It takes Amarone much longer than most wines to reach that stage, however: The grapes are first dried (without heating, by cool dry air) to raisins, a process that takes several months, during which the sugars are concentrated and a variety of chemical changes that give Amarone its characteristic bouquet and palate take place.
I took this shot at the end of January, at the Azienda Agricola Aldrighetti - Le Bignele in Marano di Valpolicella. They still use the traditional blend, including Molinara, which is the redder bunch. Perfect grapes almost ready to be pressed. And the wines? I tasted them with Luigi and his daughter Silvia
Before we get to them, a brief introduction.
The Aldrighetti family has long made wine, but Angelo and Luigi, who are brothers, only decided to bottle it themselves in 2005 -- I can easily imagine the people they sold to's being rather unhappy with their decision -- and the winery building has an almost-finished look about it; the essentials are all there, but the landscaping will wait. And this is as it should be.
Their vineyards are directly below the winery, and what I looked at was -- if I understood correctly -- east sloping. The vines are trained high, in the Pergola style, which goes counter to the current preferences for Guyot training that one sees in much of the Valpolicella (and most everywhere else, for that matter), and Luigi told me that they prefer the pergola because the ground contains a great deal of moisture, enough that hot dry summers are not a problem for them, and because of this having the bunches further separated from the ground significantly reduces problems with rot and mold.
Their total production is currently about 30,000 bottles. They still sell some of their wine to help pay the bills, but plan to reduce bulk sales and purchase more vineyards, thus increasing their total production to 80,000 bottles.
The wines, tasted at the end of January 2011:
Le Bignele Sulà Rosso Veronese IGT 2009 This is 35% Rondinella, 60-65% Corvina and Corvinone, and a little Molinara. It differs from Valpolicella in that it ferments and is bottled without the year of aging that the Valpolicella undergoes. Lively cherry ruby with brilliant ruby reflections and pink rim. The bouquet is fresh, with sour cherries mingled with greenish vegetal accents and pleasing violets. Quite fresh, and pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's light, and fruity, with lively sour cherry fruit that gains depth from some greenish accents, and is supported by tannins that have a slight greenish burr to them, and flow into a fairly long bright tart finish. Very pleasant in a lighter key, and will drink beautifully with simple grilled meats or light stews. In short, a perfect cookout wine. Expect it to go quickly. Nice acidity and quite sunny. 2 stars
Le Bignele Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2004 Lively cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is bright, with fairly rich sour cherry fruit supported by some greenish vegetal accents and some iodine too, with pleasant savory accents as well, and it opens nicely, showing considerable finesse. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright sour cherry acidity and sour cherry fruit supported by tannins that are slightly greenish and have a bite to them though they are not coarse, and flow into a bright sour cherry finish. If you like smoother softer wines it won't work as well for you far from the table, but with grilled meats or light roasts it will be quite nice -- fried things such as lamb chops too-- and if you like the style, which is fairly aggressive, you will enjoy it very much. 88-90
Le Bignele Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso DOC 2003 Lively black cherry ruby with brilliant ruby highlights and black reflections. The bouquet is fresh, with berry fruit that's fairly rich but not as tart as the 04, and that's because of the vintage, which resulted in large grapes because of the moisture in the soil, and also produced quite a bit of noble rot in the vineyards, something that they hadn't experience with previously. Pleasant, however, and on the palate it's rich, with fairly lively cherry fruit supported by moderate acidity and by tannins that have a warm greenish burr, which is in part the ripasso. With respect to many 2003 wines it's nowhere near as overripe, displaying acidity that the others lack, and freshness too. It's not at the level of the 04, but is very pleasant to drink. 2 stars
Le Bignele Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2004 Deep garnet ruby with black highlights and almandine rim. The bouquet is muted at first swish, though more swishing brings up deft berry fruit supported by some cedar and sandalwood, with slight underlying sweetness. Beautiful harmony and elegance, in a wine that is still very young. On the palate it's rich, with powerful cherry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and tannins that are fairly bitter, and still very young; flowing into a clean rather bitter finish. It's quite pleasant, and still very young; one could drink it now with a roast -- leg of lamb comes to mind -- but if you have the patience to give it another 3-5 years it will richly reward you. If you can wait longer, better yet. 88-90 (Now) Le Bignele Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2005 Lively cherry ruby with brilliant reflections and black highlights. The bouquet is fairly rich, with sour cherry fruit whose sourness is more marked than the 04's and with some sandalwood notes as well. It has cleaned up nicely sine it was presented a couple of years ago, but is less fresh than the 04. On the palate it's full, with considerable alcohol and berry fruit that's lighter and less round, while the tannins are a bit more strident, and have a much more pronounced burr that carries into the finish. The 05 was disjointed as a vintage, with high heat and rainfall, and the combination makes for unbalance and disequilibrium. This said, the wine is quite good, and a superb expression of the vintage. 2 stars
Le Bignele Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2007 Lively black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, though still young, with berry fruit that has some prune accents and also a fair amount of sweetness, though it is fresher and brighter than many of the 07 Amaroni. Nice balance and very young. On the palate it's fairly rich, with fairly sweet cherry plum fruit -- it's sweeter than the older vintages -- while the tannins have a slightly greener feel to them, and flow into a clean burr that carries into the finish. It's pleasant though very, very young, and will need another 3-5 years to begin to show its best. 2 stars
Le Bignele Recioto della Valpolicella DOC 2005 This Recioto ages in steel and was bottled for a year ago. It is deep black cherry ruby with violet reflections and white rim. The bouquet is somewhat tarter than many Recioti, with plum berry fruit supported by deft vegetal accents and pleasing sandalwood spice. Quite pleasant, and as it opens sweetness emerges. Very nice. On the palate it's full, rich, and very smooth, with powerful plum cherry fruit supported by lively acidity and very smooth sweet tannins, while there is also some sandalwood, and it carries into a bright berry fruit finish. It's more acidic than many recioti, and this makes it brighter, a delightful experience. They served it with Gorgonzola piccante, and the combination is perfect. 90
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.