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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Chaplin

What's new in Valpolicella? Bees, Bio, Bosco and Garganega in amphorae!

I am very lucky to live just northwest of Verona, on a gentle rise of land between Arbizzano and Negrar, a stone’s throw from the heart of Valpolicella.  In this wine paradise, it is all too easy to become a bit jaded by a seemingly endless array of light, medium and full bodied red wines, made from the historic native grapes corvina, corvinone, rondinella, molinara and others that fill the beautiful vineyards as far as the eye can see.  The slight list towards laziness and a lumping of these wines together must be avoided and fought against.  So, I found myself once again at Amarone OperaPrima the first weekend of February, to taste the most recent release of Amarone from numerous producers, big and small, fabled traditionalists and ambitious newcomers, all striving to differentiate themselves from one another.  Tough to do in a small space with small stands and hundreds of enthusiastic tasters!

I am never disappointed and I always find something new, which is why I go back time and again to events like this.  Wine is never boring.  Every vintage is different and there is always something new to discover.  This time, the find of the day was Roccolo Callisto, presented to me by charming Chiara from the winery’s hospitality team.  The label attracted me: modern, clean, white background, a modern font, thick clean yellow vertical lines and a background that suggested a honeycomb design.  When I asked about the label design, Chiara’s eyes lit up and out came the story: BIO. BEES. BOSCO (forest).  I was hooked.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was able to visit the winery after many days of heavy rain.  The vineyards cover 5.5 hectares on rolling hills that look back over Verona to the southeast.  Six hectares of bosco and a small lake, olive groves, fruit trees and, of course, beehives, complete this biodiverse oasis, which was magically ethereal in the silvery light of a grey morning, like a slightly blurred but timeless watercolour painting.  The highest point is 300 meters above sea level, quite high for the Valpolicella region, and a beautiful wind blew up from the Adige River below, into the terraced hillside vines and the pergolas on flatter land.  Enologist Elia Braguzzi told me this wind helped protect the vineyards from the terrible plague of peronospera (mildew) that afflicted all of Valpolicella in the damp, hot and humid summer of 2023.  The romantically beautiful lake, complete with weeping willow trees, ducks, geese and turtles not only adds another dimension to the scenery, but another layer to the biodiversity of the property as a whole. 

The winery began 50 years ago when the owner bought the vineyards and the picturesque ancient bird tower — the Roccolo — that gave the winery its name.  Selling grapes to local producers for many years before beginning their own production, the cantina was only built in 2015. It sits in a dip in the land, “embraced by the vineyard like a Queen,” as Elia described it, leaving almost no mark on the surroundings.  Camouflaged by a crown of vertical wooden slats that mimics the vines and the bosco, the cantina is sustainable, using gravity for transfer of grapes and must, a lot of natural light, and exposed stone walls to maintain a cool temperature and humidity.  Roccolo Callisto was certified organic in 2019. 

Great news for me, lover of old vines that I am, is the fact that Roccolo Callisto also owns a 5 hectare vineyard  in Valpantena, with 70 year old garganega vines planted on rocky clay and limestone soil and pergola trained.   More of this later!

Gifted with a rain-free walk past a stream, the lake, slopes displaying evidence of tufo and volcanic soil, I was captivated by the passion on display from both Elia and Elena, the owner’s wife.  They love this vineyard deeply, and were gracious enough to share every corner with me, including the stunning views stretching from Verona on towards Lake Garda, Elena’s daughter Sofia’s fairytale treehouse, orchards and immaculately well kept vineyards before heading back to the cantina for a tasting with Chiara, my original connection to the winery.

We toured the cantina before tasting, because I am a nerd and I love to see the barrel room, learn about the oak they use (some French, but lots of Slavonian, made by Austrian coopers with steam to bend the wood, no toasting, keeping the wine styles clean and unadulterated), put my hand on the amphorae and the exposed stone walls of the “experimenting room,” where the new projects are being tried and tasted.

On to the tasting!  Always a joy and a privilege to taste with the enologist, the owner (or his wife) and the person who brought me to the visit in the first place.  Elia, Elena, Chiara and I sat down together to taste through the portfolio, with two local prosciuttos and two local cheeses to keep up our strength.

First up, the wine I was waiting for all morning, Capochina 2022, 100% garganega from 70 year old vines, late harvest, made entirely in amphorae from Anfore TAVA in Trentino.  Cryo maceration, then fermentation and maturation split between steel tanks and amphorae,  for seven months on lees with batonnage.  This wine is exceptional in the world of Veneto whites.  Pale gold with an intense nose, full of ripe yellow grapefruit and dried yellow apple skins, sage and brine, rosemary and passionfruit.  On the palate, the wine immediately speaks of the terroir, the clay and limestone, the rocky and crushed seashell elements adding to the briny, saline notes and the umami, fish-saucey, savoury, character.  The fruit notes remain, with a whisper of the tropical and a whack of rich, bitter citrus peel, a chalky texture, a fresh acidic spine and a delightful structure that made it impossible to stop drinking.  Long and seductive green almond finish with that grapefruit and sage combo coming back to haunt in the best way.

Next, the Valpolicella DOC 2022, 70% corvina and 30% rondinella, this is a Burgundy style wine from the heart of Valpolicella country.  The cherry blossom on the label give away the game.  Pale ruby colour after a  cryo maceration and a low temperature fermentation in steel, this wine is FLORAL.  Can’t say that enough! A clean and smooth authentic representation of Valpolicella, this is a youthful, bright, cherry burst with just a touch of spice (think pink peppercorns with a grind of cloves), perfect to served chilled and infinitely pairable — a go-to for the summer barbecue and those of us who love spicy food all year round.  P.S. — I have it on good authority that the 2023 vintage will mature in amphorae…… just saying …. watch this space!

3.) Valpolicella Superiore 2020 has the grape vines on the label.  A late harvest wine, using no dried grapes, the blend here is 60% corvina, 30% corvinone, 10% rondinella, more cold maceration and a temperature controlled fermentation.  Aged for a year in a combination of steel, French tonneaux and amphorae, the wine is a brilliant ruby with just a a little hint at its garnet future.  Another truly clean and elegant wine, full of cherry and cranberry, a play of tart and sweet, with a gorgeous balsamic herbal note in the retronasal.  Like the most incredibly fine and elevated and irresistable cough medicine you could ever wish for, in all the best possible ways. A long fruity finish, with those haunting notes of warming clove and sandalwood, supremely sophisticated.  The tannins here are so well integrated into the wine — they give body and structure without any sense of astringency whatsoever.

4.) Amarone 2016 — a delight.  Complex but soft and welcoming, showcasing enologist Elia’s skillful hand, after 48 months in Slavonian barrels, the floral note remains, but this time we have dried roses and violets and lavender.  The balsamic herbal note is back again, with licorice and amarena cherries adding to the symphony. Red currants, dried pomegranate seeds, more luscious ripe cherry notes and the subtlest, silkiest tannins, like a diaphanous veil billowing back and forth over and under all the fruit and spice.  Still joyfully youthful at 8 years old, this modern, elegant, sophisticated, high quality Amarone will seduce people new to this style with its wonderful pairability, easy drinkability and its immense potential for ageing. 

One last brief side note.  Roccolo Callisto has a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon lurking in its vineyards.  Traditionally used to blend with the native grapes, they are making a single varietal IGT wine that clearly reflects their style.  Low yield, late harvest, cold maceration and fermentation in steel, spontaneous malolactic fermentation and maturing in oak tonneaux, this wine is a deep red ruby red with a blue tinge heading towards a lovely shade of purple.  As expected, there is a subtle top note of eucalyptus, crunchy green pepper and spearmint, immediately followed by all the woodland berry notes, ripe blue and black fruits, a hint of black cherry to remind us where it is from and a warm spicy note of black licorice and black pepper.  Lingering fresh acidity and ripe fruit, plus a good covering of velvety tannins and high alcohol make this wine full bodied  and luscious.  Do not drink without food! Dangerously scrumptious.   



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