CREAM OF THE CROP

With the release of the 2017 La Poja, we speak with Marilisa Allegrini, CEO of the Valpolicella winery, to discuss the estate’s focus on cru and vineyard-designed wines as exemplified by the prized vintage

Allegrini is famed for its elegant Amarone and terroir-focused IGT wines. The estate farms more than 120 hectares across Valpolicella Classico in the northeast of Italy, with all the wines estate grown. The main vineyards range in altitude – from 180 to over 500 meters above sea level – and from these prime plots, Allegrini bottles powerful and structured expressions of the native grapes of Valpolicella.

As the current CEO and sixth-generation proprietor of the estate, Marilisa Allegrini continues her father Giovanni’s quest to create the highest-quality cru wines in Valpolicella. This means, when it comes to winemaking, even though Valpolicella is often seen as having “technique over terroir,” Allegrini continues to go against the concept with a clear focus on cru and vineyard-designate wines, brought to life with clean and polished vinification.

The estate’s plots certainly benefit from a favorable climate, with temperatures kept cool thanks to nearby Lake Garda and its location at the foothills of the Lessini mountains. Meanwhile, at these higher altitudes, the soils turn from clay to calcareous, as ancient seabeds have been revealed by millennia of erosion, which helps with winegrowing.

One of Giovanni Allegrini’s most inspired visions, his passion project, was a monovarietal, vineyard-appellated Corvina wine made without undergoing the appassimento process. He wanted to prove Valpolicella’s potential to make great wines of terroir. Planted in 1979 at the top of the cru of La Grola in the subzone of Sant’Ambrogio, a “cru within a cru,” the La Poja vineyard is a diamond-shaped, 2.65ha plateau with chalky soils, planted entirely to the region’s noble grape, Corvina.

When the first La Poja vintage was released in 1983, it was the only commercially released 100 percent Corvina wine. Still today, it’s rare to find a varietal Corvina that hasn’t undergone the appassimento process. La Poja is the highest expression of Allegrini’s “cru” wines.

“2017 came to be a small vintage but an excellent quality, very elegant La Poja”

Marilisa Allegrini

CEO and sixth-generation proprietor of Allegrini, Marilisa Allegrini, enjoying a glass of the prized 2017 La Poja

With Maze Row’s release of the 2017 La Poja, we asked Marilisa Allegrini what makes this vintage so special.

Italy experienced extreme weather conditions that year. How did this impact on La Poja?

2017 was an extreme vintage all over Italy. This meant production was down by 40 percent – probably the least productive vintage in the last 70 years. In Valpolicella, the summer was hot but there was some rain in July and August which rebalanced the juice in the fruit.

How does La Poja prove that Valpolicella quality is truly connected to plot and terroir?

La Poja is the triangle that sits at the top of La Grola hill at 350 meters, with mountains to the north and Late Grada to the west. The vineyard therefore enjoys a beautiful microclimate and benefits from excellent ventilation. The grapes ripen a little later than normal here. So, 2017 came to be a small vintage but an excellent quality, very elegant La Poja.

How did you know La Poja wine was ready to be sold globally as an offer on La Place de Bordeaux?

We knew the very first year we produced the wine. We planted the vineyard in 1979 and let the vines develop roots, but by 1983 we could already see the great quality. My brothers said: let’s vinify the grapes from La Poja by themselves and not mix with the rest of the vineyard which is La Grola. With the evolutions in the vinification and aging process, we decided to keep the production of La Poja separate from the rest of our wines.

Your father was ahead of his time in defining excellence as from the vineyards. Many other producers have since joined in this understanding and are elaborating site-specific wines. What does the future hold in terms of advancing the quality and the presence on the world-stage of wines from specific sites, such as La Poja?

You know viticulture is the key thing. The wine is produced in the vineyard. This is where the hard work happens. We are more and more experiencing extreme vintages. Every year is a surprise. Vintage 2023, for instance, is another extreme and surprising vintage not only in Valpolicella but also Bolgheri [where Marilisa runs a second winery, Poggio al Tesoro, see “Coastal dreams” p58]. We had a very rainy spring, and when you have this amount of rain, fungus develops in the grape. We then had extreme heat, 15 days of very high temperatures in July, and in August the temperature was beautiful with cool evenings.

You have to do your best in managing the vineyards. But when you taste the wine in the glass, you can feel what happened to that vintage in the vineyard. Wine is a combination of land, nature, work and man.

LA POJA 2017 THE LOW-DOWN

2017 vintage notes

Unlike in other areas of Italy, the 2017 vintage in Sant’Ambrogio developed as typically expected. The location of the La Poja vineyard allowed it to avoid frost and hailstorms that plagued surrounding areas. The dry and breezy climate with wide variations in day-to-night temperatures enabled the grapes to fully express their varietal aromas. Harvest concluded in early October.

Viticulture

Varieties - 100 percent Corvina (no appassimento)

Vineyards - 2.65ha, Sant’Ambrogio, Valpolicella Classico

Elevation - 330 meters

Soils - Chalky clay (chalk content 78.5 percent)

Vine Training - Bilateral guyot

Vine Age - 43 years

Farming Practice - Organically farmed (not certified), dry farmed, manual harvest

Vinification

Fermentation - Spontaneous in stainless steel

Aging - 20 months in new Allier barrels, 8 months in large Slavonian cask, 10 months in bottle

Finishing - Filtered, fined

Vegan - Yes

Alcohol - 14.73 percent

Acidity & pH - 5.85 g/L & 3.51

Residual Sugar - 1.8 g/L

Production - 13,500 bottles

 

Photography ©Helen Cathcart

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