Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cesari 2009 Valpolicella Classico

Producer: Gerardo Cesari
Name: Cesari Valpolicella Classico
Region: Valpolicella Classico D.O.C., Italy
Vintage: 2009
Tasted: January 20, 2013
ABV: 12.5%

Valpolicella is located in the Verona region, which in turn is nestled in the Veneto, historically the mainland province associated with the Most Serene Republic, Venice. But when asked what means more to their sense of place - a wealthy, dynamic city-state maintaining its own independent role in the center of European culture and history uninterruptedly from the time of the barbarian invasions until finally Napoleon Bonaparte successfully took over, or wine-making - most folks of the Veneto would say the latter. Because the latter not only has outlived the former, but predates it as well; ancient Romans and even ancient Greeks were making wine in the Veneto long before there ever was a city-state - or even a city - to lend its name to the province. Some experts even contend that the name "Valpolicella" was pieced together from Latin and Greek to signify "valley of many cellars". That would be apt; even today, Valpolicella is second only to Chianti in total Italian wine production among DOC regions.

Back in the twelfth century, a couple of bordering winemaking zones were unified to form the Valpolicella that we know today. Well, sort of what we know today: when Valpolicella was awarded Denominazione di origine controllata status in 1968, the Italian authorities included a large swath of previously unaffiliated surrounding territories in that charter. Wineries within the original Valpolicella borders naturally protested that their good name was being bastardized and their potential profits shrunk, but perhaps more importantly, many wine drinkers voiced concerns that the non-original territories had been excluded from the original for a reason. The wines grown in the surrounding territories are well and good, but wine from the original Valpolicella has a special quality and character all its own, and it does not always take an expert to discern the difference. So, the solution was that the expanded borders stand, but wines grown within the original borders get to denote themselves "Valpolicella Classico". Wine from the Classico area constitute about 40% of all Valpolicella wine today.

Valpolicella wines, including famous varieties of the region such as Amarone della Valpolicella and recioto dessert wine, are typically composed of three varietals: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. The 2009 Classico from Cesari is a very deep red, much darker than most. One cannot see too far into the brick hue. Evidently, this Valpolicella Classico is not meant to be explored by the eyes; it insists that those who would know it have a sip and learn of it that way.

The aroma, upon opening the bottle, is strong and smooth, and rather lacking tannins. There are notes of cherry, strawberry, pomegranate, and other reds, but the undertones of vanilla, florals, tapioca, leather, and toffee are not very "under" at all. They make it exceptionally smooth and vibrant at quite the same time. Not that the reds are taking a back seat to anything. What a medley! Will the palate be so varied and powerful? Yes, actually. There are tasting notes of reds - cherry, redcurrant, strawberry - and the same vanillas, florals, and toffees as in the aroma, although those latter notes are now more subdued. In fact, now there is a bit of spice, but not too much, just barely enough to add a little dimension. The tannins have arrived, though not in force. The wine is medium bodied, and rather lax on the structure. The finish is of the familiar reds and vanilla.

The comment about lax structure begs some exploration here. Not qualification: what little structure there is to be found is not exactly the most sturdy example. But still, that may well be the whole point, a part of this wine rather than something that detracts from it. This Valpolicella Classico does not define itself by its flavors alone so much as by the method by which those notes interact. They flow seamlessly into and out of each other, and around each other as well, quite similar to the interaction of fluids in a lava lamp. They are dynamic not in that they morph into something else, but rather in that they shift in relative shape and size to one another - indeed, part of the miracle here is that they stay quite intact during this constant flux, which, though seemingly random, ends up painting a beautiful and intuitively keen picture of tasting notes about the tongue and palate.

After breathing for twenty minutes, though, there has been very observable change with the wine. The aroma is still comprised of reds such as pomegranate and strawberry, and now there is even an appropriate dab of spice - but where has everything else gone? Compared to most other wines the aroma would still seem exceptionally smooth, but compared to the aroma of twenty minutes beforehand it seems very spicy. The palate is of rich, dark red fruits, a conglomerate of notes quite befitting its color: blackberry, plum, cherry, and so on. The flavor is quite bold, though the texture has not changed from its medium body (which is something to be appreciated; had the wine thickened or coarsened any, it could only have ruined what thus far has been a wonderful thing). There is spice in the palate, manifesting not as a tweak of the other notes' dimensions, but rather as a separate layer, rather pine-like. The sweetness and spice are evened out by tannins, which have continued to grow, and by an underlayer of vanilla (which is, by now, plenty "under", though far from disappeared). The finish is of strawberry and cherry.

Perhaps the biggest change over twenty minutes was in the structure, namely that it exists now. And quite as its absence gave us a glimpse into the inner personality behind this Valpolicella Classico's character, its presence now gives us some keen food for thought not only as applies to the wine, but also as applies to ourselves. For much as the children who enjoyed lava lamps (and other, less savory iconic diversions) many decades ago have since grown up to enjoy maturity and the fulfillments of families and careers that come with it, so too this wine matured after breathing into a hearty, meaningful spirit, not at all devoid of flavor or character compared to earlier, but now with direction, purpose, a confident sense of self. There are two lessons to be derived from this. One is that no matter how far we stray from childhood, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the aesthetic effects of a lava lamp. Lava lamps look pretty neat; dynamic wines taste pretty good. And that is quite alright. But the other lesson, equally important, is that a time to grow up will come, and that is to be taken as an opportunity, not as a setback or frustration. This Valpolicella Classico could have tried to stick with dynamic fluctuation in spite of its continued exposure to air, but that would have been disastrous. Instead, it gathered its assets and focused them in a new, appropriate direction. Now, more than a wine that just tastes good and is spunky (the "before"), we have a wine that tastes good, that commands respect, that can easily hold its own against strong dishes and yet be well tolerated by more mild ones, and that the people of historic Valpolicella, and really of the entire Veneto, can hold up with pride (the "after").

Now, the label recommends letting the wine air for an hour before serving. First of all, having tasted it after twenty minutes and again after an hour, I can claim with confidence that twenty minutes will suffice just fine to achieve the recommended effect. But second of all, surely those of us who are looking for more in a wine than just an inebriating concoction to put in a fancy glass on the dinner table should be sure not to pay heed to that suggestion. Is not the appreciation of a wine based on the personality it assumes? Is not the magic of the spirit, more than just what tasting notes it has, how they interact and give us so many more dimensions than just simple flavor? To truly appreciate all that Cesari's 2009 Valpolicella Classico has to offer, please, do not aerate, and let settle, and let transform, and then sip. There will be plenty of time to taste the mature spirit post-aeration in just a little while. For now, partake of the newly opened, the young, the spunky, the dynamic, the idealistic, the unfettered, the wild and crazy. It is well, well worth it.


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