17 Jan - See additional information at the end of this article.
January 2012 has torn away another human icon from the Italian wine scene. Only a few weeks after Giulio Gambelli passed away, yesterday the sad news reached us that Giuseppe Quintarelli has died.
Quintarelli may be known primarily for the exhorbitant prices at which his Valpolicella and Amarone changes hands, but 'Bepi', as Quintarelli was also known, was anything but a marketing wizard. A staunchly traditional man, he believed that good quality grapes could come only from the hillside, and his Amarone, which was produced only in exceptional years, received prolonged cask ageing, his Riserva version at least 10 years compared to the eight prescribed by law.
In more modest years, unlike most of his neighbours, he always declassified his Amarone, a big financial sacrifice for a wine which fetches up €300 a bottle, to the modestly named 'Rosso del Bepi'. But the wine world's ongoing fascination with his wines is due to the fact that they are so very different of most Amarone nowadays: a rich, sweet, heady and alcoholic dark red wine, while Quintarelli's is about freshness and elegance.
But Quintarelli didn't eschew international varieties and he was one of the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He dried the grapes, just like Amarone, to produce a dry passito wine called Alzero, and which, just like the Amarone, achieved cult status with many imitations throughout the region.
Quintarelli may have been thought of as living in the past, but his staunch clinging to traditional values in the vineyard and the cellar and insisting on producing only the highest quality, has made him from the very beginning the region's leader. The fact that his wines commanded the prices they do in the international market is proof that Valpolicella, considered by many a simple, cheap wine associated mainly with supermarket shelves, can be a great wine if made with care and dedication. His way of working has inspired a new generation which, more than ever, wants the wine to be a true expression of terroir.
Quintarelli has shown them the way, insisting on large oak casks, choosing natural drying processes for the grapes, reappraising old vines' pergola training and, most of all, an independence from the market which dictates annual production of one of Italy's greatest wines, Amarone, whether the vintage conditions permit it or not.
Jancis adds: He was a one-off and the future of his unique estate remains a mystery. i recommend anyone who has yet to taste a Quintarelli wine does their best to do so. Winesearcher.com may be able to help. I have very fond memories of his Cabernet Franc.
One UK company with an unusually comprehensive array of Amarones and an entirewebsite devoted to them (from which the image above was taken) is The Vineyard in Dorking. Their current selection is here.