The centre of Verona has a quite a strange charm that transports one back in time. Not to the Roman age but rather to a time of over-exposed matt film photography; old school markets and the bustle of tourists and locals that can appear as quickly as they vanish at the turn of a narrow street.
It was back in 2008 when I was here last, having lunch with a friend in front of the colosseum. I recall turning the pages of the inch thick wine list until spotting a page of Valpolicella Superiore wines, at the price we were happy to pay, appeared. Showing the page to the waiter with my finger fixed on the Roccolo Grassi and a quizzical expression fixed on my face, he replied, “That is a very good choice sir.” And so it was.
Fast forward 9 years and I am back in Verona for lunch but this time at the traditional Osteria al Duca to sample some local produce. This high ceilinged dining hall has 50cm thick walls and is run by sturdy older ladies with a jovial charm. The food is heavy for August but tasty.
After lunch we wonder through the sun drenched antique streets, across the market and passed the famed home of Juliet, Romeo’s doomed love. A crowd throngs around the building but the buzz looks too energetic so we stroll on.
Spied first through through a small breach between some buildings, the colosseum is familiar. I walk towards it, sweating a little from the heavy lunch, the wine and the sun. Across the piazza I see the restaurant where I first tasted Roccolo Grassi 9 years earlier and a bell rings in my mind… the ticket on the car is about to run out and we must go now to the vineyard of the same name of the wine that I am reminiscing over.
Roccolo Grassi vineyard and tasting
The vineyard sits to the east of Verona, about thirty minutes away, on a plain of volcanic soils that give the wines their varying degrees of distinct freshness and sense of life. This is really a small family affair that has consciously chosen the path of smaller quantity and higher quality.
It is August so the area is quiet apart from a sea of vines that blow very gently in the breeze. We sit down to taste with Francesca, daughter of one partner and sister of another. There are three wines to taste: Soave Superiore, Valpolicella Superiore and the famed Amarone.
Roccolo Grassi La Broia Soave, 2014, Veneto
Garganega grapes harvested at the end of September and the 1st week of October. The fruit is picked and immediately vinified in oak barrel. Then 50% is moved into cement.
These whites have aromas of flowers and citrus with lots of body. Lot’s zing/mineral non-fruit character and clean finish. Not typical of the region where so much is made in huge quantities. This is much more of a crafted fine white wine.
Food pairing: Could easily handle a meaty white fish in pasta with fresh tomatoes.
Cella door cost: ~£14
The Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore 2012, Veneto
Hugely complex. 50% of the grapes are fresh and 50% are dried in the same way that amarone is made*. These wines are built for ageing, have great structure and aroma. Huge depth and layers of flavour but because the 50% of the grapes are pressed fresh, they retain that integrity of the valpolicella. With age they start to add balsamic flavours to the rich dark fruit flavours. Really delicious.
Food pairing: Red meat dishes including steak, venison. Mushroom, truffle risotto.
Cella door cost: ~£30
Dried grapes used to make the amerone wine
Roccolo Grassi, Amarone, 2014, Veneto
The Valpolicella ripasso DOC grapes are picked in October. Amarone 100% dried grapes are picked in 2nd half September and put in the cellar until December. There is an evaporation of water and concentration of sugar. The characteristics of the amarone is the richness and great body with layers of dark fruit and balanced tannin. Great complexity, great structure and great fruit. It must retain that freshness. Best with 10yrs age at least, not before.
Food pairing: game, hard cheeses, red meats.
Cellar door cost: ~£70