Tommaso Bussola - Amarone at its Best

The wines of Verona have experienced three very good to outstanding vintages in a row from 1999-2001. Like many other regions in Italy 2002 was a bit difficult for many producers in the Veneto and 2003 was a mixed bag due to the excessive heat over the summer and at the time of harvest. Of the last 5 vintages 2000 and 2001 are the two that really stand out and these are the two vintages that most Amarone producers have available in our market today. Part of the reason for the consistent quality for this type of wine over the last decade or so is the advent of technology used in the drying of the grapes after they are harvested. Many of the large wineries are now using temperature controlled rooms to dry the grapes to ensure that there are no problems during this period. Ironically, some of the best producers like Tommaso Bussola do not use these technological advances to dry their grapes. Tommaso and some of his peers believe that the specific weather conditions of each vintage are a part of the wines character and to control this would take some of the vintage’s character out of the wine.

My first experience with these wines was in the fall of 2000. The importer brought several of these wines by the store to sample. The concentration, depth of flavor, complexity and length on the palate of each and every wine sampled that afternoon was simply amazing. From the Valpolicella to the Recioto, every wine spoke of the genius that defines this young winemaker’s wines. Largely self-taught, Tommaso uses a diverse array of barrels, ranging in size from barrique to large foudre and mixing such exotic woods as acacia, mulberry, cherry and almond in with the unusual cask sizes. Mr. Bussola does nothing by the book; he uses taste, smell, sight and instinct to make his wines and the results are compelling.

Since my first experience with these wines, I have quizzed every producer from this region that has crossed my path about Mr. Bussola’s wines. Their eyes immediately light up and they all have similar praise for Mr. Bussola and his handy work – most say he is one of the rising stars of Veneto, but all agree that his wines are the work of an unconventional wizard with incredible results.

A brief history of Tommaso Bussola: Tommaso Bussola doesn't come from a family with a tradition for viticulture and vinification. However in the early 1980s, his Uncle Giuseppe, who owns a few vineyards in San Peretto di Negrar, decided to involve him in the viticulture, which had always been utilized for production of wines for the family. With time, his curiosity turned to passion and Tommaso began to personally make wine from the grapes that were grown in Uncle Giuseppe's vineyards.

Together with his wife Daniela they bought a new winery, Casalin, with great sacrifice. The fabrication has a total of 25 acres and the actual house/cellar in via Molino Turri was also completed during those years. "I think I've have gotten ahead by going back in time" says Tommaso when asked about the technology used for vinification. "I still work in the cold, without changing the temperature of the wine". Concerning methods used for withering grapes, modern techniques don't exist for Tommaso: he uses long periods that can take up to six months. This wine producer loves intense, full-bodied wines and likes to experiment with wood. The aging times are never the same and the type of casks is always different. Depending on the characteristics of each harvest, Tommaso decides what type of cask to use and how long to age the wine.

There are two main lines of production: BG, dedicated to his Uncle, is more traditional, while the second, TB, comprises wines that are aged for longer periods in new casks.

A bit of History about Amarone: According to archaeological evidence vines were growing in the Valpolicella area some 40 million years ago, but winemaking probably came about around the 5th century BC somewhere that is now referred to as Fumane, the home of one of the most famous Amarone producers, Allegrini. This wine was referred to as Retico and came from the county of Catullus, Verona. Late in the Roman period the name Retico changed to Acinatico. Cassiodoro, a famous Italian minister to the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, has been quoted making reference to Acinato: “It has a pure and exceptional taste and a regal color, so that you may believe either that purple got its colour from the wine or that the wine is the epitome of purple. Its sweetness is of incredible gentleness, its density is accompanied by an indescribable stability and it swells over the tongue in such a way that it seems either a liquid made of solid flesh or else a drink to be eaten.”

Valpolicella, according to some accounts, means “valley of many cellars,” which seems fitting. It is derived, they say, from the Greek word poli (many) and the Latin cella (cellar). This area is approximately 27 miles long and 5 miles wide, it passes north and west of Verona, extending from the Adige River to the Cazzano Valley. Bardolino and Lake Garda lie to the west and Soave to the east. The land ranges in altitude from 490 to 1,475 feet above sea level. The vines in the classico district to the northwest of Verona, are planted on the hillsides and mountain slopes of the valleys of the Adige tributaries and the Fumane, Marano, and Negrar torrents. Some of the vineyards are terraced with stone. The cretaceous, calcareous soil is of glacial origins. And volcanic activity in this area contributed elements to the soil as well.

The area around Sant’Ambrogio is considered the heart of the Amarone production zone. Within this area, northeast of Gargagnago, is a valley called Vaio Armaron, which may have given the wine its name. The blend of grapes typically used in Valpolicella is Corvina (40%-70%), Rondinella (20%-40%), Molinara (5%-25%) and may contain up to 15% Negrara Trentina, Rossignola, Dindarella, Barbera, and/or Sangiovese. Before 1989 producers were allowed to add as much as 15% of grapes, must, or wine from outside the zone to correct problems from a weak vintage, but this practice is prohibited today. Corvina contributes color, body, bouquet, flavor, and the basic Valpolicella character to the wine. Rondinella, which is resistant to disease and rot, is added for its color and strength, tannin and vigor, it also adds some refinement to the azromas. Molinara, or Mulinara, is also known as Rossara Veronese and Rossanella, is blended in to make the wine lighter and more drinkable. It also contributes dryness and acidity, as well as that characteristic bitterness. Negrara, adds softness, freshness and early drinkability.

The first dry Amarone, according to writer Cesare Marchi, was the result of a fortunate accident. In the early 1950s, Adelino Lucchese, Bertani’s cellarmaster, discovered a barrel of wine in the cellar that had been overlooked and neglected for some time. Certain that it had spoiled he was about to discard its contents, when curiosity prompted him to take a taste just to see what had happened. He was astonished to discover that the forgotten wine had a velvety texture and a penetrating perfume, a slightly bitter taste, but not at all unpleasant.

There is however evidence that the Romans made a type of bitter Recioto for diabetics or other people who couldn’t take sugar. Sandro Boscaini of Masi pointed out that some of the oldest families in Valpolicella, the Count Campostrini and Count Serego Alighieri, as well as his own produced an Amaro, a dry Recioto. This would seem to indicate that Amarone is considerably older that Marchi admits. According to another book called Valpolicella Spolendida Contea Dei Vino, written by Lamberto Paronetto, the name Amarone has been in use since the eighteenth century. It became popular at the beginning of this century and the name could very well be derived from the Italian word amaro, meaning “bitter” (scholar Scipione Maffei, writing in the first half of the eighteenth century, refers to an amaro, a dry wine from the Valpolicella area), or it could come from Vajo Armaron, where some highly regarded Amarones have been produced for ages.

by Andrew Lampasone

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