Ca La Bionda Casal Vegri
I recently returned from an inspirational trip to Valpolicella. Amarone has re-established the reputation of this region. But what of Valpolicella itself, a lighter red wine made from the same grape varieties as Amarone? If you want a great example, try Ca La Bionda Casal Vegri.
With Valpolicella, fresh grapes make a medium-bodied red wine with modest alcohol and sour cherry fruit. So much of it disappoints because of over-cropping and industrial production. That reinforces a perception that it can only aspire to be cheap and cheerful. Another reason is the growing demand for Amarone, which commands a far higher price. Amarone grapes are from the same vineyards as Valpolicella. So if a producer selects a too large proportion of them for Amarone, this leaves only a rump of lesser quality grapes for the Valpolicella. Not a recipe for great wine.
Fortunately, the best producers are devoted to making Valpolicella delicious. These don’t need beefing up by the ripasso technique either.
One of the great examples is made by Ca La Bionda. The Castellani family own and run this estate in the heart of the Classico region near Negrar. They have 29 hectares of vines grown on the spectacular limestone hillside called Ravazzol. Alessandro Castellani explained their approach on my visit.
In 1998, Ca La Bionda stopped using chemicals and went organic. They wanted to make the best wine they could while leaving a healthy environment for their family. Alessandro said this conversion was hard. In the first three years, insects ravaged the crop. Now the vineyards have found a natural equilibrium. This philosophy extends to the winemaking; by using wild yeasts for fermentation, minimal levels of sulphur, and gravity to move the wine around.
Casal Vegri is a Valpolicella Classico Superiore, from a single vineyard of the same name. There is no Amarone selection. Therefore, this wine uses the best grapes of the harvest. 90% is Corvina and Corvinone. The other 10% is Rondinella and indigenous grapes such as Oseleta. 90% of the wine was matured for eighteen months in large barrels with the remaining 10% was in oak barriques. After blending it gets a further six months bottle ageing before release.
The result is a fresh, aromatic and complex wine. It’s a ruby-garnet colour, with a nose showing violet-tinged notes and red berries such as red cherry, raspberry and cranberry. The palate is deliciously balanced, with silken-textured acidity and polished tannins. Sour cherry and forest fruits are delightfully pure and clean. Beautiful drinking when young, it will improve and can age for a decade.
It makes an excellent companion for roast meats while vegetarians should head for a mushroom risotto.
This 2013 is £18.36 at The DrinkShop.
P.S., I highly recommend the other Ca La Bionda wines; Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto. For example, their single-vineyard Amarone Ravazzol is always one of the very best.
Ca La Bionda
Via Bionda 4
37020 Valgatara di Marano