Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 105

17 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Here is the final installment of our Co-op Social Collection feature, and we are ending with a potentially big wine, one that I would not expect to see in a curated series such as this: the 2015 Bin 105 Amarone della Valpolicella. There is something seemingly incongruous about an Amarone inclusion in a line of negociant wines intended for affordable easy drinking, although with the Social Collection there appears to be a well-intentioned and laudable desire to preserve some degree of regional character and varietal typicity. I’m intrigued. I support the notion of an Amarone “for the people”, or at least an introduction to the style at a lower price point (lower, not low!) for those who are unfamiliar with what can be a daunting, polarizing, but ultimately rather compelling wine. It is worth noting that this bottle won an Alberta Beverage Award for Judges’ Selection in Veneto Blends, as adjudicated by the stellar Culinaire Magazine.

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The Valpolicella region is close to Verona and produces a sequence of red wines that ascend in degree of concentration and power. At the top of the density hierarchy, Amarone is a blend of red grapes, of which Corvina Veronese is typically the most dominant, with DOGC regulations mandating that this thick-skinned grape constitute 45% to 95% of the blend. Partner Corvinone, a grape with larger berries and clusters than Corvina, was long thought to be a clone of the latter but instead turns out to be an entirely distinct variety. This vine can occasionally serve as the foundation of an Amarone, but is more commonly used to provide additional tannic structure to Corvina’s base of cherry-like red fruit. Corvinone can substitute up to 50% of a similar percentage of Corvina. Rondinella, which generally can comprise 5% to 30% of the blend, provides a key seasoning in the form of herbal notes that add a savoury character. Only Corvina and its progeny Rondinella are mandatory in Amarone, but the law permits other native “non-aromatic” red grapes to be included as up to 25% of the blend, with none of these individually exceeding 10%. Some of these grapes are fascinating but fall beyond the scope of the present review.

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“A surefire crowd pleaser”…said no one about any Amarone, ever.

More crucial is the issue of how Amarone is made. The appassimento process involves drying the harvested grapes in a room known as a fruttaio, with the fruit typically spread out on shelves or stacked in wooden crates, or occasionally hung in clusters from the ceiling. Grapes dried thusly cannot be vinified before December 1st, and the dried grapes must yield a wine output below 40% of what would have been produced fresh. Ponder how concentrated the juice must be by this point; grapes can lose up to half of their harvested weight. Bulk production involves drying machines and pressing the grapes as soon as the law permits, whereas more quality-conscious producers will allow up to 120 days of patient dehydration. The pressed juice is then fermented to dryness or near-dryness, which can yield colossal ABV values. Amarone is not a dessert wine (the name translates as “great bitter”), but this rather unique process results in a curious combination of dried dark instead of floridly bright fruit flavors, bitter herbaceous notes, and a sensory trick in the form of a rounded perceived sweetness, a combination of impressions that can be jarring to the uninitiated.

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According to the back label, this was bottled by Giuseppe Campagnola, a well-regarded producer with deep family roots in the region. Produced or just bottled? I will assume the former. Campagnola’s website says that their Amarone is 65% Corvini and Corvinone, plus 35% Rondinella. One can again extrapolate that the composition is similar here. This is a deep garnet color grading into black, like Kool-Aid mixed with a little tar. A swirl and a sniff brings a complex matrix of aromas skewed toward the dried and nutty: carob, brown sugar, root beer and kola nuts, toasted almonds, dried roses, dates and black raisins, a little cigarette ash and sun-baked asphalt shingle. On the palate some of this health food store menagerie persists, fig bars and milk chocolate swirling around a core of vibrant black cherry and red licorice, these co-existing with something else along the same vein but more pharmaceutical in character (Ny-Quil?). Although the flavors start rather disparate, whirling about the place a bit, over time they start to integrate to yield a pleasing bouquet. The tannins are ripe and slightly puckering. The 15% ABV is generally well-concealed unless one over-swirls. Finish is persistent and echoes black tea, teriyaki, and fruit roll-ups. At $39.99, this is the apex price point for the Social Collection but a great bargain for Amarone. This drinks rather like a more concentrated Valpolicella but still delivers some of the expected character. I shall conclude that the Alberta Beverage Award is justified. This bottle admirably executes its mission of bringing Amarone to a new audience.

89+ points

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Cork Rating: 3/10 (Italy’s take on “mis en bouteille”)

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