Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Oenological Love-Children of Dal Forno & Quintarelli

Cinzia & Claudio Viviani

I’m battling with this one. This is too close to me. Forces of destiny have stepped in here. What in hell’s name is going on?

It started as a challenge to myself: to produce, three times a week, some unique viewpoint on wine. Not something cribbed from the AP headlines on wine, or the news or the headlines. We don’t need to regurgitate news from sources that have a higher readership. Can anyone “report” on resveratrol in any way from a pre-existing article that will shed more light? Please.

So, a slight break from Tuscany. A brief side trip to the Veneto, to the Valpolicella. Time for a little Amarone moment, getting on the Ripasso Love Boat.

During a trip to the Veneto in April of 2006, I went to see Romano Dal Forno, and Cinzia and her brother Claudio Viviani. Needless to say, the wines at Dal Forno were of another dimension. The care with which he takes with his babies is on a level that we wish all winemakers were at. Impeccable respect for nature and natural winemaking.

Earlier, at dinner, at Trattoria Caprini, with Claudio and his sister Cinzia, over a plate of risotto con Amarone, we talked of Dal Forno and his mentorship of some of the young winemakers in the Veneto, of which Claudio is one. Claudio is double-lucky in that he is neighbors with another master, Giuseppe Quintarelli. The Vivianis are the oenological love- children of Dal Forno and Quintarelli.

I am sure Claudio would cringe at this characterization. He’s a young man, Dal Forno is middle-aged, and Quintarelli is slightly older. So young Viviani is in the catbird seat. He’s picking the low hanging fruit right now, and there will be some definite challenges down the road.

The value of the dollar to the Euro is a headache for all of us. Imagine the position of a carmaker like Ferrari or Maserati, where the dollar has lost 30-40% of its strength in recent years.

The vineyard is pitched where no machine will go. Labor has to be imported from Eastern Europe. The Veneti are more provincial than they realize. They’re tribal. Yes they are efficient, yes they are meticulous, and yes they have embraced modernity. But they rival the Friulani or the Calabrese in their connection to a sometimes harsh environment. They’ve made peace with the elements, now they have to learn how to handle success. And the world market. And luxury marketing. All that. The price of prosperity on a hillside.

Last year on the way to Sonoma from San Francisco, I was in a car with Cinzia Viviani and two other colleagues, including her importer. Finishing up a Gambero Rosso tasting we had a free day and thought to take a drive up the wine trail in Sonoma and Napa. We never made it. The driver lost control of the car on the freeway, went off the road, aiming for what could only be described as the gates of hell, managed to pull the car back onto the road, a fully stocked freeway at that. Barely scraping by another car, and in a totally out-of-control waggle, managed to keep the machine from becoming airborne, only to jam the brand new car into a concrete wall or two. The four of us walked out of a destroyed car with a sore neck or two, a bloody knee here, a bloody nose there. We were either going to perish or walk away. We skated.

21 months later and regular visits to the chiropractor, I’m still a little bent. But on that road to Healdsburg that day, we cheated death, Cinzia and me and our two companions. We got a 2nd chance, or maybe a 4th or a 5th.

Because of that experience, yes, but also because of absolutely beautiful vineyards and a family I feel connected to in more ways than one, these Viviani wines speak to me of what Amarone is becoming on the stage of the world class wines. This has been a good year of tasting wines, starting with the 2005 Bordeaux tastings in France, Vinitaly and visits to Dal Forno, Gravner, Bisol. A lost weekend in Dublin and the cathedral of Guinness. Tuscany at harvest time, Montalcino, the Maremma, Panzano, Carmignano. Throw in Paris, New York and Hollywood, yes it’s been a good year for the wine-lover in this corner.

The wines: Not a plain vanilla one here. Campo Morar, a Valpolicella classico superiore that has its very own unique style of Ripasso, complex and intensely artisanal. The Amarone della Valpolicella. This is dark velvet fudge, a smooth stew of a red. John Roegnik, of the venerable Austin Wine Merchant, today asked me about the wine. I have difficulty telling John about wine. One, because he is knowledgeable. Two, because I have known him for so long that I cannot B.S. him. Three, because I am not very fast on my feet.

So now, to John and the three other people who read this, I will tell.

There are wines that are markers to me. La Chapelle is one of those. The Brunello of Fattoi is another. The Barolo of Giacomo Conterno, the Monfortino. Passito di Moscato di Pantelleria, Quinta Vesuvio, Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoisselles. The 1964 Louis Martini Cabernet. You get the idea.

The experience of tasting Viviani this year was a culmination, an affirmation, from what began with the first time I remember drinking an Amarone back in 1982. Maybe it was my California upbringing, but something about the wine has fascinated me in a way that takes it beyond solely an Italian wine. This is a wine made for The World. By once-upon-a-time-tribal people with cell phones and fast cars, and hillsides unable to take a tractor. It fascinates me. From stone walls, vines jut out and re-create themselves. This is fecundity unleashed. And the wines, surely the wines of Dal Forno, and yes the wines of Quintarelli. And Le Salette and Allegrini, and ones I am not putting on these lines. But for me, the Viviani wines talk to me of the future of Amarone. When I taste the Casa dei Bepi, I begin to see a time beyond my life when the fruit from this site will still be making wine, better wine, than in my lifetime. Hard to imagine, but nonetheless imaginable. Yes, for the big red lovers, it’s a powerful wine. And for lovers of elegance, it is. And if you are looking to cellar for 20 years, you may. And if you want style with substance, it’s all inside.

The truth is that with an open heart, a well-made wine from a healthy vineyard and a winemaker or a family, you don’t have to look far. God, I love these wines. So do they.

Viviani wines are imported in the US by Tricana and are generally available in New York, California, Texas, Florida and other regions.
Sam Levitas, Cinzia Viviani, Andrea Fassone, Claudio Viviani, Fosco Amoroso

Vinolin Tags: romano dal forno

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