Science of love, wine and Amarone

John H. Isacs
Couples around the world will seek new love or affirmation of existing love on February 14th and fortunately I have three romantic red solutions.
John H. Isacs

I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day. Overcrowded restaurants offering uninspired set menus based on the lowest common denominator palates, sky-high idealized expectations, rampant commercialism and stressed-out lovers; welcome to our modern Valentine's Day.

In my mind a true romantic is passionate, caring and creative 365 days a year. Nonetheless, couples around the world will seek new love or affirmation of existing love on February 14th and fortunately I have three romantic red solutions. Before we get to my liquid tools of love, let's take a look at the history of this nerve-racking day.

Valentine's Day evolved from antediluvian fertility celebrations. Millenniums later in ancient Rome, the Lupercalia festival of fertility became an annual event held in mid-February. Even by ancient Roman standards this was a lascivious occasion featuring sexual displays, bloody animal sacrifices and other nefarious excesses.

With the advent of Christianity, the Church sought to replace this pagan festival with a more sedate and proper Christian observance. It took some time, but in the 5th century Pope Gelasius formerly proclaimed February 14th as Valentine's Day.

Since the industrial revolution business interests have sought to monetize Valentine's Day with greed-related appropriation, reaching new heights over the past few decades. So amid the over-the-top, crass commercialism of the modern Valentine's Day; how can we genuinely be romantic? Alas, we're back to my three red solutions.

As this is the Year of the Tiger, an animal that invokes thoughts of strength, courage and nobility; my 2022 Valentine's red wine picks all share the noble attributes of this ferocious feline. Let's start with two wines from France.

The wine region of Beaujolais overlaps the southern areas of Burgundy and boarders the Rhône region to the south. Picturesque vineyards of Gamay red wine grapes line the Saône River, the most prized situated on rolling hills with granite soil and good sun exposure. These vineyards are home to Beaujolais Crus. There are 10 Cru villages with the northernmost Cru wine region romantically name Saint-Amour or saint of love. Saint-Amore is also one of the smallest Cru wine areas.

Saint-Amour wines typically feature elegant fruit and floral qualities with a soft mouth-feel and often exhibit enticing flavors of red fruit, ripe peach and spice. Their fruitiness, soft tannins and good freshness also make them quite food-friendly and wines with supple qualities worthy of the beautifully elusive tiger.

Another famously romantic French wine is Chateau Calon Segur, a third growth from Saint Estephe in Bordeaux. This hearty Saint Estephe red comes with a heart on the label and a great story.

During the first half of the 18th century Nicolas Alexander, the Marquis de Segur, owned several wineries in Bordeaux including three of the most famous, namely Chateaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton. Despite processing these most august of chateaux, Nicolas Alexander proclaimed, "my heart is with Segur"; therefore, to this day a big heart adorns every label of Chateau Calon Segur. Like other top Saint-Estephe wines, Calon Segur offers intense dark fruit flavors with ample tannins and sexy, slightly spicy notes.

Our two romantic French wines are fine choices for Valentine's Day, but my champion romantic tiger wine for 2022 hails from the home of the history's most famous lovers. Welcome Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, the king of Italian vino machismo.

Science of love, wine and Amarone

Large Slovenian oak casks are used to age some Amarone wines.

Valpolicella DOC/DOCG

Of all Italian cities, I'm know and love Verona the best. Over the past few decades I've helped Veneto wine regions including Valpolicella, Soave and Prosecco host hundreds of Chinese wine importers, sommeliers and related media. One essential ritual for all visitors is a walk into the city square, past the Roman coliseum, through the medieval streets that lead to the legendary balcony where Romeo and Juliet swore eternal love to each other.

Another essential visit is to the Valpolicella wine region that boarders the city. Here some of Italy's best red wines are made and the most famous of them all is Amarone. Viticulture has been practiced in the Valpolicella region in Veneto since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, though the exact beginning of cultivation in the Valpolicella area is not precisely known. The tradition of using partially dried-grapes was known as the "Greco" or "Greek style" of winemaking, with its origins dating back to ancient times.

The region of Valpolicella achieved DOC status in 1968. In December 2009, the Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone sweet wine received their own separate DOCG status. Today, Amarone is one of the world's most sought-after and admired red wines.

All Valpolicella wines including the great Amarone are made using the red Corvina variety that provides body and structure. Other important contributors are Corvinone and Rondinella while a small percentage of over a dozen native varieties are also allowed.

Amarone is made with grapes that are dried in a cool room with good aeration for three months or longer until they have lost nearly 50 percent of their weight. The semi-dried grapes offer very concentrated juice with abundant favors. After fermentation Amarone wines undergo several years of aging in small barriques and/or large Slovenian oak casks and further bottle-aging.

One of my favorites is Cantina del Garda, a beautiful wine featuring an intense ruby red color, aromas and flavors of cherries, raisins and oak and a long smooth tannic finish. Other Amarone producers with wines available in Shanghai include Zenato, Zonin, Valentina Cubi, Villa Canestrari, Santa Sophia and Tinazzi.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Aishun Imports, 16E-168 Zhengning Rd, 6247-0305

Cantina del Garda Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (website)

Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOCG

Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG (website)

Zonin Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG

Special Reports