If someone had told me that one of the events I was most grateful for was the one where my life came crumbling down around me, I would have thought they were crazy. When we are kids and think of a “successful adult life,” it usually include a person having all the boxes checked with a professional job, a nice house, pressed clothes and respect from one’s community; I knew that a “successful life” in the traditional sense was not possible for me, but one thing that always held a deep importance was to be in a monogamous relationship with someone to share my life. The house, kids, nice clothes and professional job meant very little to me as I was happy just getting by while pursuing my passions and tapping into my maternal feelings by taking care of those around me. But for some reason, I couldn’t feel completely fulfilled without experiencing the love of sharing my life with someone. Then, at the age of 23, I married someone I had only known for a couple months, believing in the power of love guiding us through our lives, but it ended only a few years later when he told me that he had had an affair.
The Pain of Revelation
Since we barely knew each other to begin with, I understand that many would not consider my “first marriage” as a real one. But I took it very seriously and devoted myself to being the best wife/partner that I could be… perhaps going too far because I deeply felt within my heart that I was not worthy of love. I have to guess that that is one of the reasons why I chose someone who was obviously selfish, detached and only interested in his own satisfaction. Looking back, I remember him telling me such things about himself when we first met but, because of my issues that I was fully unaware of at the time, I did not want to believe him. The pain of having to face my mistakes and feeling like I was a broken human being was unbearable for a time… the only way I got through it was to focus on other people and try to think very little about myself.
2014 Amarone della Valpolicella
In many ways, my pain during that time in my life was based on the idea that I thought I was a failure and that I had very little hope for a happy future. But once I started to talk to kind-hearted, wise people about what had happened (which I didn’t do until many years later because I was so overcome with shame) I realized that I had an opportunity to learn and grow from that dark time in my life and gain skills that have helped me with many intense challenges since then.
It is the same with certain wine vintages, such as the 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella that caused a great deal of grief and stress for the producers in Valpolicella, Italy. It was an atypical season with ill-timed, heavy rain that caused problems with downy and powdery mildew, and Botrytis (rot) – some areas more affected than others. The extreme swings in temperature and lack of sun caused a slowdown in ripening that created wines that are generally intensely aromatic, lighter on the palate, and have firmer tannins and higher acidity.
Amarone della Valpolicella wines are known for their lush body, ripe fruit and softer acidity, and so, this vintage has come as a shock to many and some were dooming the wines before they even tasted them. It is also difficult for producers to place tons of enthusiasm behind their 2014 Amarone wines since it was a vintage that took years off their life and forced many to make smaller quantities than normal since strict selection of the bunches was of paramount importance.
Vintages that make a Better Future
At Anteprima Amarone, also the celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Valpolicella appellation, in Verona, Italy, my head was filled with so much negative gossip from others about the 2014 vintage, which would be showcased with a silent tasting of 43 different producers, that I felt these wines were doomed before anyone would give them a chance. And it made me think of that time when I thought I was worthless, broken, humiliated, and although some people were filled with kind words after finding out what I had been through, there were others who have been very judgmental of my past of being married once before, cheated on and divorced, even though I did not take a penny and I just wanted to be given the opportunity for another shot at a happy life, still the stigma is still there.
I know now that going through such a traumatic experience made me stronger, kinder and a much better person all around… I knew what I needed to do for the 2014 vintage, what those compassionate people did for me in my time of need… have an open mind.
Despite some of the wines still needing time to allow the tannins to mellow and the flavors to open, I was utterly surprised that there were many wines showing so well early in their development. It seemed that Amarone producers either decided to employ less days of drying the grape bunches (drying can range from 90 to 120 days), shorter maceration to create an ethereal Amarone that was aromatically enticing and leaner on the palate, or others added more weight, fruit and structure by allowing the grape bunches to dry longer and macerate longer, producing a rich wine that had firmer tannins, more body yet the aromatic complexity was still in many of these versions as well.
When I think back to that 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella tasting, sitting there tasting in silence from 9am-12pm, I could not believe how much I was enjoying those wines. There are a few that sent me to the moon because, although they were fragile and delicate, they were still powerfully aromatic and had a long, uplifting finish. These wines were like me at my darkest times… fragile with a bright heart… and these wines showed that Amarone is so much more than just the richness in its body and the overabundance of fruit. In a tough year, Amarone showed the depth of its soul and that there is so much more within its aromatic profile than many tasters could appreciate in riper years. It seems this vintage has informed the producers of how they can illustrate the pretty aspects of 2014 in warmer years.
I am happy that there were a few people who did not give up on me many years ago, and showed me that I was much more worthy than I had thought; and I am happy that the lesson of waiting to experience something first, before laying down judgment, has continually filled my life with joy and never ending excitement.
Forty-Three Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines from 2014 Vintage Tasted February 3rd, 2018 at Anteprima Amarone 50° Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Verona, Italy:
The following two wines were really singing in the moment. The Bertani, Valpantena, showed that it was possible to add some body and flavor by either picking the ripest fruit and/or allowing the grapes to dry longer before fermentation; the Scriani, a producer I was unfamiliar with, was just breathtaking in its power of aromatics and elegance that showed how Amarone can still be intensely complex while being delicate. The Scriani seemed to have less ripeness and/or grapes that were less concentrated perhaps by a short drying period – I don’t know at this point, but it was a real pleasure and shows how Amarone della Valpolicella is so much more than its lush body and higher alcohol, it is a wine that has such complexity, that if you take the high alcohol and lush body away, it will still knock you off your feet when done well.
-Bertani, Valpantena: The nose was a knockout with cherry blossom, crumbly limestone and a juicy body with fine tannic structure and lots of flesh along the flavorful finish.
-Scriani, Classico: This wine simply blew me away with its incredible finesse and elegance. Cherry blossoms and sweet spice laced with limestone minerality; seamless integration of tannins, not so easy for the 2014 vintage, which had stunning precision on the long, expressive finish. It was exciting to see a small producer in the traditional “Classico” area of Valpolicella do so well in such a tough vintage. Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to this producer in the past, but I will be on the lookout for Scriani wines in the future.
These next producers were also singing and I was pleasantly surprised to see wines already giving so much pleasure.
-Bennati: Another beauty that showed great expression of floral bouquets – lots of floral notes in 2014s – and strawberry preserves with good mid-palate weight and sustained finish.
-Bottega (Il Vino degli Del): Chalky rocks on the nose with tart cranberry fruit on the palate that had an energetic yet warming quality.
-Ca’ Rugate (Punta Tolotti): A playful nose of toasted cardamom seeds, Madagascar vanilla, cocoa dusted cherries with a well balanced, full body with bright acidity and salinity on the finish.
-Giuseppe Campagnola (Vigneti Vallata di Marano), Classico: This wine had lots of structure but I thought those firm tannins were offset by juicy fruit and off the charts complexity, with cigar smoke and smoldering earth.
-F.lli Degani, Classico: Pretty, pretty nose with a bouquet of flowers, nice amount of flesh and fruit on the palate with delicious bbq spice hints on the finish.
-I Tamasotti: Smoky, smoky wine… and I have to admit I have a weakness for smoky wines. Cigar box, sweet tobacco leaf with black raspberries and charred oak on the finish.
-Le Bignele – Aldrighetti Luigi Angelo e Nicola, Classic: Only a slightly high-toned quality with very lovely and lifted flavors of orange rind, wet stones and raspberry sorbet and had good length.
-Massimago (Conte Gastone): Fruitcake with cedar box, roasted cashews with a nice energy from the acidity and long length that had a smoky minerality.
-Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine (Villa Borghetti), Classico: Vanilla bean with candied cherries and cloves with a sustained length of flavor.
-Recchia (Masua di Jago), Classico: Chocolate dusted ripe strawberries with lemon confit and a long, impressive finish that was bright while still remaining juicy and concentrated.
-Sartori: Savory at first with Mediterranean herbs and wild scrub that evolved into sweeter herbs like tarragon and jam fruit flavors on the palate that had a flavorful, warming finish.
-Vigneti di Ettore, Classico: This wine had an overall finesse and elegance that I immediately loved and it just seemed to be singing in that moment with cumin seeds, lily of the valley, rose water and raspberry scone. Its aromas wafted around my head for several minutes after my first taste.
-Zonin: Nose was enticing with espresso, mint and pristine fruit with a long floral finish. A wine that is lighter on the palate than typical Amarone yet it is aromatically powerful with saline minerality.
-Montresor, Capitel della Crosara,Classico: This wine was added to the roster at the last minute since one of the other producers pulled out. I’m happy this one had the opportunity because I really enjoyed it. This wine was just completely balanced, and at this youthful age, that is saying a lot… aromatically enticing nose with rose petals and cherry liqueur with a generously round palate that had fun hints of asphalt and rosemary oil.
The following wines I think either needed more time and/or decanting. But there was exciting promise when it came to the fascinating aromas and flavors some of these beauties were already showing.
-Accordini Stefano (Acinatico) Classico: A very savory nose with dusty earth, dried herbs, slight grip on palate, good acidity, light in mid-palate.
-Albino Armani, Classico: I really liked the mineral edge to this wine, fresh blackberries, still seemed tight and needed more time to evolve.
-Antiche Terre Venete: Round on the palate yet some extraction on the finish with an interesting nose of intermixed volcanic ash and wild flowers.
-Cantina di Soave (Rocca Sveva), Riserva: Intense chocolate and vanilla notes with stewed fruit and finished with fierce structure.
-Cantina Valpantena Verona (Torre del Falasco): Bright crunchy red fruit with fresh sage and lit cedar embers with lift of marked acidity at the end.
-Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Classico: A heightened minty quality with grilled thyme and balsamic notes were intriguing on the nose but body needs more time.
-Cesari, Classico: A wild nose of forest floor and new leather but needs time for the grippy tannins to resolve themselves.
-Collis-Riondo (Castelforte): Sweet and savory, the overall quality had a moderate amount of weight, integrated tannins, and I felt would need more time to show its full potential.
-Collis-Riondo (Calesan): I really like the consistent floral and volcanic ash quality I was getting on many of these wines when I smelled them and this one was a good example… actually the body was juicy and I thought the structure was seamless as this young age but I feel it will give a lot more in time.
-Corte Archi, Classico: High-toned that is mainly giving bright red fruit and balsamic flavors that is still tight in its expression.
-Corte Lonardi, Classico: Peppermint and blackberry with chewy tannins.
-Corte Sant’ Alda (Adalia): Adalia is the much more approachable wine from the certified biodynamic Corte Sant’ Alda which is still evident in this vintage. They did not make one under their Corte Sant’ Alda label since it is already a structured wine with savory qualities and so they thought its style would not do well this year. This 2014 Adalia has sweet lingonberry compote that has that great Corte Sant’ Alda vitality with fresh acidity on the palate. I still feel like it has so much more to give.
-Corte Scaletta: High-toned nose with spearmint and cilantro with a tight body that needs more time.
-Fasoli Gino (Alteo): High-toned nose that was balanced by cherry pie flavors.
-Gamba (Le Quare), Classico: This wine seemed a little closed on the nose with notes of tar and earth but was more open on the broad palate with rich blackberry fruit.
-Ilatium (Campo Leon): High-toned nose with sour cherries, tar, ash and black pepper with a lean body.
-Le Guaite di Noemi: High-toned nose with eucalyptus and mesquite with some firm tannins on a linear palate.
-Monteci, Classico: Wild brambly quality that I did like, that seemed to be still closed on the body and needs time. I did sense an underlying mineral quality but want more.
-Montezovo: Grilled figs and dried red currants with a clean finish.
-San Cassiano: High-toned with stewed red cherries and violets that had a nimble, light body with lots of energy.
-Santa Sofia (Antichello) Classico: High-toned nose with pine, moss and wild raspberry with a very firm palate that needs more time to open.
-Secondo Marco, Classico: High-toned nose with freshly picked white cherries, cinnamon spice and fennel seeds that were tight on the palate.
-Tenute Falezza: Slightly high-toned nose with black cherry, balsamic herbs and hint of licorice.
-Villa Canestrari (1888), Riserva: High-toned nose with basil and dried oregano that had big shoulders on the palate that still needed time to open.
-Villa San Carlo: Dried flowers, Morello cherry and warming alcohol.
-Villa Spinosa, Classico: Tightly wound with some blackberry, spice and textual complexity showing at this time but needs to evolve to show its full potential.
-Zanoni Pietro (Zovo): I could tell this wine had a nice freshness and energy yet it seemed closed at this stage… I could sense some black fruit, licorice, baking spice and feel the pop of energy on the palate, but I think it needs more time to really sing.