2003 Ca La Bionda Valpolicella Casal Vegri

Ca La Bionda Valpolicella Casal Vegri The word "poineer" gets used a lot when describing the star winemakers here in the New World. Usually it's someone who, at great pains or by undertaking significant risk, or both, has innovated the production a particular variety or discovered a hidden gem of a region. Names like Harry Peterson-Nedry, Michael Havens, and David Ramey come to mind. You don't hear it applied as often to contemporary European winemakers, but there are a number of pioneers there, too.

Ca la BiondaTake Ca la Bionda's Allessandro Castellani, for example. Allessandro's parents ran a family farm--a successful business thanks to the way they meticulously tended their terraced vineyards a few miles outside of Verona in Veneto's Valpolicella Classico region. At age 22, after studying enology and then apprenticing at Isole e Olena in Tuscany, Allessandro approached his parents and told them that he'd like them to stop selling their grapes and let him to make and bottle wine from their fruit. And, loan him money to build him a winery. This was a huge risk because . . . Why risk ruining a good thing by allowing your 22-year-old son turn the family business in a new direction? Allessandro's very persuasive, however, and he ended up convincing his parents to give him a shot. They also knew that Allessandro would be making wine with absolutely top-quality grapes from their three limestone-soil vineyards on the steep slopes of the Marano Valley. Planted to Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella, these vineyards were famous for the providing the fruit for outstanding Valpolicella.

While many young Italian winemakers were making "modern" wines supported by foreign varieties, Allessandro's first vintages were superb expressions of local varieties. The difference, Allessandro explained, "Is that I see winemaking techniques as an embellishment of the natural product of the land--not as some kind of alchemy that would have Amarone resemble your New World Cabernet."

All of this wine's fruit came from vines of the Casal Vegri vineyard, whose steep pitch and limestone soil impart concentration and complexity to the low-yielding Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes. Allessandro vinifies this wine in stainless steel and then ages it in smaller oak barrels, allowing it to develop further. Once finished, this wine has a dark ruby and garnet color, full body, and concentrated pure flavors of red cherry, licorice, bitter almond, and spice. Drink now-2009.