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Home Winners > Winners 2012 > ITALY: North-East, including Soave, Valpolicella & Amarone

Winner Details

Italy: North-East, including Soave, Valpolicella & Amarone

A powerhouse region, that’s done well with aromatic whites in the past, this year in SWA it was more about the less famous reds

Italy’s north-east should be an area that can do it all: produce great, easy-drinking reds and whites at restaurant-friendly prices, with more ambitious versions for those who want to trade up. In fact, this was a bit of a game of two halves, Brian, with the reds storming into an early lead and generally passing the fruit around nicely, while the whites looked disjointed and overpriced, and resorted too often to lumping lashings of oak forward from the back. A 4–1 win for the Reds in terms of Golds was about right.

The example of Soave is a case in point. A good number were sent in – mostly at the sub-£10 level, where the region ought to be excelling. But what looked good on paper smelled less good in the glass; our tasters were not impressed with what they found.

While the best wines were trim, with a bit of grip and bite, too many were the vinous equivalent of couch potatoes. ‘One or two of the wines here are too fat – there’s just not enough freshness for me,’ said consultant Richard Bampfield MW. ‘The days are gone when Soave is a well-known wine that you have to have on your list. The contents of the bottle have to justify it now.’

The region’s other whites were similarly underwhelming. Again, plenty of cheaper wines came in – and the majority were unceremoniously bundled off into the van marked ‘no medals’.

‘Some were a bit overworked, heavy, blowsy and a bit flat. But some went the other way and were a bit pungent and aggressive,’ said Flint Wines’ Gearoid Devaney MS. Not cheap, either.

‘The prices were bullish for the lack of intensity and lack of fruit,’ agreed journalist Natasha Hughes. ‘There was too much old-fashioned winemaking going on – that perception that more oak is better.’

The region’s reds fared far better, with four good Golds (three of them under £10), a broad swathe of Silvers and a couple of well-priced Bronzes. With the mix of Teroldegos, Rossos, Pinot Neros, Valpolicellas and the odd Lagrein, the freshness of these ‘mid-weight’ entries proved popular with the tasters.

Foni Tsouvallas of The Folly described them (positively) as ‘Monday or Tuesday night wines, rather than Friday or Saturday night. There was a much better use of oak here than in many flights we’ve tasted today.’

‘Once you taste that cherry, acidity, savoury – then you know you’re in a good place,’ added Flint Wines’ Gearoid Devaney MS, as the tasters plumped repeatedly for the fresher, less ‘international’ wines.

The only downside was Valpolicella, which despite a good stack of entries failed to make any impact on the Gold List. And the problems here were not so much stylistic (the tasters were generally positive) as financial. ‘The starting point seems to have risen,’ said Bampfield MW. ‘At £7, expectations are reset much higher.’

‘I was not excited,’ said a saturnine Olivier Marie from Coq d’Argent. ‘The entry level was no more than OK. Higher price points were showing better – but complexity and longevity? I’m not sure.’

Interestingly, there were similar issues with the Amarones – a feeling that they just weren’t quite doing enough. ‘Some were perfectly pleasant, but had no more concentration than a ripasso, and that’s not enough for an Amarone,’ said Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson.

Conversely, some had more enthusiasm than class, falling apart structurally with alcohol, tannins and fruit, frankly, all over the place. Since there was no such thing as a cheap Amarone (submissions started around the £17 mark and rose to more than twice that level), our tasters were not so much looking for value for money as balance and, crucially, drinkability.

Wines simply not being ready to drink yet has held this category back in the past, and it did so again here. The medal winners were all good wines, but not for consumption for another couple of years.

‘The entry-level reds were good – they showed acidity and freshness.’ Gearoid Devaney MS, Flint Wines

‘I found the cheapest Valpolicellas too expensive, but the wines started to get interesting once we reached the ripasso styles, with more complexity and more rounded acidity.’ Philippe Moranges, Hakkasan