It’s said that the second greatest mistake (just behind the origin of Champagne) in winemaking occurred when winemakers in Valpolicella were attempting to make sweet wine from dried grapes and ended up with Amarone instead. Apparently, they left the wine to ferment too long and all the sugar was consumed by yeast, leaving them with a dry red wine that had an unusually high alcohol content.
Of course, today little is left to chance in Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, one of Italy’s finest and most historic wine regions. Two recent occurrences that clearly involved a lot of planning and hard work were the creation of the newly released Bertani 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and the fact that the winemaker who made it, Andrea Lonardi MW, just passed the rigorous Master of Wine Exam, making him only the second Italian to achieve the coveted title.
A native of Valpolicella, Lonardi joined Bertani in 2012 as chief of winemaking and chief operating officer. Today, the winery is part of Angeli Wines & Estates, and Lonardi retains that title across their six wineries. Shortly after joining, he had his hand in crafting the 2012, and although in the interim he has traveled the globe introducing new and library releases from Bertani, this year marks the first time that Lonardi has been able to pour a bottle that he had a hand in making. These two incidents offer lovers of Italian wine two reasons to celebrate; Bertani’s simultaneous release of a handful of library vintages add another layer of excitement for oenophiles.
Let’s start with the released Bertani 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. A blend of Corvina Veronese and Rondinella, it has a bouquet of dried plums and cherries, hazelnuts, and a whiff of cinnamon. Ripe flavors of blackberry, black cherry, cassis, star anise, and clove are encased in a layer of firm yet velvety tannins. Touches of chocolate and nutmeg linger into a long, satisfying finish. Lonardi tells Robb Report that 2012 “was a warm vintage and it affected the wine by giving a fuller body and a more concentrated nose, but the wine still has a high, bright acidity.” The grapes were dried in single layers on bamboo racks for 120 days to concentrate their flavors and sugar, and they were then macerated and fermented for 40 days before spending seven years in wood, mainly Slavonian oak.
Although the 2012 is drinking beautifully right now, Lonardi believes it will show even better in the next three to five years and that while it will be in an excellent drinking window through 2033. He suggests keeping it for 20 years, explaining, “It is a very fruity vintage, and it will take over 10 years to start to enjoy tertiary evolution of the wine. In some ways 2012 reminds me of 1967, and for that reason we can expect a vintage that can age 40 to 50 years and remain quite reductive in aromatic expression.”
Brothers Gaetano and Giovan Battista Bertani founded their eponymous winery in 1857, and in 1870 they led an effort to shine a spotlight on the high quality of Verona’s Valpolicella Valpentana district. In the late 1950s they launched a new dry style of wine that is today known as the sumptuous, dry Amarone, and in honor of that the winery is introducing a series of library releases into the market, spanning six decades from 1958, including outstanding vintages such as 1967, 1975, and 1988.
Among the newly released vintages, Lonardi is partial to two years in particular.
“I love 2008! It’s the ‘Barolo’ vintage of Bertani,” he says. “It combines freshness, amaro character with intense chinotto and blood orange in combination with a smokey character that is related to volcanic soil of [the] Tenuta Novare [vineyards.] It is a very silent wine but with a very great balance between acidity and silky and very long saline finish.”
And he’s fond of the 1964, too. “It has an incredible ruby, bright color that never showed the age of this wine,” he says. “On the nose it is very contemporary; it’s fresh with distinctive iodine character. It has firm Bordeaux type of tannins, with distinctive succulency.”
In addition to the pride he has for the Bertani 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Lonardi takes great satisfaction and pleasure in his newly awarded Master of Wine credentials. A highly coveted and hard-earned qualification issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine in the United Kingdom, it is generally regarded in the wine industry as the paramount standard of professional expertise. It is said to be the most difficult test in the world.
The test was first given 70 years ago, and today there are only 414 Masters of Wine around the globe. While the institute is extremely tight-lipped about the pass/fail rate of the three-stage exam, an MW who spoke with Robb Report on condition of anonymity told us, “About 50 percent pass the first level. Of those or the candidates who repeat and pass on a second try, only 20 percent pass the second level, theory, and then, depending on the year, only about five to 10 percent pass.”
Two new members, Lonardi included, joined their ranks this year. Compare that to the National Medical Board examination in the United States: In 2022, 24,317 people took it, and 91 percent of them passed. In the same vein, in 2021, 39,873 people passed the attorney’s bar exam in the United States. Lonardi is only the second Italian to receive the MW title. The first, Gabrielle Gorelli, a strategic consultant, speaker, and brand ambassador, became a Master of Wine in February 2021. He and Lonardi met in 2014, when they attended the MW introductory course together, and as Gorelli says, the two became “inseparable friends.”
“When I got the news of his declaration, the joy was equal to receiving the title again,” Gorelli says. “For years, we shared the mission to add these little letters after our names. Now, our common endeavor is to spread the gospel of Italian wine to the highest levels.”