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Amarone Tasting: The Wines

Sunday night’s Amarone Tasting/Oscar party started off with a wine of a different color… We started with champagne to toast two friends, K and N, who recently became engaged! Congrats, guys!  Of course we always like champagne so we won’t go into that right now.  Instead, on to the main event. 
We started with 2000 Giuseppe Lonardi Ripasso de Valpolicella Classico Superiore.  I accidentally learned of this wine while searching for wines from Lombardy for last year’s Lombardy Dinner Club meeting.  I was having trouble finding wines from Lombardy, apparently not that many are imported here, when a helpful store clerk recommended this wine as a great accompaniment for Osso Buco and because Veneto is right next to Lombardy.  I bought the wine but continued to search.  When I found a few Lombardian wines, I put this one away with the idea of comparing it to the Amarones at some point.  As I mentioned in that opening post, Ripasso is the "poor-man’s Amarone".  I think the poor men drink rather well! 
The color was beautiful and deep.  The taste was a bit lighter than I expected but still had the essence of leather, a bit of chocolate and raisin or prune.  I could see sipping this wine totally on its own as well as with food.  I thought it went especially well with the soprasotta and the cheeses. 
Next up was the 1988 Tommasi della Valpolicella Classico.  I had actually been worried about this wine because it was past the recommended drinking window by a few years.  I was also a bit worried that I’d remove the foil and find evidence of some sort of problem.  That didn’t happen though, so I decanted this wine a little over an hour prior to our tasting.  By the time I poured it into the glasses it had probably been open just over 90 minutes. 
Another beautiful, deep garnet wine, this one had a much more assertive character than the Ripasso.  It was a chewy wine.  Leathery, spicy, deep and rich.  Where its age showed, though, was that it tended to dissipate faster than it should have, I think.  It paired very well with all of the meat dishes and even the risotto.  I like this wine although I think it would have been better five years ago. 
We followed the 1988 with the 1993 version.  Now this was more what I expected!  This was a wine that made you stand up and take notice.  A wine that wasn’t going to be pushed into the background or into a subservient role to the food.  Respect me! it seemed to say.  It was very similar to the 1988 but was much more intense, had deeper more complex flavors and a beautiful lingering finish.  Although it wanted its own place on your palate it played well with the food, too.  I especially liked it with the Cottechino and lentils.  The acidity of the wine cut through the fattiness of the sausage, which allowed you to consume more of both!  (Uh, I think that’s good…) Although, I especially liked this wine with food I would have no hesitation about taking it on its own, either.  If I could find another bottle(s) of this wine for a decent price I would certainly purchase a few.   
The last up was the 1991 Brigaldara della Valpolicella Classico.  This wine was a bit tannic and not quite as smooth as the Tommasis.  Full of cherries, chocolate and spice – maybe cloves?  I think if we had tasted these in a different order I would have liked this wine better but coming after the 1993 Tommasi it was not as pleasing, at least not on its own.  It was a great food wine and I especially like it with the ribs.
It was also a deep, beautiful color and the nose was redolent of earth and the smell of mushrooms in the forest.  It was just the first sip that was a bit shocking to the mouth.  Perhaps this wine could have done with a bit more air but by the time we got to this wine we were well past two hours of breathing, so I don’t think that was an issue.  Again, I think it did not quite fair as well in our estimation due to the order more than anything else.  
All of these wines really paired superbly with the food I am very happy to say.  The richness of the antelope burgers balanced all the flavors of these wines.  The ribs just seemed to blend with them, and the wines cleaned the palate for the Cottechino.  I was actually surprised that the pairings were so sound across the board. 
We followed our formal tasting with a few other choice gems:  a couple bottles of  2003 Pendulum, a Columbia Valley blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec; a Robert Karl 2003 Claret another Columbia Valley blend, this time of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but also Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec; and finally, Deerfield Ranch 2001 Sangiovese from Napa/Sonoma, California.  All in all it was a lovely line up of wines.  And we also got to laugh our heads off watching Jon Stewart host The Academy Awards

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