Glorious Italians – Barolo, Brunello and Amarone

Caffe Macaroni feast by Paul Homchick
photo courtesy Paul Homchick

The single most fun wine event for me so far this year, as well as the most excessive (i.e., 26 wines amongst 11 people), was a mid-week dinner featuring a host of mature Italian wines—Barolos, Brunellos and Amarones—along with some tasty white Burgundies as starters.

The dinner was a BYO extravaganza sparked by our buddy Keith and held in the garishly painted upstairs room at Caffe Macaroni in San Francisco’s North Beach. Mario Ascione, the chef proprietor of the restaurant that has been there 22 years, prepared a host of special Southern Italian dishes for us (e.g., chicken livers with mint and pancetta; risotto with blood sausage and parmesan) designed to go with our wines. The result was a night of pure pleasure that definitely made us forget about the concerns of the work week.

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

Yes, the bright red walls of the upstairs dining room did make us feel we were feasting in some kind of bordello. It’s hard to be too serious in this kind of environment, and that’s a good thing. Nonetheless, we enjoyed some very serious wines.

The best of our whites was the delicious and youthful 2005 Paul Pernot Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles. We had a total of 10 maturing Barolos, all of which were good. The star of our Baroli, predictably, was the great 1964 Giacomo Borgono, which I’ve written about here previously. We also had five very tasty Brunellos, the best of which, for me, was the 1995 Casanova di Neri Cerretalto.

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

We saved the very best, for last, however. Our friend Robert generously supplied us with a quartet of Amarone goodness.

Amarone is, of course, an updated version of a traditional wine made for centuries from dried grapes in the area around Verona in Italy’s Veneto region–Recioto della Valpolicella. Whereas Recioto is quite sweet, however, due to a substantial amount of residual sugar, Amarone is fermented to complete dryness.

The grapes for Amarone—basically the same blend as for Valpolicella, dominated by Corvina, with Rondinella and Molinara–are usually harvested ripe in mid-October and then allowed to dry, a process called “appassimento.” This drying process typically lasts three to four months, concentrating the grapes’ sugars and reducing their weight by 40 to 50%. The dried grapes are then crushed and fermented aided by special yeasts able to continue to ferment even when the alcohol levels exceed those that usually kill off standard yeasts. The resulting wines, which generally exceed 14% alcohol, are then aged in large barrels and/or barriques.

When done well, these are incredibly rich, complex and impressive wines. Two of the greatest producers of Amarone, who have veritable cult followings, are Giuseppe Quintarelli and Romano Dal Forno. The first is a great traditionalist and the second a painstaking modernist, employing, among other things, only new barriques instead of the large Slavonian casks used for aging by traditional producers like Quintarelli. Thanks to Robert, we got to compare Amarones from these two producers from the very same vintage, 1998.

Both of these were delightful, amazing wines. The Quintarelli was complex, youthful and delicious. The Dal Forno, from his vineyards of Monte Lodoletta, was simply a hedonistic delight with an even longer finish—my first 99 point wine of the year. An older Amarone, a 1967 from Bertani, was also excellent, but showed the volatile acidity that dogged Amarone until the last 15 years or so, when shorter fermentations, thanks to improved drying methods and specialized yeasts, have helped to preserve more of the fruit flavors and minimize the VA.

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

For my complete tastings notes on our delightful wines, see below.

WHITE BURGUNDY, BAROLO, BRUNELLO, AMARONE FEAST – Caffe Macaroni (1/15/2013)

Champagne Starter

    1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

  • NV Taittinger Champagne La Française Brut – France, Champagne
    From magnum – light golden color with few tiny bubbles; appealing, yeasty, tart lemon, lemon oil, very tart pear nose; tasty, youthful, tart pear, tart lemon, yeasty, mineral palate with fresh, vibrant acidity; medium-plus finish (bottle had been cellared for at least 5 years) 92+ points (92 points)

White Burgundy Flight

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

  • 2006 Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Light medium yellow color; appealing, ripe pear, vanilla, white jasmine nose; tasty, rich but poised, ripe pear, white jasmine, mineral, ripe lemon palate; still youthful, needs 1-2 years for integration; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2004 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
    Light medium yellow color; maturing, ripe pear, poached pear, apple nose; tasty, ripe pear, tart apple, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2009 Domaine Leflaive Meursault 1er Cru Sous le Dos d’Âne – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Bright light yellow color; tart lemon, very tart pear, mineral nose; tasty, tight, ripe pear, mineral, tart lemon palate; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2005 Paul Pernot et ses Fils Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
    Light yellow color; maturing, hazelnut, brioche, vanilla nose; very tasty, maturing, hazelnut, light sauteed mushroom, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (94 points)
  • 2007 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Champs-Gain – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
    Light golden yellow color; tart apple, tart pear nose; maturing, tart apple, tart pear, mineral, tart lemon palate, verging on oxidized; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 points)

Younger Barbaresco/Barolo Flight

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

  • 1994 Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy Barbaresco Martinenga – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
    Bricking medium red violet color; very appealing, ripe plum, lavender, berry, dried berry nose; maturing but still youthful, elegant, tart berry, tart red fruit, roses palate with firm tannins and medium acidity; should go 25 years; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 1996 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cannubi – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricked medium dark red violet color with light, floating sediment; mature, aromatic, dried cherry, ripe cherry, dried berry, light tar nose; tasty, maturing, tart red fruit, dried cherry, tar, mineral palate; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 1996 E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis) Barolo Cannubi – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricking dark red violet color; appealing, aromatic, dried berry, tar, anise nose; tasty, dried berry, tar, anise, mineral palate; long finish 94+ points (94 points)

Younger Barolo Flight

  • 1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricking medium dark red violet color; appealing, maturing, ripe berry, roses, baked berry, anise, dried berry nose; complex and layered, baked berry, tar, roses palate; long finish 94+ points (94 points)
  • 1999 Luigi Pira Barolo Vigna Rionda – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Slightly bricking dark red violet color; aromatic, dried berry, anise, blackberry nose; tasty, youthful, tart blackberry, dried berry, tar palate; long finish (94 points)
  • 1998 Marcarini Barolo La Serra – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricking medium dark red violet color; chocolate, light cola, dried berry, tar nose; tight, ripe berry, dried berry, baked berry, tar palate; medium-plus finish (91 points)

Brunello Flight

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

  • 1999 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    Bricked, cloudy, dark red violet color; maturing, mushroom risotto, tar, truffle, anise nose; maturing, baked black fruit, tar, mushroom palate; long finish (93 points)
  • 1995 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    Opaque red violet color; ripe berry, blackberry, dried berry nose; tasty, rich, tart berry, blackberry, tar palate; long finish (94 points)
  • 1995 Tenuta La Fuga (Attanosio) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    Bricking dark red violet color; savory, light brett, anise nose; maturing, tart berry, tart plum, tart black fruit palate; long finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 1997 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    Bricking medium dark red violet color with lots of floating sediment; appealing, lavender, roses, dried berry, tart cherry nose; lavender, roses, dried berry, tart cherry palate; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 1999 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    Slightly bricking dark red violet color; dried berry, tart cherry, tar, roses nose; youthful, dried berry, blackberry, tar palate; long finish (93 points)

Older Barolo Flight

1/15/13 Barolo/Brunello/Amarone Feast at Caffe Macaroni

  • 1964 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricking medium red violet color with .5 millimeter clear meniscus; very appealing, dried berry, licorice, rich black fruit, baked berry nose; tasty, dried berry, tart blackberry, black cherry palate; long finish (96 points)
  • 1964 Fratelli Barale Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricked medium dark red violet color; mature, truffle, dried mushroom nose; appealing, ripe black fruit, ripe berry, dried berry, berry compote palate with sweet fruit; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 1988 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricking medium dark red violet color; ethereal, dried red fruit, juniper berry, dried cherry nose; appealing, elegant, dried cherry, tart strawberry palate; long finish 94+ points (94 points)
  • 1975 Cantina Riccardo Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Cloudy, bricked, medium red violet color; mushroom, chlorine, savory nose; maturing, tart cherry, dried cherry, tart black fruit, mushroom palate; medium-plus finish (90 points)
  • 1964 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bricking very dark red violet color; mature, dried black fruit, dried fig, tar nose; tasty, mature, dried black fruit, dried fig, baked black fruit, tar palate; long finish 93+ points (93 points)

Amarone Flight

Quintarelli Amarone

  • 1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella – Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
    Bricking dark red violet color; walnut, tar, dark chocolate, baked fig nose; tasty, youthful, tart chocolate, smoke, dried fig, salty caramel palate; long finish 96+ points (96 points)
  • 1967 Bertani Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone Classico Superiore – Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Recioto della Valpolicella
    Bricking very dark red violet color; mature, dried fig, tar, licorice, VA nose; mature, dried fig, tar, salty licorice, pepper palate; long finish 95+ points (95 points)
  • 1999 Tommaso Bussola Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Tb – Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
    Bricking very dark red violet color; mature, dried berry, baked berry nose; dried berry, licorice, tart black cherry palate; long finish 91+ points (91 points)
  • 1998 Romano Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella Vigneto Monte Lodoletta – Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
    Opaque red violet color; rich chocolate, dried fig, chocolate syrup nose; rich, delicious, chocolate, chocolate syrup, hazelnut, licorice palate; very long finish (99 points)
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