One of my favorite things about Bertani, the Amarone producer, is that they make available their vintage Amarones from just about any year in the last half-century. Anyone can order one through the distributor, and the prices are in the $$ hundreds, not $$$ thousands – great for celebrating special occasions.
Recently, soft-spoken Bertani winemaker Cristian Ridolfi stopped in Boston for lunch, on his way back to Italy. Bertani produces a total 1.5 million bottles (125,000 cases) of about a dozen different wines all from their own vineyards. They don’t buy and they don’t sell fruit, emphasized export manager Stefano Mangiarotti, who was also at this lunch. But they could easily produce more than twice this amount of wine from their vineyards, if they weren’t so highly selective.
Bertani has not made any major changes in their winemaking since they started producing Amarone in the mid-twentieth century. Ridolfi still dries the grapes for 120 days, not just the required 90. He is convinced that this is what accounts for the longevity of the Bertani Amarone wines. Incidentally, he has also found that the anti-ageing compound resveratrol doubles in these grapes in the 120 days.
He is doing one bit of experimentation, this with the large wooden casks the Amarone matures in for six years. The winery is in trials with chestnut, acacia, and possibly more cherry wood, all sourced locally.
Ridolfi brought several Bertani wines, and several vintages of Amarone della Valpolicella DOC: 2003, 1998, 1980 and 1967. His favorite, he admitted was the 1967. Mine was the 1980. Bursting with life, this 30-year-old wine had huge fruit aromas. It actually smelled young. There was some minerality, a hint of bitterness to show that there was some structure here. The wine’s fruit flavors were well developed, continuing with prune and plum into the finish. Later, I found fresh herbs and a bit of eucalyptus coming out. Suggested retail price is $230.
The most astounding thing happened at the end of the meal. We had just finished our espressos when someone called for a toast. After raising a glass, a sip from it is required, so I did. And this wine from 1980 flashed out its flavors, firm with fruit, even after the coffee. I was impressed.