Amarone is arguably the richest, densest and most powerful wine in the world, a veritable show stopper and without rival. Romano Dal Forno is known as Veneto’s ‘Grape King’, the vanguard of modern Amarone and such vernacular ignites the debate over whether Dal Forno or Quintarelli is the greatest of all! Quintarelli embodies the more rustic, ascetic and traditional style, while Dal Forno exemplifies hedonism, unqualifiable power and boldness. Both make superlative cellar wines; exist in their dually fashioned binary class, yet Dal Forno must be venerated for changing the paradigm of classic Amarone’s perceived pre-eminence over the contemporary.
Romano Dal Forno was born in 1957, a few Kilometres away from Illais, where his family had been making wine for three generations. Aged 22 he met the grand master of Amarone, Giuseppe Quintarelli and their acquaintance became seminal for Dal Forno. Quintarelli exposed Dal Forno to what could be achieved with the vines in the region of Valpolicella, yet from this incredible base Dal Forno created a synthesis of winemaking, in many ways the antithesis of Quintarelli’s traditional style, unrelenting, ascetically driven and as many believe the ultimate mien of Amarone.
Valpolicella Superiore and Amarone Della Valpolicella
Valpolicella is found a couple of hours drive west of Veneto and known for its DOC wines blended from three different varieties, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Amarone was given DOCG status in 2009 and is a style of wine, not a region. The wines are made by a special process created from dried grapes. The grapes are picked then laid out to dry on bamboo mats in a process called appassimento; in turn the bamboo forms a semi-circle which drains the juice, preventing microbial activity. The traditional style producers dry the grapes in lofts, while the more modern style producers use a system called Natural Appassimento Super Assisted (NASA). The effect is similar, evaporating the grape’s water, leaving only the concentrated sugar and phenolics. Once the grapes are dried, they are pressed and fermented in oak barrels and some producers include some of the Corvina grapes that have developed botrytis, this adds a stone fruit and honey flavour, enhancing the complexity.
Amarone is very deep in colour and its benchmark aroma is chocolate covered cherries, complimented by an abundance of dried fruits. On the palate it is very dense, with a chocolately texture; it is completely dry. There is also a style made called Recioto, where fermentation has stopped before it is complete to leave residual sugar, this is more of a desert wine. Amarone has dense tannin with very high alcohol, normally around 16% and the richness of the fruit balances with the tannin. Amarone also goes through a stage where it smells of lavender.
Romano Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore 2008, 6×75 - £270
Dal Forno’s Valpolicella Superiore is not actually Valpolicella, Antonio Galloni posits that ‘Dal Forno should really change the name of his 2005 Valpolicella Superiore. This is really an Amarone for all practical intents and purposes, since 2002 made entirely from fruit that has been dried, albeit for less time than that legally required for Amarone’. Dal Forno’s Valpolicella Superiore simply offers a chance to own a pseudo-Amarone from the King of Amarone for £46 per bottle. It is hard to express how exceptional this wine is and it should be found in any fine wine lover’s cellar, it is certainly the greatest Valpolicella I have ever tasted. Yet if Dal Forno’s Valpolicella Superiore is as Galloni states an Amarone, what do we consider his Amarone to be?
The 2008 Valpolicella Superiore hails from the famed Monte Lodoletta cru and immediately struts its stuff: It opens to huge intensity, an inky appearance and tight tannic astringency. Great care is taken to transform each berry of fruit into this dense, syrupy wine that is redolent of bitter chocolate, dried fruit, blackberry preserves, baking spice and toasted herbs. The oak tannins dry every last drop of moisture from your mouth. The blend is 70% Covina and Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 5% Oseleta and 5% Croatina aged 36 months in barrique. This wine has a long, long way to go. Don’t even think of popping the cork for five years or more. Monica Larner 95 points
Romano Dal Forno Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, 6×75 – £980.00
Dal Forno’s Amarone is a radical reinvention of one of Italy’s most famous wines. It is impenitent, intoxicating and a provoking wine. In 1990 Dal Forno abandoned traditional ageing in Slovenian oak, instead ageing in 225 litre French oak barrique; thereby bringing a Grand Cru claret style to the wine. He also experiments with the passito method and the general ageing rules, releasing the wines after a five year combined period in barrique and bottle. Dal Forno rejected the Molinara grape, replacing it with Oseleta, which he felt enhanced the wines’ colour and provides finely tuned acidity. He enhanced the drying process by bringing in a circulation system for 90 days. Dal Forno uses very low yields and an austere selection process admitting only the most exceptional grapes: if he is not happy with a vintage, he declassifies it, as such there is no 2007. His eight hectare vineyard in Illasi has a maximum capacity of 1,500 cases, however, in most years many fewer are produced.
Dal Forno’s wine are incredibly rare and we only have five cases of each. Dal Forno is one of the world’s leading producers and his wines’ average case price has risen 50% in the last five years; older vintages are incredibly difficult to source. The global wine market has an insatiable demand for the world’s greatest wines and Dal Forno’s Valpoicella and Amarone are the Romanee Conti and Petrus of the Veneto. The quality is astounding and provides something rare, diverse and truly exceptional.
To be released in early 2014, the 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella (with fruit sourced from the high density Monte Lodoletta vineyard) opens with immense darkness and the kind of midnight impenetrability you never see on any color wheel for fine wine. Its off-the-charts appearance is followed by similarly unique aromatic intensity and versatility that spans from blackberry syrup and candied prune to chewing tobacco, black peppercorn and rain-soaked asphalt. This is but a baby that will require loads of time in your cellar before it enters its prime drinking window. Because Dal Forno did not make Amarone in 2007, the wait will seem that much longer. Having said that, this wine is very different from the 2006 Amarone despite the fact 2006 and 2008 were relatively similar cool vintages overall. I distinctly remember the impossible tightness and astringency of the tannins in 2006 when tasted at the same young stage in the wine’s life. The 2008 Amarone, on the other hand, is much softer and a tad more approachable in contrast. Ultimately, this wine promises a graceful, steady and long evolution. Monica Larner 95 points
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