Tuesday, October 28, 2014

1st Visit of Valpolicella , wine region around Verona

Hi all,

After trying some Amarone, Ripasso and other wines from the winery l'Arco at the wine bar La Nuit Blanche in Tokyo for the 1st time, I liked them so much that I wanted to go try more of them and of course secure some for the years to come.

But before I talk about the wineries we visited and what we thought of them, I have to point out that we stayed at the Villa Cordevigo hotel which was an amazing , absolute perfect choice for our trip. It is as charming as you can imagine , located in a nice country side environment, and exactly the way you imagine it.

A little bit more about Valpolicella : the name comes from historic times and latin of course as explained to us by Luca from l'Arco. Val means valley. Poli means many. And cella is the root of cellar or wine makers. So in other words even during the latin times this region was named to be the region with many wine makers. This does looks promissing. The village itself that is kind of at the heart of the traditional Valpolicella region, Negrar, is named so after the many African slaves that were working the vineyards. Apparently it is a hard work, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and it is hard to find people willing to work in the vineyard. Many workers now come from Eastern Europe in fact.



Villabella wines tasted at Villa Cordevigo

The Villa Cordevigo owners also own a winery called Villabella, and while one may be put off by such an association and have a preconceived idea about the Villabella wines, we were plesently surprised with the quality of the Villabella wines in general. It happens that they bough the winery 1st and they focused on the wine and 12 years later only they opened the hotel. For the best wine tasting , even if you are not staying at the Villa Cordevigo, go to the hotel bar and ask for Paolo , the sommellier. He will organize for you a usually-free tasting, and explain in detail, as much as only Italians can, everything you want to know (or not) about the wine, region and so on. He also advised us to visit a few other wineries which turned out to be great advice. Here you must try the Villa Cordevigo Rosso and Villa Cordevigo Bianco. I know the names make them sound like entry level stuff, but trust us, it's amazing , at least for us.




The main reason and the 1st contact we had with Valpolicella was l'Arco wines in Japan. So I knew a little bit what to expect from the wines but no idea about anything else. 1st and most important, there are 2 streets who contain Roverina in their name in Negrar : Via Roverina and Via Strada Roverina. Of course we went to the wrong one. And 2nd and also very important, which we noticed later to be the rule in fact, none of the wineries, which for most of them are large houses turned into wineries, have any sign what so ever signaling the name of the winery, or that any wine is being made there. So with some help from Luca Frederico, the owner of l'Arco, we managed to find the house.
Luca took us to his basement where we tried , in a half lit barrel room, with a large oak table and under a soft police interrogation lamp, all his wines. This is certainly worth a visit even for people who never heard of l'Arco. Luca explained to us that the 1st winery, or maybe just the most famous one,  that researched quality was Quintarelli. And that unfortunately Giuseppe Quintarelli , the grand father of the present operators, died 2 years ago. That his main wine maker was Romano Dal Forno, who married in the Quintarelli family. Then the following second Quintarelli student was Zyme. And him , Luca Frederico, was the third and married a niece of Signor Quintarelli. So as such we can trace most quality Amarone and wineries making it to a Quintarelli origin and many known wineries have familly connections which certainly helps.
About the wines, I personally preferred the Rubeo, named after Ruby, which is about half typical Amarone mix and half Cabernet Franc also processed as Amarone grapes; Luca's personal touch. I am familiar with the Pario but I found it better in La Nuit Blanche in Tokyo. We also discovered the Reciotto , which is the local and historic wine.  Do not worry, we did leave with a case and we look forward to trying them at home.
Luca also explained that normally one stops the Reciotto fermentation when about half the sugar is fermented but some day somebody failed to stop it and a fully fermented Reciotto became Amarone.
And last but not least, and we found this to be the key for most outstanding wineries , like L'Arco : most wineries don't make Reciotto or Amarone every year. Just during the years when the grapes have enough sugar. So in practice Amarone is made every other year on average by respectable wineries. And Reciotto, Luca only made it twice in 10 years. And this 2014 harvest is particularly terrible.
As we left we asked to buy three Reciotto from Luca but he could only sell us one. I think that says enough. The Amarone is about 35 Euro at L'Arco and the Rubeo about 25 from memory. So I think this is probably among the best ratio of quality to price.



Romano dal Forno

We started the day with probably the most expensive wine and impressive winery. The visit is lead by the family itself. Mr. Romano was walking around doing things and offered to shake hands if his hands weren't so dirty he said. His wife, which only speaks Italian, kept us company, while we were trying to guess how to say things in Italian using our French , Romanian and Spanish knowledge and adding Os Is and so on at the end.  She was very patient and appreciated our creative Italian I guess. And at last her son showed us the winery. We have seen many wineries but this was certainly among the most interesting. They have designed , engineered and built the vinification room with a lot of science. Everything is automated , they custome built fermenters with electronically controlled electric motor-powered pistons without any oil lubrication to mix the skins and the jus during the fermentation. All the pistons for each fermenter are controlled by a computer which can set a frequency of mixing, once an hour for example, and a pattern , how to use the 4 pistons in which order and so on. Then in the secondary fermenters they use are from the diary industry. Fermenters which they only clean with water, automatically, with a robot that comes down from the room which sprays water at 75 degrees C, at a certain pressure of course. In fact they use custom built diary-industry inspired tanks that have been outfitted to support some vacuum because they use nitrogen and vacuum to prevent oxygen from oxydizing the must as much as possible. But also because the diary-type tanks allow them to separate the different sections of the must, more or less full or particles, to help clear the wine. They do use wine clarifiers though, which I was not sure at first.
Anyway, and the same detailed approach goes in everything they do , from the grape drying room to the way they clean, nitrogen , refill and serve you a wine taste from the barrells in the very impressive barrel room in the cellar.
Little will you be surprised if I told you that they only make 3 wines, Valpolicella , around 70 euros a bottle, Amarone , around 245 euros a bottle and their version of Reciotta which can not legally be named Reciotto for much much more.
The visit it totally worth it, and we did buy two bottles of Valpolicella as we do not have infinite money, unfortunately.


This is brand new and the tasting room has an amazing view over the plain. They are very much into art and they will take some time to show you their modern sculpture and all kind of media graphic art collection inside their authentic and historic building. They were very nice and in addition of the wine they also served us some cold meats, some parmegiano straight curved from the wheel and even some biscotti with the desert wines. I think their Amarone was very good and in general their wine selection was a great value to price ratio and worth visiting.


Quintarelly is quite the patriarch of Amarone wine in general.  As I mentioned many wine makers can trace their origins to Giuseppe Quintarelli, both from a technical and profesional relations but also most of the famous ones are related to Giuseppe Quintarelli. There are now 9 cousins who are grand sons and daughters of Giuseppe and many of them work in the wine busines. Giuseppe himself unfortunately died 2 years ago.  The most surprising part is that the Quintarelli winery is in fact nothing more, at least from the outside, then a large villa. They were doing construction when we visited. And of course, like in many other places, there is absolutely no sign so one has to drive in and ask to make sure it is the right place. We were shown around by one of the cousins who works there full time and we saw their new barrel room, barrels, drying room. Nothing exceptional as a visit except maybe for historic reasons. We tried their wines in a dark room also that was clearly historic. I think their wines were very good but also extremely pricey so hard to really evaluate. Probably worth visiting for historic reasons but I have hard time enjoying a 200 USD bottle of wine that I pay for.

Allegrini / Villa del Torre

Allegrini is much larger and I think has no connection to the Quintarelli family. The familly has been inhabiting the Villa del Torre since the 1600s apparently and of course there is no sign for Quintarelli so make sure you look for Villa del Torre. They are a much larger operation, probably 30 mil USD per year in revenue. They have wineries in Tuscany also but you can taste all their wines in the Villa del Torre wine shop. We did not take the winery tour and focused on the wines. To us their wines seemed to be the best ratio of quality to price and we left from here with 2 cases and 1 full case of Amarone. And those Monday came to a well deserved and appreciated end.




For Tuesday we had a light program. We first cancelled the visit to Bertani which was going to be 100 EUR for 2 as we had no need to taste more 200 USD bottles and pay 120 USD just for the visit.
We kept the visit to Zyme and in the afternoon after we had plans to buy wines from  Villa Bella winery to take care of the shipping.


Zyme , who was also wine maker at Quintarelli, who also married in the Quintarelli family, has had his own winery for 12 years now. We first didn't want to visit it but Marco, one of the Quintarelli familly cousins, did insist to show us around and we didn't regret. We found the winery to be very interesting, a little for its technical innovations, but also for it's architecture, being quite interesting. I will not spoil your surprise, check it out. Marco was also particularly fun to tour with. And last but not least we tried about 8 of their wines and we were really very pleased to see a nice selection of quality , Quintarelli style 160 EUR reserva Amarone, but also 20-30 EUR wines that were unique and interesting. They are very creative in term of wines and I strongly recommend visiting and trying their wines which are also priced very reasonably. 

Villabella Winery

And last but not least we wanted to visit the actual Villa Bella Winery. I think it was interesting in that it was extremely large and industrial and I had never seen a winery that makes both high quality wines in the brand Villabella but also lower quality 3 EUR bottles of wine , of which they make 500,000 bottles a year. They can put the grapes in the destemmer straight from the truck ! And they have tens and tens of 60,000L tanks around the property. Quite impressive. Maybe worth visiting for that but probably trying their wines in the Villa Cordevigo environment will be much more pleasant.

Shipping wine

And now that we have all these wines we were quoted 20 EUR per bottle to ship it back to New York. Our research on www.wineflite.com did not yield anything better unfortunately.
So, the drama is not over as we still need to find a solution before we leave tomorrow Wednesday. We are not sure but we may have found probably an alternative and better solution for wine shipping back to the US with Caratello : http://www.caratello.net/eng/shipping_wine_italy.php
We are still waiting for confirmation that they can pick them up and they can do if for about help that price. We will be happier when the wine will be home.

I hope you will find this useful for your trips, enjoy !

Monday, October 27, 2014

Visit to Mendoza in Argentina

Hi all,

In January 2014 we visited Mendoza Argentina. We got there via Santiago in Chile, where we went to a local wine bar that had such an impressive selection of Chilean wine that a wine trip to Chile alone is warranted. But that is another story.

In Mendoza we discover of course the Malbecs. Caramel, dark fruits, licorice but interestingly quite price effective.

We visited a few wineries and here are my thoughts :

Day 1


While this was back in the days a very commercial winery ( had the train stop in their winery to load wine ) it had closed before opening again. It is now a historic winery that is worth visiting. We were however very surprised to see that they had a very nice selection of wines for very reasonable prices. We loved their wines and even after they were shipped back to us, the quality was still the same. We would go back and buy their wine any time. Maybe we will buy 2 cases next time.


 Carinae was founded by an alumni from my school in France, Supelec. It was great meeting them and it was the quintessential family winery experience. They do not have the size and variety of other wineries but it was great to meet another alumni. We haven't had much of their wines we shipped back so we still need to see how their wine ships and drinks after some time. Here we discovered the local famous Torrontes , with its Sauterne nose but dry body. A must try, a unique and extremely pleasant combination. We love it ever since.


We had lunch at a restaurant/winery accross the streeet from Familia Zuccardi and it was amazing. We recommend going despite forgetting the name of the restaurant.

Familia Zuccardi

Here they have quite a few unique wines from local grape varieties that we had never hear of before or since. Later on in a restaurant we tried the Zuccardi Zeta which did end up being amazing but we were unable to try it at the winery as far as I remember (or maybe we didn't appreciate it enough, not sure). In all cases we left without any wine from here I think, or maybe just a little as more often then not there are reasons why local grape varieties are not that famous (unlike the Torrontes of course). 

 Day 2


 We started day 2 at Cobos which is a local winery developed in a partnership between a Napa wine maker and a local Argentinian wine maker. So it presents as a Napa winery, it looks like a Napa winery and at first we thought the wines were just excellent :) When we saw the prices , especially compared with the rest of the wineries and compared with their wine price on the internet which we also checked, we weren't so sure that we wanted to buy any wine from them. However we did buy a case by the end and, weren't we surprised when this wine turned out to be the best wine after we shipped it home, unlike the wine from Melipal....


Now we have very mixed feelings about their domain. We loved the domain, and more importantly when we tried their wines in their tasting rooms we found their wines to be our favorite from all the wineries in Mendoza. They were also reasonably priced unlike Cobos. However , while they did warn us that the year we tasted and the year they had for sale were different, little did we expect to be shocked by such a quality difference. Once our case got home, the wine we had was really unpleasant, a few went down the drain. What a waste but more importantly what a disappointment. We couldn't wait to open them, and then we couldn't drink them. A very sad story.

Dominio del plata

Here we had lunch again and it was very good for sure. And guess what ? It is of course a winery also. I do remember we loved their wines, and quite a lot, but we ended up not buying anything at all because their wine was much cheaper in their own restaurant then the price at which they would sell us the bottles. We found that to be very offensive, they were taking us for stupid so we got offended and we didn't buy any wine. Yes, we sometimes will act out of pride... On the bright note they had interesting , and un-usual, Mendoza Pinot Noir and a few other ones. So a must try if we are psychologically prepared to the fact that they will sell you the same product for 2 different prices when they think they got you hooked.

Achaval Ferrer

Ah, and Achaval Ferrer, well, is supposed to be among the best in Mendoza. We found it to be good for sure. But not worth the exorbitant price they were charging. So we didn't buy anything. The visit was interesting for sure, probably one of the best as they let you try wine from the barrel in their cellar to compare qualities and understand the wine evolution. Quite interesting as a visit. Probably a good winery to finish with because you will know by then the quality and price of the average winery in Mendoza.