A few years ago we were introduced to Ca la Bionda by our friend Paolo di Marchi of Isole e Olena. Allessandro Castellani had apprenticed with Paolo in Tuscany, and Paolo marveled at the young winemaker's drive and ingenuity. In March 2002, at Paolo's insistence, we traveled to the Veneto to visit Allessandro and his family. A tour of the Castellani property showcased the beautiful, terraced vineyards, set on the steep hillsides overlooking the village of Udine. Allessandro talked quietly of his vision. He didn't want to make the "modern" wines that have bastardized the Amarone and Valpolicella appellations--wines buttressed by varieties that aren't native to the region, and wines that were thick and sweet.
Allessandro saw his winemaking techniques as an embellishment of the natural product of his land, not as alchemy that would have Amarone resemble New World Cabernet. When we stepped into the winery, it was evident just how decisively the Castellanis had negotiated the crossroads. No expense had been spared. From the temperature-controlled facility and stainless steel tanks, to the new wooden botti, Allessandro had listened well at Isole e Olena.
And the wines? Most Amarone and Valpolicella can be artificial and "pumped up," but here the wines have elegance, length and harmony. The Amarones are powerful and intense, but they are true to the Corvina grape and to this splendid viticultural region of the Veneto. With magnificently farmed, mature vines, Allessandro hit the ground running, making some of the most expressive wines of the region in his first vintages.
The best of Allesandro's lineup at a recent tasting was this Valpolicella Casal Vegri 2004. The vineyard's 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. You might think of it as "burgundy with muscle."
Suggested Food Pairing:
We like drinking this wine now, but it will continue to age gracefully over the next 2-4 years. The local pasta specialty in the Veneto is tortellini (preferably the meat filled ones) and is usually cooked simply with some grated fresh grana padano (the local sheep's milk cheese). Perfecto!