My last visit in Verona during the Anteprima Amarone 2012 was a memorable one. Not only because of the historical majesty of Bertani, famous Amarone house founded in 1850 and considered today the staunchest defendant of local winemaking tradition.
Although the Bertani cellar is exuding tradition and has an almost museum-like feel while you walk past the century-old oak casks, thousands of bottles of older vintages and publicity posters from the 1910s and 1920s, the key thing about Bertani is how they actually combine tradition with innovation. The Amarone might be produced here as it has been for decades, fermented in giant concrete tanks erected in 1932, but other wines here break rules and respond to new trends: Serèole is a clever, large oak-aged Soave with plenty of flesh and roundness for those more New World-oriented, Villa Arvedi was intoduced in 2000 for those seeking an Amarone ready to drink upon release, and the Villa Novare Ripasso uses a modern winemaking technique that produces a full-blown, superfruity wine far ‘sexier’ than the stern, acid-driven traditional Valpolicella.
If I had to choose just one wine to recommend here, beyond the Amarone Classico, it would surely be the 2007 Valpolicella Ognisanti, a single-vineyard superiore-grade wine that responds exactly to my plea to make Valpolicella an internationally serious wine by lowering yields, selecting grapes, expressing terroir, introducing extra structure without recurring to the fat sweetness of ripasso: made from a 5-hectare parcel of oldish 35-year selected clonal vines, this wine has a hauntingly fruity, elegant, quintessentially Italianate bouquet and excellent progression of crisp, focused, structured cherry fruit on the palate. With this wine alone, Bertani is at the top of Valpolicella.
But then there is the Amarone Classico, a wine aged for no less than six year in oak (this could well be Italy’s record) and so while other producers are now presenting the 2008 vintage, Bertani release the 2004. From a superb, classic vintage, it is a tremendous, multifaceted wine with lovely cherry and almondy flavours and a refreshing drive throughout, making it (together with a conservative 14.5% alc.) a great food wine and actually the only Amarone I ordered another glass of during my official dinners in Valpolicella – tired with the other creamy, off-dry Amarones, this wine came as an electrifying wake-me-up.
Bertani have seven vintages of this wine ageing in the cellar at any time and you might think they would be tempted to move them out as quickly as possible, but the reverse is actually true. Nearly one-third of the production is kept in bottle as a reserve, and Bertani can offer an incredible selection of older vintages on the price list. Export manager Vitaliano Tirrito was very generous in opening the 1976 (my birth year), not considered a great vintage but a very pretty bottle, offering a complex, spicy nose of crystallised fruit and sous-bois, fully mature on the palate with perhaps a slightly declining green note of camphor on the end, but actually improving in the glass and impressive for a lesser vintage.
Then came the 1967 and this is where blogging fall short of reality. An incredibly vivacious wine, I would risk saying that it is still too young. Dried herbs, sweet caramel, brown sugar juiciness, exotic old wood, clean dark bitter cherries, a perfect interplay of sweet, crisp savoury with staggering depth, this is a masterpiece. A wine that goes beyond my personal enthusiasm on this visit and beyond Bertani’s cult status as a producer: a wine that epitomises the complex power of Nature that we can only try to fully understand.
My trip to Verona including flights, 4* accommodation and wine tasting programme is sponsored by the Consorzio Vini Valpolicella. All wines in this article were tasted at the winery.