There is distinct anticipation in the air as the car slips quietly past the colourful patchwork of houses in the village of Negrar. It is 30 degrees outside and still there are goosebumps on my arm as we pull into a long gravel driveway at the top of the hill. Visions of Amarone dance through my head as my final destination comes into sight: the home and winery of Quintarelli.
The greatness of Quintarelli requires little introduction. Widely acknowledged as the best producer in the Veneto region, the winery has evolved to mythical status since its inception in 1924. The late Giuseppe Quintarelli is considered the man who brought the family winery to its current status. In 1950, he took over the winery and began the improvements and expansion. Though considered extremely traditional, Giuseppe was also an innovator and a firm believer in the perfection of his craft. Since the beginning, the wines have been made by hand, each bottle tenderly crafted into rich and concentrated expressions that go through extremely long periods of ageing before release. Handwritten labels complete the package of the wines considered to be the benchmark for Valpolicella.
Today we are greeted by Francesco Grigoli, grandson of Giuseppe, who has been working at the winery since his early 20’s. Francesco is warm and welcoming; he takes the time to show us the vineyards surrounding the family property before we go inside to taste the wines.
We immediately descend a flight of stairs into the winery and make our way around old Slavonian oak barrels lined with bright red paint. Francesco shows us a few special barrels with intricate carvings – these are dedicated to various family members, notably his grandmother (picture shown below). The winery is clean and quiet; I spy only one cellar-worker with his head down, moving a hose without looking up as he passes. Quintarelli’s wines are known for their extensive ageing and it is said that nothing is hurried at the winery; there is a distinct sense of that in the air.
We proceed to a charming little room in the cellar where the wines will be tasted. Barrels line the walls and shelves of bottles from other wineries (gifts, I am told) are stacked in a cluttered corner. A little table in the middle of the room reveals which wines we will taste: Bianco Secco 2014, Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007, Rosso del Bepi 2005, Alzero 2005, Amarone 2006 and Recioto della Valpolicella 2004.
Here is a peek inside my notebook:
This is a blend of mainly Garganega with Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a local variety called Saorin. It is made to be fresh and fruit-forward; fermentation and ageing takes place in stainless steel only. 1-2% of passito is added for richness and complexity.
Tasting note: Expressive nose of red apple skin, white flowers, honeysuckle and lime. The palate is fresh yet textural with concentrated citrus zest, honey and baked apple. Incredible balance and long length. Amazing value.
Primofiore or “first flower” is the youngest red released at the estate every year (aged for 2 years). It is made from 50% local grapes and 50% Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Primofiore is also the only red at Quintarelli that does not use dried grapes and the ripasso technique. Francesco named this the family’s lunch wine.
Tasting note: Savoury nose of tomato, roasted red pepper and red currant. Cab Franc character shines on the palate – dusty tannins are fused with vibrant acidity and flavours of sun-dried tomato, raspberry, dried herbs and bay leaf. Incredibly energetic and multidimensional.
I am told that in vintages considered to be average, Rosso del Bepi is made instead of Amarone or Amarone Riserva. In poor vintages, neither is made, so the Rosso del Bepi is essentially declassified Amarone. The grapes are dried out for 4 months followed by 8 years of barrel ageing.
Tasting note: The Quintarelli family’s dedication to quality is convincingly illustrated from this “declassified Amarone”. The nose opens with black earth, truffle, baked olive and cherry. The palate is the perfect mix of density and lightness – powdery soft tannins and refreshing acidity are supported by a medium-bodied frame. Layers of Morello cherry, mineral, sage and savoury spice are so harmonious. Perfectly balanced and elegant from start to finish.
The Valpolicella Classico is made from 50% local grape varieties and 50% ripasso, pressed immediately after harvest. After 3-4 days of maceration, fermentation begins with wild yeast only. At the end of the winter, the wine is racked onto the lees of the Amarone which beings the ripasso process. The 2007 was aged for 6 years in Slavonian oak before being bottled and released.
Tasting note: Pronounced earthy nose with red berry fruit and sweet violets. The palate is a delicious elixir of pure cherry, savoury herbs and spices, supported by supple tannins. A backbone of acidity provides freshness; alcohol, acidity and tannins are perfectly balanced here. Stacked with flavour and texture, incredible value.
Amarone is only produced in exceptional vintages (once in a blue moon, Riserva is produced but it has to be a truly outstanding vintage). Traditional methods are still observed, as they are with all the wines at Quintarelli. After harvest, the grapes are put onto mats to start the drying process, aided by noble rot which occurs throughout the winter. The 45 day fermentation period begins at the end of January followed by ageing in Slavonian Oak for 8 years. Only 12,000 bottles of this wine were made.
Tasting note: Intoxicating nose of crushed flowers, dark earth, prune and wild herbs. The palate is so elegant yet rich and concentrated with flavours of morello cherry, mineral, baking spice and sweet almond. A silk thread of acidity runs through soft, supple tannins followed by a red berry infused finish. Perfectly balanced with a defined beginning, middle and long finish. An elegant and slightly leaner version of the 2004.
This is one of the most unique wines I have tried – ever. It is dear to the Quintarelli family as they have been making it since 1983 and this was the favourite wine of Francesco’s grandmother. For the record, Alzero means slope.
The wine is comprised of mainly Cabernet Franc (vines were planted in the 70’s and 80’s), with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The style of this wine is similar to the Amarone; however, the residual sugar is roughly twice the amount (this vintage has 14 g/l). The grapes are also dried for a shorter period which is followed by long maceration and fermentation. 8 years of ageing takes place in a combination of French and Slavonian oak. I am told that the family are starting to make this wine less sweet than in previous vintages. Only 3000 bottles are made per year.
Tasting note: The nose opens with pronounced aromas of dusty earth, cherry, capsicum and tomato leaf. The palate is super-rich and concentrated with dense black and red fruit character and deposits of ripe tomato and mineral. Juicy acidity balances out the residual sugar and finishes dry. Incredible persistence. Alzero is completely unique, put it on your list of must-try wines before you die.
Before I arrived at Quintarelli, I visited with Nicola Ferrari who worked for the family for 11 years prior to setting up his own winery – Monte Santoccio. His last words to me as I was going out the door were “make sure you try the Recioto at Quintarelli, it is something very special.”
Needless to say I had high hopes going into this one.
Quintarelli only make their Recioto once in a while and require total perfection from the grapes to put them under this prestigious label. Grapes are selected from specific vineyard parcels that are uniquely suitable before being layed out to dry. Careful attention is paid to the positioning of the grapes so the appassimento process can occur naturally. Noble rot develops over the winter and then the grapes are pressed at the end of January. As with all of Quintarelli’s top wines, the maceration and fermentation periods for this wine are long. Ageing takes place in Slavonian oak for 8 years. Significant levels of sugar are left over, this particular vintage has 70 g/l. it should also be noted that this is the most age worthy of all of the Quintarelli wines.
Tasting note: Gorgeous nose of dried rose petals, violet, cherry and scorched earth. The palate is a melange of sweet and savoury – concentrated cherry, gingerbread, brown sugar and plum mingle with liquorice, truffle and sun-dried tomato. Rich and round in the mouth with creamy flesh and perfect balance. This wine showed the longest finish of the line-up. Majestic, possibly life-changing wine.
We finished the tasting with a little treat – the 2003 Amabile del Cere “Bandito” – a rare wine akin to recioto only with white grape varieties. As we sipped away the last minutes of the visit, it was clear that Quintarelli is a place devoted to the perfection of their craft. Their unwavering traditional methods, patience and sky-high standards have created an iconic brand that is in a class on its own.