98 Poggio di Sotto unbelievable & the “dinner of dinners” @TonyVallone

Last night, I had the great fortune to be invited to speak at Tony’s in Houston, the namesake and flagship restaurant of my good friend and client Tony Vallone.

He had billed the event as the “dinner of dinners” for 2012 and he didn’t disappoint.

After the welcome wine, we paired 2001 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello with Alba truffles over tagliarini, my first truffles in this year of drought-impacted foraging.

The 2001 Bartolo Mascarello is simply one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted and has many, many brilliant years ahead of it. It had been opened a few hours prior and while it wasn’t entirely generous with its fruit, its elegance and balance are unrivaled.

But the wine that really wowed me was the 1998 Brunello di Montalcino by Poggio di Sotto. I’d been very lucky to taste this wine many times in the past and I was surprised when I saw Antonio Galloni’s tasting note in which he advised that it was in decline. (Antonio’s my favorite Italian wine writer, btw, and while his word is not sacrosanct, I do find his palate to align nearly perfectly with mine when it comes to traditional-style wines.)

This wine had what the Italians call grinta, real grit and spunk… Beautiful acidity and the vibrant dark fruit that you expect from classic expressions of the Castelnuovo dell’Abate subzone of Montalcino.

Tony and his general manager Scott Sulma paired with this medley of guinea hen and Taleggio-stuffed tortellini in brodo.

And wow, I just feel like I need to add a chorus of dayenu as I recount this epic meal. As if the previous two dishes weren’t enough to make his guests swoon, Tony thrilled the room (which reacted with a unanimous gasp as the beef enter the room) with a platter of nearly two-month-aged prime rib.

Dessert — sweet zeppoli stuffed with torchon de foie gras (how’s that for fusion!) paired with 1990 Recioto della Valpolicella by Quintarelli…

I like to joke that Tony’s is an oil moguls commissary. On any given night, you’ll a handful of billionaires in his restaurant — at the very least.

How I ever found my way to a seat at that table, I still don’t really know.

As I sit this afternoon, on the outskirts of Houston in a Starbucks using the free wi-fi and listening to Christmas music as I type and type and type at the keyboard for my clients, I can’t help but take a deep breath and contemplate the extraordinary counterpoints of life.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace

How I ever got here, I’ll never really know. But I sure am thankful for the many gifts life has given me…

Quintarelli effect & a secret of Ripasso revealed (Nicola Ferrari’s Monte Santoccio)

“Wealth is determined not by how much money you have but by how you manage your time… One of my goals is to offer my clients traditional wines at reasonable prices.”

This was how young winemaker Nicola Ferrari, founder and owner of Monte Santoccio in Valpolicella, described the ethos of his wines and his approach to winemaking when he and I tasted his wines together in the Veneto a few weeks ago.

Nicola is the second Valpolicella producer to emerge from the Quintarelli bottega. The first was Luca Fedrigo of L’Arco (see my thread on Luca and Quintarelli here).

Both spent the greater part of their formative winemaking years working side-by-side with Quintarelli, while Valpolicella master “Bepi” (as he was known affectionately to all) was at the peak of his career (Quintarelli succumbed to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease in January of this year).

It’s unusual to hear a young Italian winemaker describe her/his wines in such socially conscious and ideologically aware tones. And it may be even more surprising to some in the light of the fact that Quintarelli’s wines are among the most expensive on the market today, accessible only a small subset of wine lovers who have the means to afford them.

But Nicola (like his counterpart Luca) is no ordinary Italian winemaker: he’s a member of a dwindling number of producers who have been anointed by the “greatest generation” in Italian wine — the “masters” who oversaw the Italian wine renaissance of the last three decades (I’m thinking of Dante Scaglione, Maria Teresa Mascarello, Augusto Cappellano, not necessarily in that order).

I loved the wines, across the board: old-school, large-cask aged Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, and Amarone, perhaps not as finely focused at Quintarelli from the 1990s and early 2000s but gorgeous and brilliant, with a nervy (if sometimes unruly) acidity that will serve the wine well in the cellar.

And Nicola is true to his word: according to WineSearcher results, you can find his Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso for just $25 at Wine House in LA (and the Amarone for $62; thank you, Lance Montalto!).

The stunner for me was the ripasso.

“The secret that Bepi taught me,” said Nicola, “was to age the wines on the Amarone lees for an extended period of time. Most [commercial] producers use short aging times. As a result, they get extremely bright fruit in the wine. By using longer aging on the lees, the lees actually start to reabsorb the tannin and some of the fruit. That’s the secret to the elegance in Quintarelli’s Valpolicella.”

But Quintarelli doesn’t write “ripasso” on his label, I pointed out.

“He never wrote ripasso but he always used ripasso for his Valpolicella,” Nicola told me.

Nicola studied education and community activism at the University of Verona before he turned to winemaking and our conversation spanned from his favorite memories of Quintarelli to his first experience with the writings of Primo Levi (one of my favorite Italian authors).

I couldn’t help but think of the enormous disconnect between the way Quintarelli’s legacy is perceived in the U.S. and the way that young people view him “on the ground” in the Veneto. Regardless of the elitist ethos projected on to Quintarelli by his north American purveyors, he is still considered a populist winemaker in the Veneto and is only spoken of in adoring and affectionate terms.

Perhaps by (direct) osmosis, Nicola’s managed to capture some of that soulfulness in the bottle…

98 & 03 B. Mascarello, 85 Tignanello, 90 Quintarelli Recioto Riserva @TonyVallone

Where do we go from here?

When my friend and client Tony Vallone opened last Thursday’s dinner (at Tony’s in Houston) with 1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, I wondered how the subsequent wines could possibly compete with such a stellar entry.

Tony paired this extraordinary bottle with a porcini mushroom risotto, made with Acquerello rice and prepared rigorously all’onda — an indisputably traditional and ideal match.

Even though the wine had begun to disassociate slightly (i.e., some light solids had begun to form in it), this bottling was the apotheosis of Barolo: earth, tar, and mushrooms on the nose, rich ripe red fruit in the mouth, all “supported” (as the Italians say) by Mascarello’s signature acidity. I was surprised by the solids in this wine (and will revisit the 98 in my cellar) but was nonetheless thoroughly impressed by the balance and nuance of this superb wine.

When I had breakfast with Angelo Gaja last month in New York, we talked about how the warm 2003 Langa vintage was such a great restaurant wine inasmuch as the wines are already showing very well (he declassified nearly 50 percent of his crop that year, he said, noting that it was an “honorable” but not “great” vintage). For producers with great growing sites (like Mascarello and Gaja, however divergent in style), it was still possible to deliver excellent wines from the early and very small harvest. Tony paired with halibut (yes, fish!) dressed with an Amatriciana sauce — a creative and decadent match that worked surprisingly and brilliantly well. I loved the way the richness and ripe fruit in this expression of B. Mascarello worked with the acidity and savory of the sauce and creamy flakiness of the fish. While I don’t think that the 03 will be a thirty-year wine, I was taken with how fresh it was and how nervy its acidity. How can you not love Bartolo Mascarello? Always a great.

The last time I tasted 85 Tignanello was in 2005 in New York. I was blown away by how different this wine was from the 1990 we tasted in 2009 at Alfonso’s. I might be wrong about this but I ascribe the difference in style to the change in winemaker that came about in that era: although the wine was conceived by Giacomo Tachis, who made its early vintages, Riccardo Cotarella took the reins at the winery in subsequent years and he nudged the wine toward a bolder and more American friendly expression.

The wood was perfectly integrated in this wine and it was vibrant and remarkably fresh. Not only was I impressed by its fitness, I also thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tony’s general manager Scott Sulma has every right to tease me about my across-the-board disdain for Super Tuscans, given my request for a second glass of this wine with my rack of lamb. A truly original wine — in its twilight but not in decline.

Quintarelli was at the peak of his genius in 1990 when he made this wine… an extraordinary vintage by one of the greatest winemakers of the twentieth century (he even made his rare white Bandito in 1990).

What an incredible bottle and what an unforgettable experience! The 14.3 alcohol in this wine was perfectly balanced by its acidity and freshness and its unlabored, subtle notes of ripe red and stone fruit were answered in counterpoint by a gentle hint of bitter almond. Absolutely brilliant, unique, and thrilling… One of the most memorable wines I’ve ever had the chance to taste…

And dulcis in fundo

For his birthday, Tony surprised cousin Marty with Baked Alaska. I love Tony’s playfulness and his love of baroque presentation, especially when it comes to nostalgic desserts like this one.

Cousin Joanne, Marty, and I were still talking about the dinner when we got back to their place in Houston. And we were STILL talking about it over breakfast the next morning.

Tony, thanks again for a night I’ll never forget.

My photo in Forbes and 90 Quintarelli Recioto Riserva tonight @TonyVallone

Stranger things have happened: last week Forbes contacted me asking if they could use a photo (above) from the blog for the magazine.

Here’s the link to the piece.

The image comes from my of the “most memorable meals” of 2011, a dinner in the restaurant of my friend and client Tony Vallone.

Here’s the link to my post on the repast, wherein 98 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, 98 Quintarelli Amarone, and 90 Quintarelli Bandito (!!!) were all consumed with great joy.

Tonight at Tony’s, we’ll be opening the 90 Quintarelli Recioto Riserva: I’ll be speaking about the wines at a dinner for forty persons.

Stay tuned…

Quintarelli Valpolicella & Lucy’s fried chicken (Giovanni’s Easy Rider tour comes to an end)

There was one sine qua non pillar of Americana that Giovanni had not yet experienced on his “Easy Rider USA Tour 2012″: fried chicken, the way its done in the South.

And so on his last day in Texas, we decided to take a ride to the south side of Austin to Lucy’s Fried Chicken, where irony and hipsterdom collide in a deep frier (photo above by Giovanni). We picked up a bucket of chicken, which, according to Lucy’s serves four but could easily accommodate a party of six (unless folks squabble over who gets the breast).

When we visited Houston on Tuesday, Giovanni had spied a bottle of Quintarelli 2000 Valpolicella, which he generously bought for us to share. As deep as our friendship may run, Giovanni — a top Italian winemaker — and I often disagree about wine. The “rough edges” of many of the Natural and old-school wines that Tracie P and I cherish preclude his nod of approval. He even turned his nose up at a bottle of 2006 Romangia Bianco by Dettori that we opened — one of our all-time favorite wines, showing gorgeously right now! Blasphemy at the Parzen residence!

But one thing we can all agree on is Quintarelli. And the superb bottle inspired an interesting conversation on the use of oxidation and filtration, with Giovanni pointing to Quintarelli as a master in both regards (where many Natural winemakers use excessive oxidation and don’t filter at all).

The richness of the wine (served slightly chilled) was simply brilliant with the fatty, juicy (and delicious) fried chicken and its dark red fruit ideal with the flavors of Tracie P’s mouth-watering fried okra (above) and mashed potatoes.

This morning I took Giovanni to the airport and he’ll be back in Brescia by lunchtime tomorrow. It was great to have him here and share our lives with him. (Italian-speaking readers, please check out his posts on Texas truck culture and his impressions of a Texan wine.)

Thanks again, Giovanni, for the visit and the Quintarelli! Travel safe, friend. As we say in the South, come back and see us, ya hear?

Taste Mascarello & Quintarelli with me on July 19 in Houston

I never had the fortune to meet Bartolo Mascarello before he passed. But over the years, I’ve become friends with Maria Teresa Mascarello, his daughter (above). We’ve visited at the winery and I taste with her every chance I get (and a few years ago I was thrilled to buy a single-edition collection of Arabic poetry on wine that she and Baldo Cappellano had had translated from the original into Italian, a wonderful book that I cherish).

I love the wines and I love the family and I love all that they stand for — the wines and the people. There is perhaps no winery where ideology and winemaking align so perfectly, delivering wines that truly express the land and the people who grow and vinify the grapes while remaining true to the ideological purity of the people who sacrificed their lives to keep Italy free in the face of fascism (before, during, and after the war).

Above: Large format bottles in the Bartolo Mascarello cellar.

My friend Tony in Houston knows how much I appreciate these life-changing wines and so whenever Tracie P and I visit him together, he always opens something from his deep cellar and picks something special from his ample stash of Bartolo Mascarello wines.

Tony has asked me to host a dinner at his restaurant in Houston on July 19, where we’ll be opening a few wines by Bartolo Mascarello as well as a 1990 Recioto della Valpolicella by Quintarelli (another one of my personal favorites).

The price of admission isn’t cheap but it’s worth every penny considering the flight of wines we’ll be enjoying. And of course, I’ll be speaking about my experiences at Mascarello and Quintarelli.

Here are the details…

Hemingway’s Valpolicella and the Quintarelli Legacy

Except for the cover of Hemingway’s novel below, all the images here were captured when we tasted at the winery in January 2011.

In 1949, as he lay dying (or convinced that he was about to die as the result of hunting accident) in Venice, Ernest Hemingway famously drank Valpolicella. His brush with death and his love of the wines of the Valpolicella are fictionalized in Across the River and into the Trees (Scribner 1950), a novel he thought would be his last. The main character, Colonel Cantwell (a lightly veiled autobiographical figure), always seems to have a bottle of Valpolicella at hand’s reach, even though the Colonel believes “that the Valpolicella is better when it is newer. It is not a grand vin and bottling it and putting years on it only adds sediment.”

Some 25 years later, in the landmark Vino al Vino, the great Italian wine writer Mario Soldati reluctantly called Quintarelli’s wine the “closest” to the wine that Hemingway loved, adding “I’m not saying it’s the best Valpolicella on the market” (Soldati’s preferred “artisanal” Valpolicella — yes, artisanal, that’s the term he used in 1975 — was Galtarossa).

Both texts open a window onto how Valpolicella and its wines were perceived in the post-war era — in Italy and abroad (in his 1950 review of Hemingway’s novel in The New Yorker, Alfred Kazin wrote, paraphrasing the novelist, that “Valpolicella is better poured from flasks than from bottles; it gets too dreggy in bottles”).

Giuseppe “Bepi” Quintarelli — the son of the man who made the wines that Soldati tasted — was born on March 16 19, 1927 and died yesterday at home in Negrar after succumbing to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.* It wasn’t until the 1980s that he began to experiment in his family’s vineyards and cellar, ultimately creating some of the world’s most coveted, collected, and expensive wines.

“Bepi was a deeply religious man,” said winemaker Luca Fedrigo, 33, who spoke to me early this morning from Santa Maria di Negrar in the Valpolicella. Luca worked side-by-side with the maestro for 10 years, from age 17 to 27, from 1992 until 2002.

“All of his vacations were religious [in nature]: Rome to see pope Pius XII; Lourdes; and the Holy Land. But in the 1980s he also made a trip to Burgundy, where he discovered that the soils there were similar to the [Morainic] soils of the Valpolicella. That’s when he began to believe that we could make great wines here.”

“He was self-taught,” said Luca, “He learned early on that the priest of the village and the bishop of Verona were willing to pay well for quality wines. Priests always like the finest things in life. He was always experimenting, in the vineyard and the cellar, constantly looking for ways to make better wines.”

Leafing through the many tomes on Italian wine that inhabit our shelves at home, I discovered that Anderson (Vino, 1980) and Wasserman (Italy’s Noble Red Wines, 1985) both parsimoniously cite Quintarelli as one of the best “traditional” producers but do not give him the praise that Belfrage would later bestow in 1999 in Barolo to Valpolicella.

“One realizes in his presence,” wrote Belfrage, “as he draws samples from this barrel and that, intently studying your expression and your words as you taste and comment, that it is this attention to every detail which constitutes the difference between the great and the good in artisanal winemaking.” (Note the quasi-apologetic use of artisanal.)

Today, Quintarelli’s Amarone and Recioto, as well as half bottles of his rare white Amabile “Bandito”, command upward of $300 a bottle retail in the U.S.

In Negrar, Quintarelli was no mere artisan but rather a maestro and a patron saint and protector.

“Bepi departed with the same discretion with which he lived,” said Luca.

“He was one of the most generous persons in Valpolicella,” he recounted. “His gave generously to help children in Africa and he never hesitated to help people from the village who needed help. And he was always happy to share the secrets of his winemaking. For him, there were no secrets.”

Luca, who at Bepi’s encouragement launched his own winery some years ago and continues to make wines in the same style, was one of Bepi’s students. The other was Romano Dal Forno, considered by many the father of modern-style Valpolicella.

“Whatever the style, Bepi taught us how to reach for quality in winemaking. And as generous as he was, he could also be severe” in his criticism. “We both learned from him.”

“I think of him as the nonno dell’Amarone,” the grandfather of Amarone. “When [his daughter] Silvana called me yesterday to tell me that he had passed way, I had a long cry. I couldn’t help it,” said Luca, whose emotion was palpable over the intercontinental connection.

It’s been amazing to see the internet reaction to Quintarelli’s passing. Knowing the focus, beauty, and spiritual clarity that Bepi sought in his life on earth (and in his wines as an expression of that earth), it’s not surprising…

Best meals 2011: Quintarelli and Mascarello at Tony’s (Houston)

Curating Tony’s website and serving as his media director has its perks. This dinner, in August, was one of them. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

From the department of “dreams do come true”…

When we sat down for dinner last week, Tony Vallone looked across the table at me and matter-of-factly said, “I have some special wines picked out for you tonight. I know you’re going to like them.” He wasn’t kidding.

I’ve been curating his blog since October 2010 and our weekly meeting has evolved into a familial kibitz where we talk about everything under the sun, alternating between English and Italian. (Long before Tracie P and I announced that we were pregnant, Tony had intuited that we were with child. “I can read it on your face,” he told me. And, all along, Tony said it was going to be a girl. He was right.)

The occasion for our dinner was an interview with one of the top wine writers in the country and Tony had asked me to join them.

After an aperitif of light, bright Colle Massari Montecucco Vermentino, the first wine in the flight was 1998 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello (above).

I’ve tasted this wine on a number of occasions and it’s extremely tight right now, favoring its tannin and jealously guarding its fruit.

But when the server arrived with a porcini risotto topped with Umbrian truffles shaved tableside, the wine started to open up and its delicate menthol note began to give way to wild berry fruit tempered by mushrooms and earth. The acidity in this wine was singing and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Angelo Gaja’s antithetical comparison of Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo. Cabernet Sauvignon is like John Wayne, I once heard Gaja say: he who stands in the center of the room and cannot help but be noticed. Nebbiolo is like Marcello Mastroianni: he enters the room and stands quietly in the corner, waiting for you to approach him. (There’s a punchline that cannot be repeated in polite company.)

The acidity in the 98 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico was equally vibrant and its melody played a counterpoint against the delicately marbled fat of a Kobi fillet. While I’m sure that the 98 Quintarelli has many, many years ahead of it, this wine is in a moment of grace. Generous fruit set against rich structure and mouthfeel. Here, I couldn’t help be reminded of Cassiodorus’s description of Acinaticum: “On the palate, it swells up in such a way that you say it was a meaty liquid, a beverage to be eaten rather than drunk.” In this wine, meaty ripe and overripe red fruit alternated with savory flavors. An unforgettable wine in one of the most remarkable moments of its life.

And dulcis in fundo, Tony had selected a wine that he had seen me covet. A few months ago, a collector and frequent guest of Tony’s poured me a taste of the rare 1990 Quintarelli Bandito (I wrote about it here). Knowing that I longed to “drink” this wine in the context of a meal, he surprised us at the end with a 375ml bottle. This wine — last bottled by Quintarelli for the 1990 vintage — is one of the greatest expressions of Garganega I’ve ever tasted: rocks and fruit, minerality and stone and white stone fruit, dancing around a “nervy backbone of acidity” as the Italian say.

This was paired with some housemade zeppole and a dose of playful nostalgia.

Carissimo Tony, ti ringrazio di cuore per questi vini straordinari!

Quintarelli: I am here

Video by Alfonso.

This post is not about the amazing wines we tasted a few weeks ago in the cellar of Giuseppe Quintarelli. No, it’s not about the 1998 Alzero (pronounced AHL-tzeh-roh, btw, and not ahl-TZEH-roh).* No, it’s not about the 2000 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva (yes, the first riserva ever produced at Quintarelli, with 10 years as opposed to 8 years in cask before bottling). No, it’s not about the 1997 Recioto della Valpolicella, one of the best wines I have ever tasted in my life.

The 2000 Amarone della Valpolicella Selezione Giuseppe Quintarelli is the winery’s first-ever reserve wine. Note that the bottle is numbered by hand.

No, this post is about the genuine, sincere hospitality of one of the world’s greatest winemakers. Don’t believe what anyone else tells you (and industry insiders know the person I’m referring to here): it’s not impossible to visit Quintarelli… in fact, it’s encouraged by the winery.

“‘The gates of the winery must always be open… always…,'” said Luca Fedrigo, quoting Bepi Quintarelli. Luca worked side-by-side with Bepi for 10 years and he kindly accompanied me, Tracie P, and Alfonso that day. “Once, when Bepi went to Rome to see the Pope — and he rarely traveled — he gave me the keys to the winery and told me to never leave, not even for a minute,” said Luca. “‘The winery must always be open to anyone who arrives and you must always be there to welcome visitors.'”

Above: Note the size of this 40-year-old cask, the centerpiece of the aging cellar. And note the thickness of the cask’s walls.

In fact, said the twenty-something Bocconi graduate Francesco Grigoli (Bepi’s grandson, the son of Bepi’s daughter Fiorenza, who has returned to the winery now that his grandfather is incapacitated and who led our tasting that day), “we are happy to receive visitors for tastings” (although an appointment is kindly advised).

Despite what Quintarelli’s legendary U.S. importer and his leading U.S. retailer tell people (and you know which “wine merchant” I’m talking about here, too), the winery is not a cloistered sanctum sanctorum “off-limits” to the plebeian among us.

Above: It was amazing to tour the cellar with Luca, who worked side-by-side with Bepi from the time he was 17 years old until 27. In this photo, he was explaining to me the significance of the peacock on the winery’s largest cask. “Bepi is a deeply religious man,” he said. In antiquity, the peacock was a symbol of immortality and the Paleo-Christians adopted it as a symbol of Christ.

While appointments and interviews may have posed challenges for the non-Italophone among us, I have spoken to and interviewed Bepi by telephone on many occasions and I have arranged visits for many of my friends and colleagues. That’s not to say that a visit to Quintarelli is something that should be contemplated lightheartedly. It’s one of the greatest wineries in the world and it’s one of the last great wineries — and the greatest winery — of the Valpolicella where traditional Valpolicella wines are still produced. The wines are prohibitively expensive (although less so in Italy than the U.S. where the purveyors of Quintarelli have ensured that the wines are accessible only to the entitled among us). Wine professionals and wine collectors: If you love the wines of Quintarelli, don’t be shy to request an appointment. Francesco speaks impeccable English, btw.

Above: One of the most remarkable tastings I’ve ever experienced. You don’t spit at Quintarelli!

It’s true that Quintarelli’s wines are not for everyone. As I’ve noted, they’re expensive and they’re made in a style that doesn’t appeal to folks unfamiliar with the unique wines of the Valpolicella.

But however unattainable as they may be for many of us (they are certainly prohibitively expensive for Tracie P and me), it’s important to remember that Bepi Quintarelli is first and foremost a farmer and winemaker. Not an elitist but rather a deeply religious man who loves to laugh and loves to share his knowledge and experience. His health has deteriorated rapidly over the last few years but I can still remember the laughter on the other side of the Atlantic when I would call him from New York to interview him for whatever publication I was working/writing for at the time. He could never get over the fact that I spoke Italian with such a strong Paduan accent.

Today, the young Francesco, together with the family, is leading the winery forward. These are warm, genuine, and hospitable people.

After all, wine is nothing without the people who grow and vinify it and the people whose lives are nourished by drinking it. Thanks for reading.

* àlzero (pronunced AHL-tzeh-roh), àlzere, and àrzare in Veneto dialect are akin to the Italian argine meaning embankment. The name derives from the topography of the growing site where the wine is raised, 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot, said Francesco Grigoli, vinified using the same drying techniques as for the winery’s Amarone.

Quintarelli and an incredible day of tastings in Valpolicella

Our first tasting appointment yesterday was in the cellars of the legendary Valpolicella winery Quintarelli in Negrar. Amazing, on so many levels… simply stunning wines (you don’t need me to tell you that)… There will be a proper post dedicated to the illustrious flight of wines shared with Tracie P, Alfonso, and me (and you might be surprised by what I found out about the 1998 Alzero). But the 1997 Recioto della Valpolicella… wow… one of the greatest wines I have ever tasted…

Next came L’Arco, with owner Luca Fedrigo, who worked with winemaker Giuseppe Quintarelli in the latter’s cellar from the age of 17 to 27 before starting his own winery (he’s now 33). I met Luca in Austin in 2009 and was floored by the elegance and freshness of his wines. I believe that he is the best young winemaker in the appellation (by far) and his traditional-style wines — made proudly in the style of his mentor, aged in large cask — are phenomenal. They’re not easy to find in the U.S. but if you want to know what REAL Valpolicella wines taste like, seek them out…

Our last visit of the day was at Monte dei Ragni, where Zeno Zignoli (right) practices radical biodynamic and organic farming. Zeno is an “off the grid” character and winemaker. I met him thanks to the young Paduan student Andrea Fasolo (left) whom I met through blogging.

The “three different faces” of Valpolicella winemaking formed a 180° arc and were all fascinating in their own right.

But the face that stole my heart yesterday was this one: