During New Hampshire Wine Week in January, I met with several winemakers, including Marilisa Allegrini of Allegrini Estates in Italy’s Valpolicella region. Allegrini flew from Milan to Boston and was directly escorted to the wine cellar at the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, N.H., where we conducted our interview. This was Allegrini’s first visit to New Hampshire Wine Week and, as it turns out, I became her de facto ambassador to the “Live Free or Die” state. Hopefully I made a good impression.
Allegrini is the CEO and global brand ambassador for her family’s business. She and her brother, chief winemaker Franco Allegrini, represent the sixth generation in this family tradition. Franco’s son and Marilisa’s two daughters are also involved in the business.
Italy is one of the most complex wine-growing countries. More than 2,000 grape varieties are produced there. Tuscany cultivates the sangiovese grape. In Piedmont, we find nebbiolo; in Valpolicella, varied expressions of the corvina grape. Dark cherries are one of the dominant flavor notes of corvina. Amarone is the premier wine produced in this region.
Amarone is made from dried corvina grapes that are cultivated at the highest elevations of Valpolicella. Different from the plump cultivations of fruits and vegetables that we generally consume, grapes make the best wine when the plants are stressed and produce smaller berries and a lower yield. In the late 1970s, Giovanni Allegrini, Marilisa’s father, was a pioneer in changing cultivation techniques from the traditional Guyot trellising to a double pergola trellising. The Guyot method of vine training extends the vines to the left and right of the main stock along a foundation of posts and wires. The double pergola method raises the vines 6 1/2 feet on the sides of each row and extends them across a pergola, creating a canopy that shades the berries. This double pergola reduces the vine density from 2,000 vines per acre to 1,000 vines per acre. The result is half the yield and smaller berries.
Drying grapes in the region’s high humidity can make them susceptible to infection from the botrytis fungus. Allegrini Estates has figured out a way to manage the issue. “You can make wine with botrytis, but you get this port-type flavor that sometimes reminds you of over-oxidation,” Marilissa Allegrini says. “We want an Amarone with no oxidation and also not an extremely high alcohol content. In 1998, after a few years of experiment, we built a facility where we can control the first stage of the drying process, which is the most critical one, and by doing this we prevent botrytis. The style of Amarone we make is very intense, with an alcohol content of 15%. The body and structure are in balance and we don’t have this port-like flavor.”
Allegrini continues, “We have a facility that has big windows and doors. When the humidity is at about 60%, we open the doors and let the air circulate. Even on a sunny day we can have 90% humidity. When the humidity rises to 90%-100%, then we close the windows and doors and we don’t let the humidity come in. Big fans circulate the air, along with a dehumidifier that reduces the humidity to normal. Thanks to this, I think we started a new trend in Valpolicella production because Allegrini Amarone is recognized as an Amarone that is suitable for food. It’s not a wine to drink after a meal in front of the fireplace. Instead, it is an intense wine that you can enjoy with red meat and enjoy with your meal.”
A second-tier wine made in Valpolicella is referred to as Ripasso, which is made when the winemaker produces a regular wine and then introduces pomace, leftover Amarone grape skins, for a second fermentation. In 1990, Giovanni Allegrini modified this method for their single vineyard Palazzo Della Torre wine. Instead of using pumace to start the second fermentation, he introduced the same dried grapes used in the Amarone production. The resulting wine is an affordable yet intense “Baby Amarone” that has made Wine Spectator’s coveted top 100 wine list six times. In 2018, it was included in Wine Enthusiast’s top 100 list. Palazzo Della Torre is the only wine made with dried grapes instead of pomace, but I suspect other producers will follow.
Allegrini’s Valpolicella Classico and Valpolicella Superiore are made without the use of dried grapes. Each uses 70% corvina blended with 25%-30% percent of the rondinella varietal. These wines are similar, but the Superiore is aged for a longer time in oak. The Classico is aged in stainless steel. These are quality wines from Valpolicella that you can buy at a lower cost. I am officially a big fan of Allegrini wines, and you should look for their name when shopping. They are widely available and will be a big hit with your guests. Salute!
[Watch for the second part of this series on Allegrini wines in the July/August issue of mvm.]