December 23, 2011 Guiseppe Quintarelli
Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore
covina, rondinella, molinara + others
The 50th birthday of a dear friend called for a special wine. Italian wines don’t come any more special than those of the legendary Guiseppe Quintarelli. Known as the Maestro of Veneto, his Amarone (at $300 a bottle) is unparalleled. His Valpolicella is hardly less praised, and is superior to many Amarones.
There seems to be good reasons for that: the extreme care that is taken with the making of the wine, and the fact that about six months into production it is blended with the lees of the estate’s Amarone (the “ripasso” method) and thus adding to the wine’s texture and complexity. And of course there is the Quintarelli standard of aging some of the wines up to seven years in large Slavonian oak casks, releasing his wines several years later than most producers in the region.
‘Patience,’ Quintarelli has said, ‘…is the most important attribute in winemaking.’ The man should know. He has been exhibiting it with spectacular results for more than 50 years. Now in his 80s, he has recently turned the operation over to his eldest daughter, Silvana. With just 12 hectares and an annual output of 60,000 bottles, it remains small, and as understated as ever. No website, not even a roadside winery sign. (Check the village of Cerè, near the larger village of Negrar.) Given the fact there is a long wait list of importers eager for even a small allocation, it would seem the reputation of the wines sells itself.
It is charmingly and authentically artisanal. The unchanged handwritten labels (until recently applied by hand with a brush and glue) could never been mistaken for those of any other winery. Maintaining tradition is uppermost in the minds of everyone now attached to the production, including his grandson Francesco and nephew Marco. If the Quintarelli wines were made, in Guiseppe’s words, “exactly as my father taught me”, then it is more than worthwhile to stand on tradition. After all, it has led more than one wine enthusiast to place Quintarelli among the best wine made anywhere.
The vineyards lie on the steep slopes outside Negrar, the soil volcanic in nature. Quintarelli views the soil as the ultimate key to the success of the winemaking. Grape selection is meticulous, equal, it has been said, to that of the great Sauternes producers. The work in the cellar is simple and non-interventionalist, letting the wine determine the pace of maturation. Patience above all, “Patience in growing, patience in selection, and patience in vinification.”
Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2001
Purple / brick red in color, with a fine, fine nose, a mix of robust semi-sweet fruit and mineral elements. Instantly complex. On the palate, reminiscent of amarone to be sure, yet with exceptional qualities in its own right. Clean, not laboured, yet with a richness and an altogether pleasant acidic balance. Both textured and nuanced, this is a wine that speaks volumes. Released 9 years after harvest. With more time in the bottle, it would have to be wondrous. $$$
Update to this posting: Sadly, Guiseppe Quintarelli died on January 15, 2012, at age 84. The memory of the extraordinary man and winemaker will shine bright for many years to come.