Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Looking up at Bolla

During my most recent trip to Verona, I visited Bolla at their headquarters in Pedemonte in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone. I imagine that everyone - Italian wine lover or not - must know this name and has probably tasted at least one of their moderately priced Veronese wines (Soave, Valpolicella or Bardolino) at some point. 

Chances are you don't give much thought to Bolla, at least if you consider yourself a "serious" wine drinker. I must admit that I rarely consider their products when writing about Italian wines. So it was nice that I had the chance to make this recent visit with a group of journalists to taste the latest releases.

I've found that it's best to go into these tastings with an open mind, which is exactly what I did. And you know what? I found myself liking these wines; the Bolla products are clean, well made and balanced. Are they great wines? Of course not, but they're not trying to make great wines. What Bolla is doing is producing everyday wines at reasonable prices for a large spectrum of the wine market and they're doing it very well.

Unless you've never tasted wine in your life, you must surely know that Bolla makes Soave. Indeed this association is so strong that during the 1980s in America, people thought "Soave Bolla" was one word. Millions of cases were sold and it was one of the first Italian wine phenomenons in this country. Soave took a hit for many years, but Bolla has continued to stick with their bread and butter. The 2010 Classico - emblazoned with a "retro" label from the 1970s (nice touch) - is a clean, fresh version with typical honeydew melon fruit. It's got good, but not overwhelmingly high acidity. For $9, you get your money's worth.

A step up is the Soave Classico named "Tufaie" (too-fye). This blend of 90% Garganega with 10% Trebbiano di Soave is a selection of some of the best grapes the winery receives from their growers. There is a little touch of honey in the aromas - this coming from the Trebbiano - that adds to the complexity and overall pleasure of this wine. Medium-bodied, it has good acidity and a nice texture on the palate along with more persistence in the finish. At $13, this is a very nice bottle of Soave Classico.

As for the value reds, the "Le Poiane" Valpolicella Classico Superiore is worth your attention. As you can see from the label, this is a ripasso wine, meaning this is a Valpolicella that is fermented at some point with the musts of Amarone, which increases color as well as spice. Ripasso, being much less expensive than Amarone, which has a strict production process, has become very popular in America these days, as it's richer than a Valpolicella normale, giving meaning to its description as a "baby Amarone." I don't really buy into that belief, but it does offer more than a typical Valpolicella. 

This Bolla version has red plum and morel cherry fruit, very good acidity and distinct notes of black spice in the finish. It's a cleanly made wine with good Ripasso character and while it's not terribly complex, it is nicely balanced and in reality, a fine introduction to what Ripasso is all about. For $15, this is a well made wine (the 2009 was the vintage I tried at the winery).

Bolla is credited with creating the first Amarone back in the early 1950s and they've always made a typical bottling. I tasted the 2008 Amarone and it's a nice representation of this wine, with red and brown spice notes on the nose and in the finish along with red cherry and currant fruit, good concentration and medium-weight tannins. At $42, this is a fair price for a nicely made Amarone such as this, though I'd like a bit more depth of fruit overall along with better persistence in the finish.

Bolla is now owned by Gruppo Italiano Vini (G.I.V.), a company that owns more than a dozen wineries throughout Italy from north to south. They have continued the everyday work that goes on here, the emphasis of which is producing everyday white and red Veronese wines. My hope is that they can introduce a few special projects, perhaps focusing on some limited releases, perhaps for restaurants only. We all know what Bolla can do - it would be fascinating to see what they can realize.

The wines are Bolla are imported into the United States by Banfi Vinters.

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