Wine In The Time of Coronavirus, Part 64: Biggie Smalls (Costa Arènte Recent Releases)

Costa Arènte grapes drying
(image: Costa Arènte)

I often feel that 1WD is in danger of being perceived as an Italian-specific wine site, given the proliferation of Italian wine coverage on here over the last 24 or so months. While that’s certainly not the case, one thing has become very clear to me after two-plus years of a global pandemic: Italian wine PR is running circles around just about everyone else in the industry.

From media jaunts, events, and virtual tastings like this one I’m about to recap with Veneto producer Costa Arènte, Italy turned up the heat early when it comes to engaging wine media in interesting and inventive ways during the last several months, and they are reaping the benefits of increased coverage as a result. A tip of the hat and a twirl of the well-groomed mustache to them.

Costa Arènte
(image: Costa Arènte)

In that vein, I was invited some months ago to attend Costa Arènte’s first-even virtual tasting. Costa Arènte is owned by one of the biggest agricultural groups in Italy, and was spun off as an individual project entailing just 17 ha of vines, all hand-harvested/selected. So… a Biggie that’s doing a lineup of Smalls, basically.

Production (including drying their grapes for Amarone-style red wine production) takes place in the winery, which is in Valpantena, pretty much smack-dab in the middle of Valpolicella in Grezzana (and close to Verona itself, in the western end of the Veneto). Valpantena enjoys breezes that help keep the vines/grapes healthy, along with getting plenty of sunshine. The winery is located in the middle of the vineyards, which are divided into plantings of Corvina, Corinone, Rondinella and Molinara (both Pergola Veronese and Guyot training are used—the pergola provides light exposure, while protecting bunches from rain and hail, and helps the grapes stay dry in the breezes). The soil there is poor in fertility, promoting deep root growth according to Costa Arènte head winemaker Giovanni Casati.

The results are powerhouses that border on Port-like strength but, for the most part, exude balance and harmony. If you like your wines (particularly your reds) more Biggie then Smalls, then read on…

crowd pleaserNV Costa Arènte Molinara Rosè Spumante Brut 2021, $NA

The Molinara grape has largely gone out of fashion for reds in Valpolicella, in favor of varieties that offer up more concentration. Costa Arènte described this bubbly as a “novelty” for both the winery and the region itself: “We decided to make it into a sparkling wine in the Charmat method [with 5 months sur lie aging],” explained Giovanni Casati. With a quite pale rose color, this is fresh, floral, and fruity. Delightful notes of fresh red berries, pomegranate, hints of red plum, and salinity all bounce around on the palate, all ending on a long finish that’s fresh as a daisy.

 

crowd pleaserCosta Arènte Valpolicella Superiore Valpantena 2020, $20

Their “base wine” hails from 10-25 year old vines, and has been produced just since 2016. Casati considers the 2020 vintage “almost perfect.” Quite fresh, fruit-forward and mineral, the raspberry and plums are on fine display here, along with notes of raisins, black pepper, and baking spices. With minimal barrel fermentation, and just 1 year aging in stainless steel, it’s meant to show off the vintage’s easy-to-like quality, which it does admirably. 

 

Costa Arènte Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore Valpantena 2019, $26

Kicking off with a somewhat reserved nose of black raspberry, plum, and raisin, this ripasso soon starts kicking ass with great leathery and peppery spice action and smoky hints. It definitely hits with ample structure, heat, cherry fruit, and plenty of acidity; basically, after a slow entry, it comes out punching on the palate. Sourced from 10-25 year old vines, it’s aged 1 year in barriques. Since this is the result of passing over the Amarone pomace, it lets you know that you’re in for some Amarone powerhouses from these guys. Speaking of which…

 

Costa Arènte Amarone della Valpolicella Valpantena 2017, $85

“A difficult year” mused Giovanni Casati, “very warm and dry. During the first few days of September, there was a hail storm that ruined part of the harvest, the harvest was actually quite low. The warmth of that year produced quite powerful wines.” Yeah – this one clocks in at a hefty 17% abv., and was aged 2 years in tonneaux, followed by 1 year in larger Slavonian oak barrels, and then 1 year in bottle. Black raspberry, prune, Xmas spices, leather, pepper, dried roses on the nose. In the mouth… BOOM. Booze-soaked cherries. This one feels hot, but not unbalanced, and could still link up well with heartier foods. Definitely fresh, potent, and striking in its leathery structure (which lingers looooong on the finish). It’s like an Olympic weight-lifting competition up in here, muscles are being flexed all over the place.

 

Costa Arènte Amarone della Valpolicella Valpantena DOCG Riserva 2016, $NA

Another 17% abv monster, the Riserva is a double-selection of “the best of the best” of 2016’s grape production and spent 3 years in tonneaux, 1 year in Slavonian botte, and 1 year in bottle. This was their first Riserva vintage, and it was a rainy one, with cool September evenings that helped the grapes preserve acidity. Tight, spicy, and clean, with stewed plums, dried black berry and raspberry, this is packed with baking spice action, dark chocolate, dried fig, balsamic, and rum-soaked cherries. Again, things are amped up and hot here, but not really unbalanced. It’s like a smooth brandy – yeah, it burns a bit, but not enough to make you want to stop enjoying it. And it has plenty of life left ahead of it in bottle. But you had better like ’em very, very beefy.

 

elegantCosta Arènte Recioto della Valpolicella Valpantena DOCG 2020, $NA

I’m a sucker for a good Recioto (ever have it with flourless chocolate tort? insanely good), and this is a good one. From dried and hung grapes that are part of the Riserva selection process, it’s aged 1 year in 2nd-use French oak. While this one isn’t jumping aromatically, what’s there is very, very nice. Raisin, prune, Xmas spices… the works. The palate is lovely, balancing sweet plum and raisin flavors with a brightness of tone and lively acidity, while staying silky-smooth throughout.

Cheers!

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