I have been traveling back and forth across the country for the last two weeks and have been working long days for months. In between flights and endless delays in airport waiting lounges, I try to make study time for my WSET exam coming up all too soon in a few days. After a grueling, four-city tour, tonight I feel justified in picking something special to celebrate a clean desk and being home. A bottle of Amarone is definitely appropriate. The bottle I decide on is an Amarone Negar 1961. Yes the vintage is right, 1961.
It was a great year for Italian wine in 1961 – rain and sun in perfect balance. John Kennedy was president of the USA. The Berlin Wall was under construction. Maria Callas was 38 and at the height of her career. Sophia Loren was starring in El Cid, and I was all of nine years old.
The label is a little worn and torn. The fill level looks promising – still mid neck – although there is a little sediment. The cork seems to be okay – solid and removes easily without crumbling. Should I decant and risk adding too much air? I pour a glass to see what has happened to this 40-something wine.
The color is amazing – dark red, with a little orange and brick red on the rim. The nose is equally remarkable – still lots of fruit left on the nose, black cherry with truffle, and a little sherry oxidization odors in the background. A few swirls of the glass and the oxidative aromas disappear.
The taste and finish on this wine is surprising, still full of black cherry, truffles, and forest floor with a finish that lasts for minutes. The tannins are like silk, and there are not enough descriptors to describe the mouth feel and full body. The acidity must be holding this wine together.
Now, there is a caveat to this story. We both love Amarone, so there is a built in basis here. But points and ratings have no relevance to this wine. It is, quite simply, a great wine. It is like the Callas aria playing on the stereo – powerful yet filled with grace and finesse. It is an Amarone at its heights. Yes, 1961 was a good vintage year for Italian wines. I am going to lay down some bottles for the future.
This Amarone is a perfect example of why Frank and I both hate the point system. Is this a 98 or only a 97 point wine? After all, how do you define the difference of a single point? Or has this venerable liquid actually achieved the enviable position of 100 points despite its initial hint of oxidation? It is only two additional points after all.
And if we were to rate it as a 98, would that make it comparable to the 2004 Cabernet Blend IX Estate from that received a 98 point nod from Robert Parker? Hmmm, let’s see. A three-year old blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot from Napa Valley versus an Italian Amarone with almost half a century of love, care, and passion in its provenance. Somehow, the comparison just doesn’t work – although I suppose one day, some scientist, somewhere in the world, will come up with a formula that proves you can actually make a meaningful comparison between apples and snow peas.
(Photos of Maria Callas and Sophia Loren are both dated 1960, only a year before this wine was produced.)