Tommasi Viticoltori, the soul of the Amarone Classico

The Italian winery makes the best Valpolicella Classico and Amarone Classico wines

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Tommasi

It looks like an Italian name, and that’s exactly what it is. But behind this Italian last name there is a lot to discover. Recently I traveled to Veneto in Italia to do a wine course and decided to visit a local winery. When planning my trip I got in touch with a winery I had a special interest in visiting and Annalisa Armani, Director of Public Relationships and Communication of the winery was so kind organizing a great event. Before even being there, this visit started looking like it could be a different one. And different is a word that can’t really explain the experience waiting ahead.

In the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region there is a small village named Pedemonte. Tommasi Viticoltori (www.tommasiwine.it, @Tommasiwine) is located in this village. Here we can still visit the building where Giacomo Battista Tommasi founded the winery in 1902. Since then, the small vineyard acquired by Giacomo has grown to a big family estate that now includes five wineries in different DOs in Italy plus a fabulous and elegant hotel/spa/convention center, Hotel Villa Quaranta, in the nearby village of Pescantina.

Once we arrived in the winery, Annalisa showed us around and explained about the company. Tommasi family owns various wine estates around Italy: Tenuta Caseo in Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardia; Podere Casisano in Montalcino, Toscana; Poggio Al Tufo in Marema, Toscana; Masseria Surani in Manduria, Puglia, and especially Tommasi Viticoltori in Valpolicella, Veneto.

Annalisa explained us that the vineyards are displayed in terraces, separated by stone walls called Marogne that they built in the past. Then Pierangelo Tommasi joined us. Pierangelo is the company’s Director of Foreing Sales. He guided us to an incredible tour. Pierangelo explained about the main three vineyards behind the building where they grow the grapes that are going to be part of the Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico, the Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva, the Valpolicella Classico Superiore, the Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso and the Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico, the five wines they produce here.

The names of these three vineyards are La Groletta, Conca d’Oro and Ca’ Florian. This last one is the vineyard that gives name to the Amarone Classico Riserva. La Groletta and Conca d’Oro are the vineyards where they grow the grapes for the Amarone Classico and the Valpolicella Classico wines. These vineyards produce grapes of the highest quality. The system in which the vines are trained is called Pergola. This method is more expensive as it requires more hand labor work and also due to the fact that it is generally more generous in yields than the more internationally known guyot, so it requires a green harvest at some point during early summer in order to leave fewer bunches to mature, thus guaranteeing the high quality of the grapes. This is also more the traditional way of training the vines.

After visiting the vineyards we went to the main building. We did a really nice tour through all the rooms. First we visited the area where they keep the grapes that will be part of the Amarone Classico and Recioto wines: Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara and Oseleta. Here is where the grapes go through a method called Appassimento. This method consists on the drying of the grapes. After the harvest, the grapes are laid down in two recipients: plastic baskets and bamboo racks called Arele. The grapes will stay in these arele and baskets for at least 100 days, according to the Amarone Consortium rules. After this period, they will initiate the process of fermentation for the Amarone Classico and Amarone Classico Riserva. Part of the grapes will stay in the arele for a few weeks more for reaching a higher sugar concentration. These grapes will be part of the blend for the sweet wine Recioto. For drying the grapes they employ two methods: when the weather is good they open all the windows of the room. If the weather is not that good, as it was the day of our visit, there are big fans moving the air while the big humidifier in the ceiling is functioning at its best. The color of the grapes, already in the process for two weeks, is amazingly blue.

There is a story about how Amarone wine was initially made. Way down yonder in time, one producer was elaborating Recioto, but he forgot about one of the barrels. Instead of the fermentation being stopped for the wine to keep its high levels of sugar, the fermentation process continued. When he opened the barrel to taste the wine, he realized that wine did not taste sweet anymore but it was bitter (technically it was drier) and this new wine was “big” in style and body so it was called AMARONE (amaro=bitter; one=big).

Then we moved on to the fermentation area where they keep the 2016 vintage Valpolicella Classico wines. An impressive room full of steel tanks with a capacity of up to 50.000 liters. Tanks are labeled “must to become Valpolicella Classico Superiore.” Here they elaborate two wines:

  • Using a blend of Corvina 60%, Rondinella 25% and Molinara 15%, they elaborate the Valpolicella Classico Superiore. This wine is named Rafaèl after the name of the vineyard where the grapes come from. After fermentation, the wine ages for 12 months in 6,500-liter Slavonian oak casks.
  • The second wine is the Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso. The process for elaborating the Ripasso is as follows: once the Amarone fermentation is finished and the wine is put into oak barrels (around mid-January), this blend of Corvina 70%, Rondinella 25% and Corvinone 5% is refermented in the remains of the Amarone grapes, hence the name Ripasso: passed again by the grapes for a period of around two-three weeks. The aging of this wine is 12 months in smaller Slavonian oak casks, of “only” 3,500 liters of capacity.

From there we visited the aging cellar. This is the room where the Amarone Classico wines are resting in oak barrels. The first thing that calls your attention is the different sizes of the barrels: a few 225-liter French oak and also 6,500-, 3,500- and 2,000-liter Slavonian oak casks. More than what you can count in a single visit. Then there is something very special: La Magnifica. An amazing 33,300-liter Slavonian oak cask.

They produce around 185.000 liters of Amarone Classico per year. After fermentation, this wine is spread between La Magnifica and the 6,500- and 3,500-liter casks. They rotate the wine every few months between casks to balance the aging. The wine stays there for three years before being bottled.

As for the Amarone Classico Riserva, in its first year the wine ages in the three-year-used small barrels, regular 225-liter French oak barrels. The around 9,000 liters produced annually spend twelve months in these barrels and another three years in the 3,500- and 2,000-liter casks before being bottled. Thus, the difference between both wines is the extra year in French oak barrels the Riserva spends.

We were overwhelmed by the amount of barrels, the amount of wines we could find all over the place, especially knowing the quality of the wines inside of them. And talking about wines, we went to the meeting room for our Tommasi wine tasting. We saw the lineup in the table and all I can say now is that I was speechless. First, Pierangelo mentioned Tommasi bought last year an estate in Montalcino, Podere Casisano, where they produce a Brunello di Montalcino and a Rosso di Montalcino. We mentioned our passion for Brunello wines and Pierangelo said: “Let’s go to it first before starting with the local wines.” And who I am to say no? Casisano 2011 is a superb Brunello. I found it very elegant and extremely smooth, as opposed to others Brunello I have tasted where the character of the Sangiovese is wilder. Casisano is an impressive wine, one of those you can drink the entire bottle while you talk for hours.

On to the local wines, we started with the Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore Rafaèl 2014. I like a lot Valpolicella Classico wines but definitely they played in another different league. This wine is very good, smooth in the palate, full of nice fruit and very balanced as well. Then we tasted the Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2014. This is a very special style of wine, and after my experience with Tommasi and other wines I have enjoyed in this trip I will say the Ripasso has turned into one of my favorite style of wines.

Then the big brothers came into play: Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2012 and the Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva Ca’ Florian 2009. You may think I’m exaggerating but I had to pause for looking at the glasses before tasting them. I knew there were great wines, some of the best Amarone Classico wines you can find and when I tasted them it was something amazing. Wonderfully balanced wines. I could give here a full tasting note now that I have completed my wine course but I will just say these wines were simply amazing. The Amarone Classico grapes come from La Groletta and Conca d’Oro vineyards and the blend is Corvina 50%, Corvinone 15%, Rondinella 30%, and Oseleta 5%. The Amarone Riserva, coming from Ca’ Florian, has a blend of Corvina 75%, Corvinone 15% and Rondinella 10%.

The tasting was not over as Pierangelo opened a bottle of Recioto Della Valpolicella Fiorato 2013, their special sweet wine produced with a blend of Corvina 65%, Rondinella 30% and Molinara 5%, from Fiorato vineyard. After a period of up to four months in the arele, the grapes age for one year in 500-liter tonneau barrels. I will use the same words I used before. Incredible, amazing, wonderful wine.

The visit came to its end and we expressed our tremendous gratitude to both Pierangelo and Annalisa, as they had waited for our wine course to finish past 17:30 to guide us through this visit.

The visit was over but not our Tommasi experience as Annalisa drove us to Borgo Antico, the restaurant of the Hotel Villa Quaranta, also owned by the Tommasi family. We will talk about this dinner and the Tommasi hospitality soon, as well as an interview with Giancarlo Tommasi, chief winemaker of the winery.

I have turned into a die-hard Tommasi wines fan, but more than that, into a Tommasi family fan. My gratitude goes to Annalisa and Pierangelo, and also to their colleagues Luca Carrara and Luca Nicolis, among others, about whom we will talk soon. It is amazing when you find people like them, building together this important project.

Some photos @ by Tommasi Viticoltori