It’s a New Year, and so many in the wine media are prognosticating on what wine trends will define 2018. What wine region will now be cool? Whose star will fade? What will you be drinking four years from now, long after I discovered it in 2018?
It can be a rather ridiculous exercise in navel gazing, especially in the hands of writers and critics who taste thousands of wines in a year. The divide between how they experience wine and what you’re looking for is immutably wide.
However, I will say that wine is not immune to fads, so in a sense, musing on trends has its place. Wine is a dynamic beast where a region’s fortunes can rise and fall on the whims of the weather — or in the case of Amarone della Valpolicella, on the whims of fashion. Right now, low-alcohol wines are decidedly “in.” As are single-grape wines that show varietal character. And good-value wines? They are always in style.
Amarone will never be any of these things (read our First Taste Guide to Amarone della Valpolicella to find out why), and so recently, I’ve heard a bit of shade thrown at this Italian juggernaut. It’s “too muscular,” “too tinny” (whatever that means), “too inflexible with food pairings.”
I’ve had my share of brash and overconfident Amarone before — the phrase “bitter bombs” comes to mind — so I get some of this criticism. It is a wine that can certainly exhaust the palate and the contents of your wallet, faster than most Italian wines.
But perhaps if more Amarone crossed our palates like Buglioni’s “Il Lussurioso,” we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Here’s a wine that performs more like a rings gymnast than a body builder. Uncorked on Christmas night to complement a sweet-and-savory Moroccan chicken-and-nut pie, Il Lussurioso was mightily impressive. The raisiny notes matched the cuisine perfectly, the bitter cut of coffee bean on the nose was like a drug, and its depth had a few of us pouring a second glass, seeking more answers.
I will admit that no other wine region in Italy has me more flummoxed than Valpolicella at the moment. Finding answers as to why some of its wines hit the mark — and others completely miss it — has been a challenge that warrants a deeper dive. Although my recent, all-too-short visit to the area revealed a landscape of varying levels of care and approach. Vine-training systems, vine density and degrees of pruning were highly variable. It was noticeable even while speeding down the backroads. This — paired with a mix of six key grapes for blending, a varied terroir, and three main styles of red wine alone — make it a enological Rubik’s cube. No wonder the wines seem to be such a mixed bag.
But as others have proved, sometimes it just comes down to finding the right winemaker to match your stylistic interests. I have two more bottles from Buglioni to sample. We will see how they stack up in the coming weeks.
2013 Buglioni Amarone della Valpolicella “Il Lussurioso”
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Italy
Grapes: Corvina (60%), Corvione (20%), Rondinella (10%), Oseleta (5%), Croatina (5%)
Ratings: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 3/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★ 1/2
Tasting notes: Strength and elegance, all in one. Color was a deep shade of plum. Aromas brought to mind raisins, dark pie cherries, coffee, leather and a mineral note akin to rocks after a rainstorm. It was surprisingly smooth, and the alcohol appeared to be tamed by the wild fruit and thick acidity that countered it on the palate. Classic Amarone della Valpolicella finish — miles long, lingering in the sides of the mouth and recalling walnuts.
Serving suggestion: Amarone is often paired with stews, roasts and hearty risotto, but we found a surprisingly nice match in Moroccan cuisine. A delicately spiced Moroccan chicken-and-nut pie with a garbanzo-manchego side salad proved to be a wild match. Il Lussurioso’s rich fruits match the savory-sweet elements nicely. Open at least two hours before pouring.