Quintarelli Bandito 90, one of his rarest wines

Last week, when I attended the John Mariani dinner at Tony’s in Houston (where John spoke about and signed copies of his new book How Italian Food Conquered the World), I had the great fortune to taste one of Quintarelli’s rarest wines, his 1990 Amabile del Cerè “Bandito” (thanks to a guest at Tony and John’s table).

This dried-grape white is made from the same blend that goes into Quintarelli’s dry white: “mostly Garganega with Trebbiano Toscano, ‘Saorin’ (Tocai), and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in small quantities,” wrote Francesco Grigoli, Quinatrelli’s grandson, in an email the other day. The wine is made in extremely small quantities and the last vintage bottled was the 1990. It’s only made in exceptionally good vintages, said Francesco when we visited him in February.

While the 375 ml bottle at Tony’s didn’t report the poem that accompanies the 750 ml bottles of this storied wine, Francesco was kind enough to scan a label and send it to me.

The poem, composed by Quintarelli himself, reads: Sono nato nel 1990, sono cresciuto da bandito e in 5 anni ho raggiunto l’infinito (I was born in 1990/and was banished at birth/and in 5 years I reached infinity).

According to the Quintarelli family, the wine was made for the first time during the second world war and was hidden away out of the Germans’s sight (remember that the Valpolicella was a fascist stronghold and after Italian liberation in 1943, the fascists and nazis established the Republic of Salò on Lake Garda, not far from the Valpolicella). When the wine was recovered, the Quinatrellis were rewarded by their patience.

At nearly 21 years from its harvest and with 16 years of bottle aging, this wine was fresh and bright, with delicious nutty and caramel overtones, ripe apricot and peach flavors and aromas, and breathtaking minerality. One of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted. (There are a few bottles left at Tony’s, btw, but for big spenders only!)

The most exciting news to come from Negrar is that next month, Quintarelli will be bottling the 2003 Bandito — nearly 8 years after it was harvested. A truly rare wine, from one of the world’s greatest producers.

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.