The Allegrini family, literally “happy little ones,” make Veneto wine classics and their own special “crus” that are the epitome of charm and class with power. Whether a Valpolicella Classico or a single vineyard (cru) bottling such as La Grola, these wines never taste the slightest bit commercial or diluted. They are rich expressions of what can be done with the native Corvina Veronese grape, carrying this often humble varietal to rare heights. Even the ubiquitous Soave white is a round, fully distinctive drink in their gifted hands.

Luca Ardiri, Allegrini’s sales manager, was in our area recently; one stop on his nationwide tour showing off these celebrated “vini.” Not only were the wines memorable to drink, but so too the descriptions of what make them so fascinating. For example, Allegrini’s Soave is made from the classic garganega grape, but 20 percent of the wine is shored up by the blending in of chardonnay. Thus the crisp, bracing freshness of this immensely popular wine is enhanced by the body building and smoothing-out of mouth texture that chardonnay adds.

Their Valpolicella, usually a fruity, “pass the time of day” red, has enormous texture and generosity in their deeply impressive version. You might be shocked that Valpolicella can reach such textural richness, and even might even benefit from short-term aging. Amarone is the king of Veneto wines, and Allegrini’s version overflows with mouth-filling texture and sappiness. All the grapes are dried on mats in a well-ventilated room through January and then in February (now as we speak) the grapes are aged 18 months in 100 percent new oak barriques. The wine goes through further aging care and is not released until ready to be enjoyed.

The Allegrinis take special pride in their single vineyard bottlings, one of which is becoming an American celebrity. The Palazzo Della Torre has been on American bestseller lists for years, and its appeal is easy to understand. Sort of a “junior” Amarone, part of the grapes are dried and part are fermented immediately. Then the two groups are reintroduced and go through a second fermentation. The formula is a gem and this wine is consistently superb. La Grola is made more in the style a fine Bordeaux with all the grapes coming from a single vineyard of chalky, stony soil 1,000 feet above sea level. No grapes are dried for this wine, and so it is slightly more severe than the Palazzo bottling. It has tremendous dry texture and bold character.

Lastly, the La Poja is made from 100 percent corvina, a dedication to this grape in its most direct form. Again, it’s a single vineyard groomed to specifically bring out the strengths of this native grape. This new venture is sure to raise the quality level of all the producers who neighbor Allegrini–truly a giant in the local arena.

2004 Soave $15.50

Clear, fresh and silky with fields of local flower impressions on the nose. Soft, pleasant and easy to drink without sacrificing its refreshment value. 87

2002 Valpolicella Classico $15

Full, fleshy, serious corvina grape dominates. No oak, but wild cherries in a very approachable style make for a satisfying drink with remarkable depth of fruit. 89

2001 Palazzo Della Torre $22

Dense, chocolaty dried fruit emerges on a voluminous nose that beckons you in. Dark cherries on the palate with delicious, special flavor components and a smooth, rich end taste. Extra special within this price range. 92

2001 La Grola $24.29

Really deep, brooding fruit; less flowery than the Palazzo and more direct–sort of an Italian styled Bordeaux wine in the St. Estephe mold. No nonsense and a bit stern with powerful direct flavors. Impressive but needs some time in the bottle. Drink 2007-2011. 90

2000 La Poja Corvina Veronese $87

One hundred percent Corvina grapes produce dense, robust styling. Great purity with a generous, fruit-laden Californian nose, lithe body and generous wraparound texture. A bit simple. This may not ultimately be the best way to showcase the grape. A fine wine but not overly complex and a bit expensive in the scheme of things. 87

2000 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico $77.50
A fabulous extroverted nose. Cherry pie with ice cream. Not candied nor a bit overdone. This literally seethes over with obscene generosity, some residual sugar but with perfect balance all in place. Save for the cheese course or enjoy all alone. Quintessential Amarone. 94

“Although after the bottle of red
and the bottle of white, I’m surprised the clarinetist could play.” –Billy Joel

Duckhorn: A Napa treasure

What was it that intrigued me most about a recent visit to Duckhorn Vineyards? Perhaps the gorgeous estate house where we tasted wine and had lunch on the spacious verandah? Or the incredible vineyard sites that produce the nectar in Duckhorn’s sought-after bottlings year after year? When winemaker Mark Beringer and I sat down together, the first words out of his mouth were, “How’s the Duke basketball program shaping up?”

Now, I know that coach loves good wine, but I didn’t know of the fast friendship between Mark and Mike. Seems that Mark has attended a number of Duke-Carolina games over the years, and I think it’s a source of pride for him to know that Duke’s basketball wizard places high stock in Duckhorn’s output.

And why not? In 1978, Duckhorn burst onto the scene with a style of merlot that literally created the subsequent merlot craze. Their vital sauvignon blanc followed soon after, and a vinous icon was born. I remember a harrowing divorce proceeding in the mid-1980s where I undertook the unpleasant job of helping put a value on the numerous Duckhorn “Three Palms” merlots that the couple had mutually collected. Such is the power and anguish of great wine.

Duckhorn’s production has always been upper-end, and although they have no “entry” or inexpensive wines in their portfolio, the cost in general has not skyrocketed in the way of some newcomers whose debut offerings start at prices in triple figures (the nerve!). Like all trendsetters, Duckhorn now occasionally takes hits from those who say the wines are no longer on the cutting edge. Cooler, more thoughtful heads realize that Duckhorn’s remarkable valley vineyards, perfected over the years, plus their extraordinary Howell Mountain site still make some of the most luxurious and impressive wines anywhere. The novelty may have worn off, but not the quality.

2004 Sauvignon Blanc $22

Brilliant, lean and exhilarating, this wine has shiningly clean fruit with lemony-grass and honey-kissed bouquet. The flavors remain brisk with nice citrus freshness and a cantaloupe body. Sees some oak that is barely discernible. 90

2002 Merlot, 25th anniversary bottling $50

Broad shouldered yet supple dark berry fruits, leather and smoke on an enticing bouquet. This is so good already with dry passionate fruit, chocolate texture and a sexy finish. All signs pointing toward further development. Drink now-2009. 92

2002 Estate Grown, 25th anniversary Merlot $85

Very big, grandiose really, and what Duckhorn merlot has signified for years: A big impact wine that would send shivers through most of the Pomerol wines of Bordeaux East bank. Almost cabernet-like in structure yet merlot delicacy with currant, licorice and wild berries galore on the nose. Flavors still reined in some, but full of bursting juicy fruit, spice and terroir. Best to hold a while. Drink 2007-2012. 93

2002 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot $80

Slightly difficult to judge right now, Three Palms is always the densest and chewiest of Duckhorn’s merlot offerings. Formidable and very dark with a core of tight blackberry, plum and minty elements. Tastes very firm with deeply centered black fruit, herbs and leather. Perfectly smooth and balanced but very shy. Should be excellent. Drink 2009-2015.

2001 Howell Mountain Merlot $70

I’m crazy about this wine. Not nearly as succulent or creamy as Duckhorn’s other bottlings, it possesses a laser-like bouquet of blackened blackberries, Cuban tobacco and spice. It has a high-toned, almost floating quality in your mouth. The intensity of this wine is breathtaking. Tannic but not the slightest bit harsh. It promises a glorious future. A full house of ripe fruits, oak and soil all in balance. Drink now-2020. 94

Here’s hoping that Mark Beringer can make it to the upcoming Duke-Carolina confrontation. And while you’re here, Mark, let’s share these fabulous wines together once again!

Quick Picks of the Month

2003 Falanghina Taburno, Fontanavecchia $14
High spirited, crisp and finely etched nose. Zesty citric bite with a touch of steeliness and hint of wild grasses. Fun! An open, full-mouth texture but not in the least bit heavy. It’s a zest of flavors that needs food–preferably from the sea. 88

2004 Syrah, Valle Escondido $9

From Chile, this wine has excellent dark fruit with a touch of iodine on the nose. Medium-bodied frame yet substantial and sustaining fruit, soft tannins and lovely purity. Totally accessible with love-your-tongue yumminess. BEST BUY. 88

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Pepi $10

A very tasty bargain cabernet. Satisfying, solid with 22 percent shiraz blended in to give it a softer, quaffable profile. Will show up many California competitors at twice the price. 86

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Goundry $16

Dark, “crusty” fruited, potent bouquet with nut, leather and minty overtones. Bright acids in the mouth, nicely textured and a fine example of tasty, approachable Australian cabernet. 87

2002 Chateau Haut Beausejour, St. Estephe $21

In the rather tough 2002 vintage, Haut Beausejour has made an earthy, generous drink somewhat reminiscent of a fruit compote. With briery ground pepper and tarragon-like bouquet, this reminds me of Napa Valley cabernet. An in-your-face powerful drink, it would be great now with lamb or lentil-based dishes, or give it a year or two to soften. EXCELLENT BUY. 89