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. "Rubber...black 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.