Italian road trip 2016: the aim for perfection

Our next stop apparently was a very special one as every sommelier, winemaker or person involved with wine I told we were visiting the vineyard of Guiseppe Quintarelli was surprised (maybe even a bit jealous) they wanted to receive us… I’ve been told that they rarely open their doors for visits. So I can say for a fact that we felt honored!! Guiseppe Quintarellli stands for a style, a tradition, a way of doing things… but also for time, effort, patience, and care that go into the making wine. Although I think most people who didn’t have had the pleasure of drinking the wine will for sure recognize the handwritten labels of the wine that were all handwritten by a family friend who was cook from a local restaurant 🙂

Label Guiseppe quintarelli

Unfortuantely Guiseppe passed away a few years ago at age of 84, but his legacy will live forever. Today it are 2 of his 3 daughters together with his grand children that continue leading the family vineyard that Guiseppe himself took over from his father in 1924. The word ‘perfection’ or ‘perfectionist’ is used a lot to describe Guiseppe who’s drive for perfection was from an unknown level. From the corks, to the bottles, to the grape selection, etc… everything had to be perfect (even if this meant inspecting every bunch of grapes separately). This perfection is also the explanation why most of the wines they produce are not produced/available or exists every year. If for example the grapes that were normally foreseen to make an Amarone were not good enough, they don’t want to put the label Amarone on it but rather call it Rosso del Bepi…for many a fantastic wine, but for Guiseppe not worthy the name Amarone:-) INDEED, this level of perfection :-). Other estates would just call it Amarone… FYI, all grapes are handpicked!!!

Guiseppe

The perfection and strict selection also leads to the estate ‘only’ producing 60 000 bottles a year (all types of wine together). Unfortunately this also has an impact on its price (if it is too expensive or not is another discussion), but drinking a wine from the hand of the Master himself is never a disappointment!! You can’t really compare these wines to any other in the region, with maybe one exception Romano dal Forno (but they have lesser vine locations in comparison to Quintarelli), who was Giuseppe Quintarelli’s protégée. Something remarkable (in comparison to other wineries in the area) is the kinds of grapes used for their wines as next to the traditional Corvina and Rondinella they blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon (used a lot in Bordeaux wines) and hints of Nebbiolo (used for Barolo), Sangiovese (used for Brunelllo & Chianti)  and Croatina… A blend of everybody’s favorites could be a good description 🙂  maybe we could name a new style??  Bordeaux al Amarone or a Super-Tuscan-Barolo Amarone-style…? Super Tuscan as in some way it makes me think of Ornelaia, Tignanello and Sassicaia aka the super Tuscans as they also blend with French grapes. In case of Guiseppe he takes even a step further to also blending with some Italy’s most renowned grapes 🙂

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When we arrived at the Quintarelli vineyard it was grandson Francesco who hosted us and showed us around the vineyard. You could clearly tell that a new generation was running the vineyard as they were in the middle of renovations (that were already busy for 2 years if I’m correct). The parts that were already done were a success a good marriage between the old and the new 🙂 . Francesco told me he (and his entire family) were looking forward to the moment they could finally stop living on a construction site.

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I would be lying if I would say I wasn’t looking forward to the tasting as this is always the best part of a tour right 😉 We started with the Bianco Secco which already put smiles on our faces just by smelling the wine. If I then tell you it only went crescendo you’ll believe me when I say that our smile only became bigger as the tasting continued.

Quintarelli wine tasting

Tasting the wines starting from the Valpolicella up to the Amarone’s brings up a very comforting feeling like ‘sliding’ into an old leather armchair in front a fireplace… it somehow also calms you and its aroma’s wrap themselves around you.  The 2001 Valpolicella we started with its first aroma’s we discovered were black cherry with hints of leather spices and dried flowers. Not as full-bodied as an Amarone… let’s call it medium-bodied :-).  In the mouth we find earthy and mineral tastes… very velvety and beautiful finish. Could it get better we thought? Yes it could 🙂  I won’t be describing all the wines, but the 2003 Amarone does require some extra attention as this was one of the last wines bottled by Guiseppe himself!! It is a wine with lots of different layers and it keeps changing when opening up… we obviously (sadly) we didn’t sit there for hours to drink to finish the whole bottle 🙂 but in the time we were sitting there you know it is a wine that keeps surprising after every sip … Complex though! Ethereal aromas, seductive spices and an unbelievable balance!! Once you have a taste of Quintarelli’s Amarones it will keep you it’s power for always and you’ll never forget that experience. Normally I would be spitting wine when tasting, but this time I didn’t 🙂

Tasting

As the production of all of the Quintarelli wines are so small, on site you are only “allowed” to buy 2 bottles per types of wine. A reason is  basically because the wines are so wanted all over the world that their stock at the winery itself isn’t enormous They  ‘only’ have 60 000 bottles a year to distribute. I don’t think that the importers of their wines have limits.. but then again they also don’t have enormous stocks… Moral of this story… if you ever get the chance to drink one (even better if somebody else offer the bottle 😉 ) do it without hesitation!!

If you might have more questions about  Quintarelli wines you can contact Young Charly. Also if you might want to buy a bottle they are also the perfect people to contact. You might have also noticed I never put a link towards a website, this is because for as far as I know they aren’t online also not on social media… the word is spread mouth to mouth…

After Red Friday we were ready for white wine Saturday 🙂 Up to Sirmione!!

 

Italian roadtrip 2016: 1st stop and already beyond the clouds

It had already been almost a year since my last wine trip, so it was about time to do another one. My idea to do one again actually came during a meal with Raffaele Bosciani from Masi who said he hoped I would pass by one day… let’s call it the trigger 🙂 The only problem I still had was to convince or better find the perfect time to tell my wife I was going on a wine trip… AND Then it happened, as if the gods were favorable to me my wife told me she was thinking of going on a weekend with her sister 🙂 🙂 In the time she was still thinking I had already planned 2 trips 🙂 (one wine trip with by buddy Carlos and one with my daughter to visit my grandparents in Italy). Deciding which vineyards to visit was quite difficult as I wanted to visit lots of them, but I must say I had my mind made up pretty quickly. This wine trip brought us to 3 different Italian regions, we started in Alto Adige with a visit to the Elena Walch vineyard. We continued our trip in Veneto with visiting Masi and Guiseppe Quintarelli (and surprise stops at Farina and Bulgioni). To finally end our trip on what we called white wine Saturday at Ca dei Frati in Lombardy and Sandro de Bruno in Veneto again (Soave).

Route trip

What I love about travelling to Italy, is the fact that no matter where you go or how big the vineyard is they still receive you as you are part of the family.. I guess that’s the southern hospitality…

On the road

After a looooong drive we finally arrived in a little town of Termeno that is a few kilometers from Bolzano and from the Austrian border. What you notice when you are in this region is the Austrian influence in the housing, but also the fact that I think around 80% of the people speak German as first language (but all of them also speak very good Italian). We also couldn’t have imagined a better way to start our trip/holiday then in Termeno, we started it with a wonderful lunch at  Ansitz Romani outside in the open air with a nice bottle of Pinot Bianco from the Elena Walch estate… to already get familiar with the vineyard we were about to visit after the lunch  😉 FYI believe it or not, but the picture of the wine was taken with a smart phone camera (Huawei P9 –  with Leica lens)

Pinot Bianco Elena Walch

Ansitz Romani

Normally it was Julia Walch who would be showing us around, but unfortunately she had to travel abroad… but she had found good substitutes, her mother aka Elena Walch herself 🙂 and Lena a lovely young lady (oenology student) who was doing a internship at the vineyard and who I can say was very passionate about wines.

Elena Walch and daughters

Azienda vinicola Elena Walch was only founded in 1985 but the Walch Family already makes wine under the the name Wilhelm Walch that make ‘table wine’( or everyday wine or however you prefer calling it) since 1869 but it was not until Elena’s husband took over the family estate that he together with his wife Elena (who until then was architect) decided to start making next to the Wilhelm range of wines also wines of a higher quality or better ‘Cru’ wines from the grapes of their best parcels which they would make under the name Elena Walch. Eventhough Elena stopped working as an architect in 1985  when they founded the Elena Walch estate, you can clearly see that once an architect – always an architect 🙂 you see the influence of an architect in the newest part of the estate (the buildings that is) . You just know these are details only an architect would think of (I know Elena didn’t design it herself, but I’m sure she influenced it) like special lightning, the shapes of everything, etc…

It also seems like the next generation is getting ready to take over the torch as both daughters of Elena Walch recently joined the family estate and work in the Marketing department and took over most of the travelling from their parents.  When I asked Elena if it was difficult to work together with her daughters she said: “It is not difficult, but you do notice the difference with a regular employee. When you tell a regular employee something he’ll just do it. My daughters on the other hand 🙂 :-)”  But was very happy they were around and helping and continuing the business.

Elena Walche Estate 1 Elena Walche Estate2 Elena Walche Estate3 Elena Walche Estate4 Elena Walche Estate5 Elena Walche Estate6

The vineyard does use the most modern techniques and machinery , but they do still try to respect tradition. This you mainly see in the older part of the vineyard. What I personally love is the big decorated barrels… something they only back in the day as nowadays making the decorating  would cost too much

Elena Walche Estate 7  Elena Walche Estate 9 Elena Walche Estate 10 Elena Walche Estate 11 Elena Walche Estate 13

The philosophy of the estate is dedicated to its ‘terroir’. They have the idea that wines must be the expression of the grounds, climate and even of the cultivation in the vineyard that like mentioned gets done according to the most modern techniques and to principles of sustainability. The two main territories (where the grapes grow)  of the Elena Walch estate are Castel Ringberg (the ‘regular’ top wines. In France they would call it premier cru) and Kastelaz (the absolute top or Grand Cru) that today have a surface of almost 55 Ha. Where other estates in the region might mix grapes from multiple territories, at Elena Walch they handle the grapes separate (something similar like they do at the Bollinger Champagne estate).

Castel Ringberg that was once owned by the Hapsburg dynasty is located on mostly steep chalky soil, but with some sandy and loamy parts (basically a quit unique combination as mostly it is one of the 3). Because of the diversity of soil  it allows the estates to be very flexible and grow a very wide range of grape variaties: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein, Schiava. Again something very unique. I was really surprised about the amount of varieties as I thought in the mountains (even-though the Elena Walch vineyards are only up to 400m altitude above sea level) were very difficult and only a few grape varieties were strong enough to grow here… but that’s why I like to visit vineyards as you always learn news things you don’t always learn in books 😉

Castel Ringberg

What makes Kastelaz more special for Elena Walch or maybe even for the whole region is the southern location of it that creates micro-climatic conditions. Most other pieces of land in Alto Adige follow the valley and therefore get less sunshine. In difference with Ringberg, at Kastelaz there are only 3 grape varieties grown Gewürztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Bianco. This is due first of all because the soil here is chalk with raw rock like granite which isn’t the ideal soil for grapes, only a few can survive in these conditions

Kastelaz

It is of course all nice to know that they separate all of this, but how does it reflect in the glass.  Well we obviously didn’t try all the wines they have as that is I believe 31 different wines. From the wines we did try you can actually draw a line or find a red wire in all the wines (and it seems that most guides like Robert Parker, Gambero Rosso and Wine spectator agree on this when I read their comments about the wines they tasted). The Elena Walch wines are full bodied yet very elegant with a harmonious acidity where needed and a long length/finish (that I personally like a lot) and on top of all that every wine (because of its grape variety and location where it came from) adds that own specific mark on the identity.  Every taster we were served asked for more… I mean even the heavier red wines had that fresh part in them and want you to have more 🙂

Just FYI another piece of modern architecture at the estate is the Bistrot where we tasted the wines… not to speak about the view

Elena Walch Bistrot

One of our favorites (and I do think I speak for myself as for Carlos who joined me during this trip) was the Castel Ringberg Sauvignon with its fresh nose of minerals and green apples that definitely do not disappoint once you taste!! You’d be surprised how often a wine has a wonderful nose, but when you taste it its not what you hoped for… but in this case the taste was everything you’d hoped it to be 🙂 that’s also why we brought a box home :-). I do realize I can buy all those wines here in Belgium or anywhere else in the world for that matter…but you just get caught up in that moment that you just have to have it then and there 🙂 🙂 (a feeling we had quit a few times during this trip 🙂

Sauvignon

Another wine that got our immediate attention was the Pinot Nero ‘Ludwig’ Aged for 14 months in half new oak and half old oak, its power is discreetly brought to the surface by subtle tannins and lively acidity. Perfumed, complex, elegant, it is drinkable now, but I guess a bit of aging wouldn’t hurt… so we’ll have to try not to touch those bottles we brought back home 😦

Pinot Nero Ludwig

I can say for a fact that we couldn’t have imagined a better first day! A great lunch (with great wine), being around lovely beautiful ladies a whole afternoon (I don’t remember seeing to many men working at Elena Walch‘s estate) and finishing the day with a good piece of meat and some great red wine at the Schwarz Adler 🙂 What more do we need?? We also slept like babies as it had been a very very long day.

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Next stop VERONA!!!

In case you would want more information on Elena Walch wines or where to buy them in Belgium you can contact Young Charly. For the rest of the world you can check the Elena Walch website or contact the Elena Walch estate directly