Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amarone della Valpolicella

Collin is a little nervous. He paces back and forth in front of the room, playing with his glass of Amarone. He sips it. Swishes it. Puts the glass down. Picks the glass up. Takes another sip. Pours a little more into glass. He makes a point to look at the other two groups, but I'm sure Kelly's laser focus and scrutiny make him keep his eyes from glancing our way. My heart goes out to him. As sweet as he can be, Kelly tends to correct every misspoken word and incorrect fact in a nervous habit that could be intimidating to those that haven't gotten used to him--or are performing for a room full of people.

Collin goes over the history of the wine we'll be sampling. Having selected various producers and versions of a singular wine, it is the first one I have been to where I am not trying to figure out which is the grape, which is the region, and which is the man pouring it for me.

Amarone is a drier red that typically comes from the Valpolicella region of Italy. The grapes (primarily Corvina [think 5/6] with various percentages of Rodinella or Molinara) are dried on mats to intensify the flavor. The wines are set up in a neat row of two with a larger glass at the end. The colors are saturated in shades of freshly spilled blood, throwing red halos onto the paper tablecloths under the overhead lights. The waiters provide a list of the night's vintages.

2008 Villa Erbice ca'Panvino, DOC Valpolicella
A peppery red, the wine has a lot of the classic notes that I would expect: figs, black pepper, plums, a little tobacco.

2007 Michele Castellani "San Michele," DOC Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore
Collin explains that they save the pomice from the Amarone and add it to a batch of other Valpolicella wine. The extra food for the yeast boosts the body and the alcohol content (the other Amarones are already at least 14% alcohol...)

2003 Nicoli, DOC Amarone della Velpolicella Classico
I clearly taste twizzlers and mention it to Kel. I'm excited by my finding, however, he doesn't seem to notice "That's because..." he starts, speaking quickly in his teacher voice. " and red fruit..." He catches himself, smiles, and nods. "Yes dear. It does taste like twizzlers."

2005 Villa Erbice "Tremenel," DOC Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
The younger brother of the 2001, the 2005 drinks much smoother and is generally the better-liked among the people tasting.

2001 Villa Erbice "Tremenel," DOC Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Despite Collin decanting the bottle hours before, the tannins are extra sharp and the wine doesn't have the smoothness of the 2005. He explains the complications of the weather, the growing season in the region, and the factors that could account for the unintended taste, but too many of us are novices to understand the full implications.

The tasting ends a little faster than I expected, but it is all timed with precision. The chef arrives with a cart, ready to show us how to make gnocchi. Collin steps aside, pouring a glass of the 2005 for him. Relaxing now that he is out of the spotlight, he grabs a chair near us and becomes part of the crowd.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guess who!

Everyone is milling about the very warm room. In a hurried precision, the glasses are laid out (water, four white, four red) and the table split down the middle. Everyone's divided eight to eight. The grids are passed out. People check their contributions to the tasting, making sure that nothing is corked. I step back, crossing the leopard-print carpet, and let myself fall into a wing back chair near the fireplace. This is my second Boston Sommelier Society tasting and I know my place. Kelly's invited me to taste before, but I prefer the Dian Fossey approach. I wouldn't be able to answer half of the grid.

The mood is very similar to the art history classes I took in college. Sitting in the Multi-media Room, we would file in to find our preferred seats and watch as the professor showed slide after slide. We would stare at the brushstrokes, the medium, the style, and yell things out like "Expressionist!" "16th Century Italian!" "Monet!" "No you idiot, it's Manet!" As a class, we would agonize over the country of origin and artist, the time it was made, the medium, and name of the piece knowing each one was needed to get the answer right.

Here, tucked away in the function room of an upscale restaurant, the BSS plays a hectic game of musical chairs--filling each of the four white glasses with a different bottle. "Number one is on the left!" Steve calls out, trying to keep some resemblance of order in the confined chaos. He offers a friendly smile, quick to notice the notes I'm scribbling "Be kind," he asks. The BSS return to their original seats. They swirl and sniff the glasses, talking quickly about their preliminary findings before the actual test starts. The leaders of each group try to give instructions over the cacophony. "I just need to remember two fruits." "Some of us will be tasting and others will keep notes." "Where are all the sheets?" There is a soft lull and then the tasting starts, bringing back the passion I remember from Western Europe and New World Art History 101/102. "Primary color is golden with platinum highlights." "...Peach, Asian pear...there's some earth, white flowers, and orange blossom." "...Lightly spiced like cinnamon, ginger, maybe a little tarragon..." "Low tannins." "Acidity...pretty acidic, I guess." "Pears...yes, definitely pears." "I would say Old World Wine." "Could be a Riesling...Germany, Alsace..." "It's about 30 years old." "Alcohol and acidity is high, we can all agree on that." "I disagree. I think it's more New World--maybe the Orient."

I finish scribbling my notes and turn to other writing projects, trying to figure out the plot line for my current story. And yet, in the back of my head, I'm still siting in the Multi-media Room trying to decide if the Expressionist painting in front of me is French or Italian.