Gladiator Wine Blog

Tony’s Top Amarone Pick

Written and Produced by Tony Margiotta

In this video I’m going to share with you my favorite Amarone pick and tell you what makes it so good and why you should try it. 

If you haven’t seen my Amarone crash course series there’s a link below that’ll take you to all of the videos. You can save them to your playlist so you can watch them at your leisure. 

So the valpolicella sub-region has really become a behemoth of a wine production area. 

There are over 150 producers that make Amarone. 

You can find an Amarone that costs $40 and you can find one that costs $400 and everything in between. 

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting well over 75 of these producers and made a few observations I’d like to share with you. 

One, there are many Amarone producers that allow too much oak to seep into the wine to the point that you can’t even taste the grapes anymore. My personal opinion is that the producer is covering up something they don’t want you to taste and that could very well be low quality grapes. Something to look out for. 

The second observation is there are many producers whose Amarone has too much residual sugar. And Let’s face it. Sugar makes everything taste better. 

But for me, the sign of quality craftsmanship in an Amarone contains a high concentration fruit flavors with low levels of residual sugar. 

How low is low? Anything under 5 grams. The lower the better. 

I’ve tasted Amarone’s that had anywhere from 8-12 grams of residual sugar. And while they were really smooth and pleasing, that’s all they were. Not really enough nuance, complexity or depth for one of the world’s best wines if you ask me. 

Even the italian regulators of Amarone, the ones that write the rules on how you can make this wien, agreed that the the sugar levels in Amarone were getting out of hand. It was damaging it’s reputation. So they lowered the legal allowable maximum from 12 grams per liter to 9. This will help increase the standards of Amarone that all producers will have to follow. 

And finally, many producers were releasing their Amarone’s too early. They’re not the only ones by the way. Many age worthy and highly sought for wines have been guilty of releasing their wines too early instead of the letting them age to a certain point where the drinkability is close to it’s maximum. 

So that was the technical part. Now let’s get into the story of how I discovered my top Amarone pick. 

So out of all the producers I tasted the Ugolini family estate winery really stood out from the crowd. 

So here it is. This is the Ugolini Valle Alta Amarone 2013. 

Let me tell you a little bit about the Ugolini family. 

Their small estate winery was an idea that Giambattista, the oldest of three siblings, that after the death of his father, was forced to think about the future of his family’s vineyards. He worked abroad for several years, saving every penny, so he could bring his savings back to his family’s estate and began investing in the surrounding terrains in the fumane valley in the Valpolicella. 

While his father was living, the family was predominately a grape farmer and sold grapes to the nearby wineries. But Giambattista knew his family’s land was particularly rich and full of great potential. So he wanted to vinify his own wine with the family name. 

Today the estate is 22 hectares with each vineyard representing a single cru which I’d say is one of the estates truly most important differentiators. 

They also have olive trees, they have an antique courtyard along with a tasting room that was converted from a 19th century Austrian prison all made of stone, they also have a bed and breakfast, and what’s really characteristic is that there are about 6 miles worth of dry walls that you can see in the picture which are typical of the Valpolicella that really immerses you into elegance and harmony that make you feel at home. 

Besides the heartwarming story of Giambattista and his family vineyard, his winemaking focus is really on the single vineyard cru. 

Cultivating native grapes in the perfect location and ambiance lay the groundwork for a world class wine. It takes a lot of labor and passion to make a fine wine with a single vineyard. Some wineries won’t even attempt it because it’s simply too hard. While other wineries will make just one. The Ugolini estate makes 5 different single cru wines in the valpolicella including the Amarone here. 

If wine tasting is like travel without transportation, then the single vineyard cru is like traveling 1st class. 

Valle Alta is the name of the single vineyard from which this wine comes from. 

Valle Alta means high valley and as you can see in the foto, it’s the perfect name. 

The farming practices is organic and sustainable. No chemicals allowed in the vineyard. Gianbattista prides himself on cultivating an ecosystem that is clean and healthy. 

The vineyard gets access to sunlight from sunrise to sunset which allows the grapes to fully mature. 

The grapes are hand-harvested and hand-selected so that only the best grapes are used to make this Amarone. 

The appassimento lasts about 120 days until the grapes have lost 50% of their original weight and from there, they carefully selected the best of the air dried grapes. Their goal is to make the highest quality and maximum expression of this grand wine so only the best of the best grapes can be a part of that mission. 

The grapes are then gently pressed and and the juice and skins stay in contact for 2 months. 

All while this is happening the aromatics of this wine are developing step by step. And let me tell you, the perfumes that come from this one are extremely powerful and seductive. 

The wine then ferments in steel vats followed by a period of French barrique for further refinement. 

The wine then rests in it’s custom glass bottle in the cellar for several years before it’s released to the public. As I’m recording this video in 2021 we’re tasting the 2013 and I purchased it in 2020. So we’re talking 7 years of aging before it’s released to the public. Now that will depend on the vintage and availability but it’s fair to say that the Ugolini family won’t release the wine until it’s ready for drinking. 

And by the way, the residual sugar is less than 1 gram per liter. It does’nt get any lower than that. 

Let’s talk about the grapes used in this Amarone. Corvina is the dominant grape, but there are actually two types of Corvina; one is called Corvina Gentile and the other is Corvina Grossa. Followed by Rondinella and Oseleta which adds richness and structure to give this wine layer upon layer of fruits, rose petals, spices, and savory earth tones. 

17,000 bottles are handcrafted annually and each bottle is individually numbered. This is bottle number xxx

And as you can see the bottle has been custom made with the family emblem etched into the glass to remind us of the precise attention to detail has been taken into account from vine to wine to the glass that protects it. 

All grapes are hand-harvested an hand-selected so that less internvestion is needed in the cellar and you get a world class wine made with the highest standards. 

Organic and sustainable farming to ensure a clean wine

The valle alta is a single cru vineyard located 850 feet above sea level, one of the highest vineyards that produces Amarone, the elevation, sun exposure and temperature variations contribute to maximum grape quality, complexity, aromatics, depth and expression  

This Amarone can age 25-30 and while it can easily go the long haul, the tasting experience at 8 years is nothing short of extraordinary. 

I recommend you decant the wine at least 2 hours before drinking. The wine takes a lot of time opening up. Over the course of a fine dinner The Valle Alta Amarone will continue to open and reveal aromas and flavors that were hidden at the beginning. This wine will tell you stories and it has a lot to say. 

There aren’t enough words to describe exactly what this wine tastes like because from sip to sip and from minute to minute, the wine changes. What I can tell you is this: it’s full bodied but not heavy, it’s powerful but graceful. it’s fruit forward but not sugary, there’s floral notes and spices, and there’s a beginning, middle, and end to every sip. The finish will leave you with an unforgettable mark in your memory. 

If you’re new to amarone, this wine will instantly spoil you. If you’re not new to amarone, this wine will also spoil you…

Don’t miss out on a memorable wine experience that will last long after the finish.


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