Sunday, 22 January 2012

Fabiano “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico (2006)

One of the more interesting stories to come out of Verona (the town in North East Italy that is famous for its architecture, Romeo and Julliet and of course it’s flagship wine Amarone della Valpolicella) in the last year is the foundation of a group known as the “Amarone Families”. Consisting of twelve family wineries that have been long-time producers of Amarone della Valpolicella, the group’s aim is to combine the families’ wealth of traditions and winemaking excellence to ensure that Amarone della Valpolicella remains a wine of prestige and high quality for many years to come.

Clearly feeling threatened by the expansion of Amarone production that has occurred in the last decade (and especially the increase in production of Amarone della Valpolicella at the very bottom end of the price spectrum), the Amarone Familes have agreed to adopt a rigid voluntary production code which will see a guaranteed level of quality in their wines over and above the minimum required by Italian law. Every bottle will carry an Amarone Families hologram so that wines that have been made according to the voluntary code can be identified by consumers easily.

Now whilst the formation of such an organisation is not a surprise (many winemakers in Verona have been bemoaning the production of Amarone on an almost industrial scale by some winemakers for several years), one of the surprises is that Vini Fabiano, the maker of this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella, was not included within this organisation. Founded as a family business of wine traders based in Venice in the early 1900s, Vini Fabiano has been making wine on the mainland near Verona for over 50 years now and has done so with a rigorous attention to quality that has won it many plaudits. (For example, Vini Fabiano’s “Nicola Fabiano” Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso from the 2006 vintage was recently awarded 92pts on this website – click here for the review).

This “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is the “Ripasso” wine’s bigger brother and sits at the top of this part of Vini Fabiano’s range of wines. A blend of four grape varieties: Corvina (40%); Corvinone (30%); Rondinella (25%); and Croatina (5%); the grapes for this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella are grown within the historic heartlands of Amarone production to the North West of Verona, near to San Pietro in Cariano. After manual picking late in the year, these grapes are laid out to dry on straw mats in the traditional Venetian “appassimento” style for around 90 days before the grapes are pressed in the January following the harvest. After the fermentation, which turns the grape juice to wine (which typically lasts 60 days) this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is put into oak “botti” (large wooden vats) for a period of 30 months maturation before being bottled. The wine is then held at the winery for a short period prior to release.

Something that remains true for all wines that seem to come out of the Vini Fabiano cellars is that they are immaculately presented. Romantically adorned with wax seals, additional paper tags and wrapped in paper or plastic this Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is no exception. Initially sealed within a crunchy plastic wrapping, the bottle is a typically smooth shouldered Amarone style with a thick lip and deep punt. Adorning the front of the bottle is a label that has remained almost identical through several decades of production, a wax imprint of the Vini Fabiano crest and a small paper booklet that tells you that the bottle you are holding is one of only 7650 bottles produced in the 2006 vintage (approx 630 cases). The cork is real and of high quality. “Fabiano – Amarone” and the Fabiano crest is stencilled upon it.

In the glass, this Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is a deep and rich black pudding hue. Opaque and intense at the centre of the wine, this Amarone fades only slightly to the rim despite its age and shows just a hint of rustic browning derived from its time in those oak “botti” at the edge of the wine. In the context of modern Amarone production, a quoted alcoholic content of 14.5% seems moderate. This is certainly significantly lower than much Amarone these days, which can reach 16 or 16.5% abv.

On the nose, this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is open, soft and sensuous, rather than being too heavy or oppressive in the style of some more powerful Amarone wines. Balanced and ripe black cherry and plums lead, with a good whiff of vanilla a softening and sweetening influence. Given that this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico comes from the open end of the valley of Furmane (that typically produces some of Valpolicella’s most concentrated and powerful wines), this comparative subtlety and lack of concentration is unusual.

In the mouth, a typically full and velvety smooth Amarone experience awaits. Long and rich dark cherries, plums and prune form the main flavours with cinnamon and a little mice pie spice also present. Full-bodied, but not as full as some Amarone, this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is significantly more easy drinking than much Amarone originating from Furmane. Tannins are soft and well integrated and the wine doesn’t quite have the structure of some. Slightly unusual for this specific sub-region of Amarone production, this soft and balanced flavour profile is likely the result of a slightly unusual blend of grapes (most Amarone is Corvina and Rondinella with a dash of Molinara sometimes applied) and a grape drying period shorter than some.

On the whole, this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is an excellent wine. One of two Amarone della Valpolicella’s produced by Vini Fabiano, with a slightly lower price point and more approachable nature than the Fabiano “Il Fondatori” Amarone, we would suggest that this “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico plays the role of an introduction to the Fabiano Amarone philosophy rather than the ultimate expression of it. Outstanding at this price level (Amarone under £30 can be highly variable), this is an Amarone which offers a balanced and approachable nature as well as more flavour than is often available at this price level.

A real “occasion wine” this Fabiano Amarone would make a perfect gift due to its presentation and style. In fact, it is that good you should probably get a bottle for yourself too!
Fabiano “Nicola Fabiano” Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico (2006)

Score: 86/100 –  A balanced and approachable style

Value for Money: 8/10 – Priced at around £27 in the UK, this 2006 Fabiano "Nicola Fabiano" Amarone della Valpolicella seems highly attractive in the context of other Amarone prices.