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Choosing Distinctiveness over Sameness
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 2, 2013
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Allegrini, Veronese IGT (Veneto, Italy) Palazzo della Torre 2009 (Winebow, $20):  I am sometimes struck by how very similar so many red wines taste today.  At the $20 price level, the differences between a South American Cabernet or Malbec, an Australian Shiraz and a California Cab or Merlot come down to small details of aroma and flavor, while structurally and stylistically the wines are almost interchangeable:  Lots of ripe fruitiness, some sweetness, soft texture and ample alcohol.  This is not homogenization in search of Parker points, but homogenization in search of mass-market consumer dollars.

Many European reds buck this trend, sometimes by choice but sometimes because their grape varieties and terroirs are suited to styles other than the popular international model.  Northern Italian reds, with generally high acidity and lean structure, are particularly key examples.

A tasting of moderately-priced, traditional reds from Allegrini inspired these thoughts.  Allegrini is a leading producer in the Valpolicella zone of the Veneto region.  Valpolicella wine, made from a blend of native grape varieties -- Corvina (the finest), Rondinella and Molinara -- is a fairly light, refreshing, food-friendly red wine that’s a far cry from a typical New World $20 red.  More ambitious renditions of the local wine employ some dried grapes to enrich the wine’s weight and concentration, or a small percentage of non-traditional grapes to give the wine some slight fleshiness, along with aging in French oak; while these techniques can increase the wine’s quality and weight, they do not necessarily obliterate its innate local style.

Allegrini makes a straightforward Valpolicella Classico DOC ($17) from hillside-grown grapes fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks.  It is a terrific traditional Valpolicella with pretty cherry fruit and lively acidity on a trim frame.  For a few dollars more, Palazzo della Torre offers more weight, richness, and flavor complexity.  This wine comes from a vineyard of the same name in the Valpolicella Classico district.  The wine is classified as IGT Veronese rather than DOC Valpolicella Classico because in 1997, when the Allegrini family was replanting some if the vineyard, the Molinara grape -- which is prone to oxidation and botrytis and thus not desirable for their winemaking style -- was one of the required varieties in a DOC Valpolicella; the Allegrinis decided not to plant Molinara and thus sacrificed DOC status.  In addition to the traditional Corvina (70 percent) and Rondinella (25 percent), this wine contains 5 percent Sangiovese grapes.

The aroma of Allegrini’s 2009 Palazzo della Torre suggests red and black cherries, along with floral and nutty notes.  In your mouth, the wine is dry, has medium-plus body, with some creamyness of texture and an under-layer of velvety tannins; flavors suggest dark, ripe berries, a hint of black pepper, ashy earth and fresh herbs.  The long finish shows a concentration of fruit that bodes well for moderate aging, as well as an attractive savory note.

The relative richness of this wine owes itself to the technique of drying some of the grapes.  In September, thirty percent of the grapes are set aside for drying off the vine, while the remaining grapes are harvested for immediate fermentation.  In December, the already-fermented wine is mixed with the fermenting juice of the dried grapes for, in effect, a second fermentation, which gives the wine characteristics such as richness, some fleshiness, and yet freshness.  Aging in second-use barriques follows.  This is a variation of the “ripasso” method common for fine wine in the area, which involves re-fermentation instigated by the addition of skins from Amarone, the iconic dried-grape wine of the Valpolicella zone.

Yet another choice in the Allegrini line is La Grola 2009 ($30), an IGT Veronese from the La Grola vineyard in the classic zone of Valpolicella.  This wine is 80 percent Corvina and 20 percent Syrah, aged in second-use barriques.  In this Allegrini line-up, it stands out as the least traditional because of its fleshy fruitiness, its fairly full body and its oak tannin.  But taste it alongside a New World red in the same price range, and its grainy texture, mineral nuance and energetic palate length pronounce loudly that it is not a taste-alike red.

I love all three wines but at this moment I’ll reach for the tremendously satisfying Palazzo della Torre, and drink it with grilled chicken breast, risotto with porcini mushrooms, Italian sausages with polenta, or any number of savory dishes.

90 Points