Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Serego Alighieri: Valpolicella and More

The Serego Alighieri estate has belonged to the Serego Alighieri family for hundreds of years -- following Dante's exile from Florence his son Pietro Alighieri bought land in the Valpolicella, and there the family stayed; in the 1500s the last Alighieri married into the Serego family, and that line of the Serego family added Alighieri to their name.

In 1973 Count Pieralvise Serego Alighieri reached an agreement with a neighbor, Sandro Boscaini, by which they would make and age their wines (they still have, in a walled vineyard, Molinara vines belonging to the Serego Alighieri clone, on native root stock, while in their cellars they use, in addition to oak, 600 liter cherry casks, following an old Veronese tradition that they are the only ones to continue), while Masi Agricola would take care of bottling and selling the wines, and provided technical assistance as necessary.

The goal was to promote quality, which was a revolutionary idea at the time (as was a collaboration between two wineries), and the relationship has worked very well; Serego Alighieri's wines are now renowned and eagerly sought out throughout the world.

This winter Piervalise's daughter Massimilla presented their wines at the Ristorante Olivero in Florence, and I was fortunate enough to be invited. We began with a white, the only one produced within the Valpolicella Classico zone. It's a blend of Garganega and Sauvignon:

Serego Alighieri Possessioni Bianco IGT Veneto 2009
Pale brassy yellow. The bouquet is quite ripe, with elegant white berry fruit that has some passion fruit and some sweetish accents. It's rather voluptuous, with the Sauvignon evident but not in-your-face. On the palate it's bright, with lively greenish lemony fruit supported by an abundance of savory minerality that provides depth, with some artichoke stem accents that are rather pleasant, and lead into a long clean savory finish with greenish vegetal and sour lemon underpinning. Pleasant, and while it worked well as an aperitif it would also be quite nice with fish.
2 stars

Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso IGT Veneto 2009
This is a blend of Corvina, Molinara of the Serego Alighieri clone, and Sangiovese. Deep cherry ruby with violet rim. The bouquet is rich, with violets and red berry fruit supported by some alcohol and pleasant sour berry fruit acidity, with some wood, that has cherry accents. Fresh and inviting. On the palate it's bright, with lively cherry fruit supported by lively acidity, with some dusky graphite bitterness and fairly intense minerality that carry into a long, brooding berry fruit finish. The Molinara is pre-phylloxera, planted in 1875 to celebrate the birth of Massimilla's great grandfather Piervalise, while the Sangiovese is for them traditional -- they have been planting it since the 1800s, to round their wines, and it works. Quite well.
2 stars

Serego Alighieri Valpolicella Dell'Anniversario Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2007
The first vintage of this was made in 1999 (and released in 2003), to celebrate their 650th anniversary, and Massimilla's Father and Mr. Boscaini chose to make a Valpolicella rather than an Amarone to emphasize the importance of Valpolicella. They made 3000 magnums, and to their surprise it proved quite popular. It's produced using the double fermentation technique, which is essentially what is called Governo Toscano in Tuscany -- partially dried grapes are added to the wine as it sits in the tanks in November, relaunching the fermentation and providing greater depth and richness, and also perking it up. Following fermentation it spent 3-4 months in cherry, and then went into large oak.

Deep pigeon blood ruby with violet rim. The bouquet is powerful, and dusky, with rich prune cherry fruit supported by rich berry fruit and shadowy accents, with some underbrush and slight violets as well. Quite elegant, On the palate it's deft, with lively cherry fruit supported by considerable graphite bitterness and very smooth tightly woven tannins, while what acidity there is -- not too much -- is more mineral than fruit derived, and the finish is fairly long, fading into bitterness. It's graceful in a relatively brooding key, and is a wine one can converse with, though it's not a wine I would suggest if you like bright fruit-driven wines. If you instead prefer wines that are more thoughtful you will like it very much.

Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2005 The Vaio Amaron is a small valley on their property, and Massimilla said, with a sly grin, that they like to think of it as an alternative etymology for Amarone. They accept slight botrytization of the grapes as they dry, because it results in glycerin that softens the wine, without contributing sweetness.

Deep black almandine with cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with alcohol and some sandalwood spice supported by red berry fruit that gradually emerges as the wine opens, supported by alcohol, cocoa, and some brandied berry fruit accents. On the palate it's rich, with powerful jammy cherry fruit supported by some sweetness and tannins that are brooding, with considerable peppery spice and some minerality that flow into a rather peppery finish, which is elegant and fairly long. It's not as rich as a better vintage would be, but quite nice and a beautiful expression of 2005.

Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 1995 I recall this vintage as having been cool and wet in Tuscany -- several periods of rain -- and in the Veneto, Massimilla says, it was "bizarre." Deep brick ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, with leaf tobacco and savory notes mingled with cedar and camphor, supported by fairly intense sour cherry fruit and some Moroccan leather. Nice depth. On the palate it's fairly rich, with dry cherry fruit supported by smooth tannins that have a degree of cherry dryness and resin to them -- the wine spent longer in cherry wood than it does now -- and flow into a long warm finish. It has a distant feel to it and a fellow taster says it reminds him of a Marsala, and I can understand the impression. Nice, but clearly from a more difficult vintage.

Serego Alighieri Casal Dei Ronchi Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2006 Impenetrable pyrope with cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with graphite and some bitterness supported by moderate berry fruit -- black cherry and blackberry -- and by some sweetness. On the palate it opens nicely, revealing rich red berry fruit and blackberry fruit with delicate slightly sour prune accents supported by smooth sweet tannins that have a deft graphite shaving overlay and flow into a clean rather bitter finish in which graphite balances sweetness, and there are slight rusty accents. Quite deft, and will drink nicely far from the table or with cheeses. It's a more measured interpretation of Recioto than some, concentrating more on finesse and balance than opulence.
2 stars

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