Amarone, considered by some, the greatest traditional red wines of Italy evokes hedonistic flavors of chocolate, dried fruits, rich texture, and a warm alcoholic embrace. And then there is the family owned Santa Sofia, nestled in the historic heartland of Valpolicella Classico region, near the shores of Lake Garda, surrounding the picturesque rolling hill communes of Fumane, Marano, Negrar, Sant’Ambrogio, and San Pietro.
Founded in 1811, the Santa Sofia wine company calls Villa Sarego home, a 16th century aristocratic villa designed by the one and only architect Andrea Palladio, today a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. At it’s helm, forging a balance between tradition and modernist is the father and son dynamic duo Giancarlo and Luciano Begnoni. It’s nearly impossible to articulate history into words, one can certainly taste it in the wines of Santa Sofia.
I had the immense pleasure of attending Santa Sophia’s wine dinner during VinItaly, the iconic wine and spirit trade show held in Verona, Italy annually. Grazie mille to Ms. Ada, Cottage Vineyards, one of the leading wine suppliers in Hong Kong and Super Sommelier Mr. Bhatia at 3-star Michelin restaurant Robuchon in Macau for inducting me in the Santa Sofia family.
First, a quick overview of the land and grapes of Veneto and Amarone.
Corvina (meaning little raven) assumes the leading role with key players Molinara and Rondinella, and minor blending agents such as the native or autochthonous varietals of Veneto – Negrara, Casetta, and Osletta. Blessed with thick resistant skin, Corvina is an ideal candidate for airy-drying, explaining it’s lead role in the blends of Amarone, Valpoliciella, and most Bardonlinos. Especially in the cool climate of Veneto, where harvesting late is a necessity for the grapes to reach optimal ripeness and sugar levels. While Corvina is the back bone of Amarone and Valpolicella, Molinara and Rondinella provide acid and savory characteristics.
Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella (sweet) wines are made with the labor-intensive method of Appassimento process where grapes are dried for three to four months (monitored under the watchful eye so that only the best grapes will be pressed to produce Amarone) in special lofts (fruttai) before fermentation to concentrate the sugars and extract. These raisinated grapes loose one third of their weight to produce full bodied, opulent, high alcohol wines packed with chocolate, dried fruits, and dusty notes.
Santa Sofia produces a plethora of wines from native grapes to international varietals ranging from the rich Amarone, Valpolicella Superiore Montegradella, Arlèo, Predaia, Valpolicella Ripasso to younger, fresher wines of Bardolino, Bardolino Chiaretto, Soave, Lugana, Custoza, Pinot Grigio and Merlot Corvina.
What captured my attention was Santa Sofia’s highly accoladed wine Gioe Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2007. A blend of Corvina and Corvinone (70%), Rondinella (25%), Molinara (5%), 100 days of air-drying, 24 months in Slovenia oak barrels, 18 months in medium toasted French barrique, and aged 2 years in bottle in the 16th century historic cellars of Santa Sofia. Released in 2014, Gioè Amarone 2007 produced only 14.779 bottles. How can I score some?
Like a voluptuous woman sporting curves in all the right places with the exuberance and elegance of a ballerina, Gioe boasted aromas of dark cherries, dried spices, sweet cloves/cinnamon, tobacco, juicy acidity, velvety texture, beautifully balanced and harmonious. One of the most wallet-friendly Amarones. Bravo Santa Sofia!
Notable Mentions – Santa Sophia Brut Spumante from the vineyards of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone hills boasting basaltic soils. A vibrant sparkling, creamy mouthfeel made with a blend of Chardonnay (70%) and Pinot Bianco (30%) undergoing the “Charmat lungo” fermentation, with 6 months of lees contact.
Bardonlino Chiaretto from the vineyards of Lazise and Bardolino, east of Lake Garda with glacial-morainic origins. Light on it’s feet rose showcasing red fruit (cherry, strawberry) and whisper of spice made from skin contact of Corvina (55%), Rondinella (30%), and Molinara (15%).
Recioto della Valpolicella DOC 2009 a dessert wine from the chalky vineyards of Negrar, Fumane and San Pietro in Cariano is a blend of Corvina e Corvinone (70%), Rondinella (25%), Molinara (5%), air-dried grapes. Like Amarone, Recioto della Valpolicella is made from late harvest grapes, that have dried in fruttai for 90-120 days, concentrated with water loss of 30-35%. Unlike Amarone which is fermented to dryness, Recioto della Valpolicella’s is halted before all sugar is converted into alcohol, rendering the wine sweet. Paired with the king of Italian Cheese – Parmesan Reggiano and citrus marmalade, it is utterly sensational.
Amarone’s plush texture makes it a good match for savoury dishes, especially deeply flavored, complex ones such as hearty slow-cooked meat ragu, risotto, rich ravioli stuffed with cheese or game, roast. Our decadent dinner was meticulously paired with the intriguing wines of Santa Sofia. The creamy and luxurious risotto made fresh for us on premises with Santa Sofia wines indeed received a standing ovation.
When the wine-making is above reproach and the grapes come from the vineyards sitting on premium territory, Amarone can be hypnotizing; a powerhouse packed with dark chocolate and earthy notes with each hedonistic sip. One can not speak of Amarone without mentioning iconic producers such as Quintarelli, Allegrini, Masi, Tommasi, Bolla, Bertani, Zenato, Bosciani, and more.
Be it ahi tuna crudo, beef tartare, baked ziti, pot roast, nutty aged cheese, or even a chocolate torte, there is a Santa Sophia wine or two to accompany your Sunday supper family dinner. After all “If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul”.
Huge shout out to Italian trade Commission and VinItaly International for sponsoring our memorable Verona trip , without which we would have not had this incredible opportunity to make new friends and share our common obsession for all things Italian.
Stay tuned for rest of our VinItaly adventures, cin-cin!!