Wednesday Wines – Episode 46

Episode 46 – 10th February 2021

Monte Santoccio di Nicola Ferrari

Formerly an assistant to the legendary Valpolicella producer Giuseppe Quintarelli, Nicola Ferrari and his wife Laura now make their wines from 4ha of organically farmed vines in Fumane.  Production is between 25000 – 30000 bottles per year, so this is a very discreet operation, and the wines are nothing short of sensational.  Each of these red wines is made from approximately 70% Corvina and Corvinone and then 30% of Rondinella and Molinara with Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Franc making an appearance in SantoccioRosso.  There is no oak influence in the Classico Superiore and then oak plays more of a part in the other wines, but in no way marks these beautiful creations merely acting as a vessel to soothe the tannins and allow the wine to mellow before bottling.  These wines are all as honest and accurate as any I have tasted from this region and yet there is fascinating detail here, too.  There is uncommon restraint and calm in this portfolio of wines and yet the flavours are all grand, layered, enticing and refreshing.

2018 Valpolicella, Classico Superiore, Monte Santoccio, Verona, Italy (£17.95, www.swig.co.uk).

I find it baffling that this wine, which is first rung on the ladder of this glorious estate, is as rewarding and lip-smacking as bottles costing twice the price from other Valpolicella producers.  There is no oak employed here and so this wine is fully exposed and this means that while we are able to taste every detail of its fruit we would also be able to spot any flaws or fissures in its delivery.  It is therefore very heartening to report that this is a flawless and thoroughly lip-smacking wine and how many times can you say that about an £18 red?  18/20

2018 Valpolicella Ripasso, Classico Superiore, Monte Santoccio, Verona, Italy (£26.50, www.swig.co.uk).

While the estate Valpolicella is the only wine which is drinking perfectly right now all of the wines in this piece are certainly approachable and yet they have considerable staying power, too.  This Ripasso is, most-certainly, the wine with the highest ‘value ratio’ given that the flavour is astounding and the price, stubbornly, remains affordable!  Of course, this is cause for great celebration because the extra dimension of flair and richness at the heart of this gorgeous Ripasso is sensational.  While many wines of this style carry extra weight and darker fruit tones, this elite version parades red fruit and uncommon succulence.  I absolutely love it and it fully deserves its gold medal score.  18.5/20

2018 SantoccioRosso, Monte Santoccio, Verona, Italy (£32.00, www.swig.co.uk).

I usually recoil from ‘super’ styles of red wines which delight in diverting from the well-worn path, via gimmickry, in search of notoriety.  SanticcioRosso wisely decides to keep the chassis and bodywork of a lusty Amarone and then merely upgrades the interior of this Gran Turismo with splashes of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The results are a refreshing variation on a ravishing theme.  The nose confuses for a second as Cab Franc does the honours, but we are business as usual on the palate until Sangiovese adds bitterness and Merlot adds gloss.  This is a very successful wine which doesn’t upset traditionalists while enticing modernists to the cause.  It might even lead the way for those new to great Veronese reds as it behaves as a gentlemanly stepping stone to the wiles of Monte Santoccio.  18+/20

2016 Amarone della Valpolicella, Classico, Monte Santoccio, Verona, Italy (£55.00, www.swig.co.uk).

Amarone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have two things in common.  They are the two wine styles that amateur wine lovers most often cite as their favourite, robust reds.  The second commonality is perhaps rather more concerning.  In my opinion, these are the two most overrated of all famous red wine styles and yet, somehow, because they are inevitably full-bodied and high in alcohol the unsuspecting convince themselves, while they imbibe, that scale and impact are worthy substitutes for complexity and breeding.  It follows that I rarely write up either style of wine.  Having said this, 2016 Amarone Monte Santoccio is the real deal.  This is a beautifully pliant and melodic red wine, in fact, it is almost Pinot-esque in its buoyancy and charm.  At only four years old this wine is drinking perfectly but this may or may not be an illusion – you will have to decide for yourself.  I am certain that it will unravel further by, by golly, this is a delicious drink and it is its heady perfume that leads the way.  Spice, hints of leather, a fanfare of bitter red fruit, discreet heat and skin rejoice and then senesce perfectly.  This is a joyous experience and it finishes dry and noble – a vitally important part of this wine’s repertoire.  So here you have it – an Amarone which does everything it should do and more and it costs a quarter of the price of the most famous name in town! Over to you.  18.5+/20

2013 Amarone della Valpolicella, Classico, Black Label, Monte Santoccio, Verona, Italy (£75.00, www.swig.co.uk).

An unexpected sample of this wine came with the others and I cannot find out anything about this wine on the www.montesantoccio.com website.  There are no clues on the bottle aside from the rather fascinating fact that my bottle was number 301 of a mere 1840 produced.  Because the vintage resides on the back of the Monte Santoccio bottles I imagined that I was tasting a 2016 or 2015 given the extraordinary focus and intensity of fruit here.  So imagine my surprise when I noticed that this is a seven-year-old wine!  I often prefer estate cuvées to prestige labels because the latter tend to push too hard on extraction and muscle.  Not so here.  This is one of the most sophisticated and pliant Amarones I have ever tasted.  It is generous, welcoming and deeply luxurious and yet there is the tell-tale Santoccio freshness on the finish, too.  Just starting out on a very long journey, this is one of the standout wines of the year, but this is not to take away from each and every wine in this portfolio.  Scoring between 18 and 19 points for five wines priced between £17.95 and, I guess, £75 is an astounding achievement for this epic, boutique, family winery. 19+/20

Scores

I have attached my scores out of 20 for these wines.  If a score has no ‘+’, this indicates a wine which is in balance and can be drunk relatively young thanks to its precocity and charm.  One ‘+’ indicates a wine that will benefit from medium-term ageing (in accordance to the style of the wine), while two ‘++’ indicates a wine that should manage to make the long haul, softening and evolving as it goes.