanced in the mouth. It’s youthful, concentrated, with a tannic bite. The acidity is lively and the 1985 has particularly excellent mouth feel. Fairly long, consistent finish. While the 1985 is still tightly wound right now, it certainly showed the potential to improve.
Next, four vintages from another legendary producer, Allegrini
1990 Amarone (Allegrini) - 95 rating
Fairly deep, youthful color; consistent from the core to the rim. Dramatic, “eloquent,” complex nose with dried cherry, raspberry, and cassis fruit. This Amarone has super-ripe, Port-like sweetness. We also get a nice smoky quality and a note of minerality. There were lots of “oohs and ahhs” from those assembled. Big and lush on entry with sweet fruit and a lot of alcohol. In terms of density, complexity, power, and structure, this is a brilliant wine. Extremely long, consistent finish. Wow, the 1990 was wonderful!
1995 Amarone (Allegrini) - 94 rating
Deeply colored. Another gorgeous, sweet, expressive nose features scents of ripe cherries, mint, licorice, and eucalyptus. Follows through brilliantly on the palate. Sweet, sexy, and seductive, the 1995 is an elegant, “feminine” Amarone. This modern-styled wine shows a lot of oak. Someone suggested that it reminded him of “an alcoholic Cabernet Sauvignon.” It’s a huge, dense, thick, youthful wine with good acidity and plenty of tannin to shed. Very long, surprisingly dry finish. We’d hold off for five years before downing the next bottle. It should be worth the wait!
1996 Amarone (Allegrini) - 93 rating
Deeply colored. Particularly smoky nose reminds us of a BBQ pit with notes of smoked meat, tar, spice, and black pepper. Rich, sweet, juicy, huge, and powerful on entry; this Amarone makes a statement. It’s certainly youthful right now, very tannic, showing a lot of oak. There’s strong fruit extract with decent acidity. The 1996 starts off with some bite and bluntness, but becomes softer and smoother as it sits. Very long, spicy, delicious finish.
1997 Amarone (Allegrini) - 91 rating
Deeply colored. Nose is initially tight as a crab’s ass, but it opens just enough to reveal notes of rich, sweet cherry fruit, violets, and a whiff of alcohol. Monstrous in the mouth; what a big, voluptuous blockbuster! In terms of density and thickness, the 1997 stands apart from its brethren. It’s a lush, rich, ripe wine that shows a lot of tannin. Clearly way too young, this Amarone also showed signs that it wanted to be a Port. Compact and closed, the 1997 really never expressed itself, and was even criticized by some for being “blunt” and “angular” tonight. But make mistake, there’s 97 point potential here!
Next, two Amarones each from two more giants, one traditional, the other modern:
1995 Amarone (Giuseppe Quintarelli) - 97 rating
Medium saturated color. Beautiful aromatics greet us with sweet, seductive, black cherry, dark plum, licorice, and chocolate scents. Even better in the mouth; fascinating interplay of sweetness and dryness. It’s almost candied, but the fruit quality here is exceptional. Smooth, harmonious, suave, and elegant were adjectives used to describe this wine. There’s a lot of complexity and Port-like quality as well. This spectacular Amarone offered terrific length. Drinking perfectly this evening, we were all blown away by Quintarelli’s 1995.
1997 Amarone (Giuseppe Quintarelli) - 97 rating
Fairly deep color, darker than the 1995. Big, sweet, spicy nose features ripe dark fruits, leather, minerals, and tar. Not quite aromatically evolved as the 1995. Rich, concentrated, and complex, Quintarelli’s 1997 coats the palate with delicious, ripe dark fruits. The acidity is superb, the tannins are suave; this youthful, vigorous wine has amazing grip and mouth feel. It’s an intense, creamy wine that shows a high level of alcohol. But for its size and complexity, the 1997 is remarkably well balanced. With aeration, this wine kept getting better in the glass. Long, consistent, persistent finish. We probably drank this wine at least ten years too soon. In 2017 it could easily be a 100 pointer.
1997 Amarone “TB” (Bussola) - 97 rating
Deeply saturated color. Sweet, “modern” nose is dramatically different from Quintarelli’s, particularly with the presence of lots of oak. That said, everyone loved the aromatics of the 1997 TB, with its lovely scents of plum, chocolate, mint, violet, spice, and toast. Immediately impressive in the mouth as this is a sweet, frontal wine. It is youthful, huge, deeply concentrated, intense, and complex, with profound depth of fruit. While this fabulous Amarone really makes its presence felt, it also holds something back right now, showing somewhat tight on the palate. The finish was powerful and very long. The 1997 TB was a joy to drink -- and it still has room to grow.
2001 Amarone “TB” (Bussola) - 92 rating
Fairly deep color but not as dark as the 1997. Sweet, exotic nose has a strong raisiny note, with interesting secondary aromas of peach, tar, chocolate, smoke, and tobacco. Painfully youthful on the palate; the tannins are in full command. While the 2001 has many attributes, it lacks the definition we saw in the 1997. This wine cries for another decade in the cellar. We are impressed with the deeply embedded dark fruit, perfect acidity, and superior structure, chewiness, and mouth feel. Long finish. The 2001 TB will certainly improve with time, but our money will always be on the 1997!
For the grand finale, three vintages of the rare and off-the-charts wonderful Amarone from Dal Forno Romano:
1997 Amarone (Dal Forno Romano) - 98 rating
Inky black color. Nose is restrained at first, but with aeration it becomes quite lovely, with scents of black raspberry, mint, violet, minerals, and smoke. Much more impressive in the mouth; awesome intensity and depth of flavor. This is a youthful, clean, modern style, penetrating Amarone with hugely extracted, dark berry fruit. The acidity is lively, the tannins prominent. All of this wine’s components live in perfect harmony. Best of all, the extra long finish feels like the grand finale of a fireworks display. The only thing that prevents us from giving it a perfect score is the knowledge that it has a little room to grow. Still, it turned mature adults into giddy school children tonight.
1999 Amarone (Dal Forno Romano) - no rating
Very deeply colored. Slightly off nose displays a chalky note with some corkiness, overpowering any subtleties or nuance that would have been present. Much better on the palate; very dense, thick, and juicy. Like the 1997, this Amarone is hugely extracted. It has even more obvious tannins than the 1997. But because it’s tight right now, this bottle of 1999 did not offer much pleasure. Better bottles would no doubt benefit from cellaring.
2000 Amarone (Dal Forno Romano) - 96 rating
Very deeply colored. Gorgeous, open nose is another expression of the modern style featuring sexy, sweet dark berry fruit with subtle notes of cocoa, coffee, chocolate, spice, and smoke. Similar to its brethren in the mouth, the 2000 has much in common: richness, density, extract, power, tannin, concentration, alcohol, and wonderful acidity. It’s beautifully balanced, thoroughly delicious, and drinking surprisingly well tonight, much more expressive than the 1999. Very long, consistent finish. By itself, the Dal Forno’s 2000 is a fabulous Amarone, but no match for the otherworldly (RP gave us permission to use his word) 1997.