Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Valpolicella, Amarone & winemaker Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis Winery

Last night I had a great tasting as usual at Gordon's Fine Wines in Waltham, MA. The star of the night was the winemaker Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis winery in the Valpolicella wine region in the Veneto, northeastern part of Italy. Below is the line up of wines that we tasted with Giuseppe walking us through each one.
Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis winery
Giuseppe Nicolis

2012 Valpolicella Classico
2010 Valpolicella Classico Ripasso "Seccal"
2007 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
2006 Amarone della Valpolicella "Ambrosan"
2004 Recioto della Valpolicella Classico

The Nicolis family has been producing wines since 1951 from their estate vineyards in San Pietro in Cariano, but it wasn't until 1978 when they had their first bottling, labeled it and started to share their wines with the world. The winery has been passed down from Giuseppe's father Angelo. Giuseppe has quite a big family with 3 other brothers and 4 sisters. The men actively run the winery with Massimo doing the accounting, Giancarlo
focusing on the vineyards and Giuseppe left Masi to return to Nicolis Winery to take on the role as the enologist when his senior brother passed away. Their winery produces about 220,000 bottles a year and they own about 17.5k acres.

If you're not familiar with this region it resembles a hand with 5 hills and the valleys in between. Whites like pinot grigio and prosecco are grown here, but they are famous for their reds, in particular Valpolicella and Amarone, also known as “baby brunello”. This region has been producing high quality wines for ages now and it wasn't until 2010 when they were granted the right to label their wines D.O.C.G for those that qualify.

For Giuseppe 2007 was a great vintage, but he states that there isn't much difference in vintages because if they face undesirable conditions they won't produce, which is what they decided upon in 1999 and 2002. 2013 hasn't been a favorable vintage as well due to hailstorms that resulted in a lower yield.

Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis winery

You can reference one of my earlier posts about Amarone and Valpolicella wines here, but I'll touch upon the highlights of Amarone produced by the Nicolis winery. They dry their grapes single layer in plastic boxes in temperature and humidity controlled rooms where they are checked daily for molding. Some vintners play with the temperature by increasing or decreasing it, but this can affect the taste and aromas dramatically. They are then pressed in January. The yield is no greater than 40% of the other wines due to the process. About 60-70% of the juice is lost during this process to make the grapes more concentrated. The juice is aged 30 months in Slavonian oak and another 6 months in the bottle.

Nicolis wines
The '12 Valpolicella Classico was a young, fresh, simple wine with mouthwatering acidity and a nice finish. It's best to be enjoyed 3 afters after bottling by itself, with pasta or an appertivo. Next, I tried the '10 Valpolicella Classico Ripasso style named “Seccal”, which is a vineyard site established long ago they believe was named this due to the dryness of the area with the word stemming from
“secco”, meaning dry. This wine was harvested in October and pressed in January. It was refermented on the lees of the Amarone, which creates the structure to this wine. It was very easy drinking, smooth and had nice balance with rich fruit and a hint of green bell pepper. 

Moving on to the '07 Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C.G, which is sourced from three different vineyard sites and the '06 Amarone della Valpolicella “Ambrosan”, which is a single-vineyard wine. It was fun to compare these two wines back to back. Last month '07 Amarone received 90 points from the Wine Spectator and the '06 Ambrosan is a Tre Bicchieri winner. The Ambrosan had a higher alcohol content of about 16-16.5% compared to the '07, which was 15%, but I didn't pick up the high alcohol level, except in the '07. They were very different wines, which proves to you what a single-vineyard site can produce. I was a big fan of the Ambrosan due to the elegance of it and the vanilla profile. It was very smooth and had feminine qualities. The '07 Amarone had more complexities with tobacco notes and subtle tannins. Lastly, we finished with the '04 Recioto della Valpolicella, a dessert style wine. It had deep color with a velvety richness and with the sweetness makes it a perfect way to end a meal.

Amarone wines can be aged for up to 15+ years and these Amarones that were2006 and 2007, had been opened an hour and the 2006 single vineyard Ambrosan was drinking beautifully, but I would've either aged the 2007 or decanted it longer. They can be enjoyed with meats, game and robust cheeses.

In our day and age some folks aren't willing to wait to drink wines and that's why decanting can play a big role in opening up these wines so they can be enjoyed now. An idea is to buy a couple bottles, enjoy one now and save the other to compare years from now and experience the life of the wine as it ages through the years.