Zenato Wine Dinner

On Tuesday 29th November, I attended a Zenato wine dinner at Valparaiso restaurant in Monkstown, Dublin. Alberto Zenato was on hand for the evening to present some of the wines from his estate.

The Azienda Zenato is located in Pescheria del Garda and was founded over 50 years ago by Alberto’s father, Sergio. Probably most famous in Ireland for its Valpolicellla and Amarone, I was surprised to see that Zenato have actually been making wine from the Lugana region far longer than in Valpolicella. In fact, as Alberto explained, Sergio Zenato effectively put the white wines from Lugana on the international map. With that in mind, a good wine to start the wine dinner with was the Lugana “San Benedetto” 2010, which was paired with a starter of mushroom tortellini, light cep cream and sauté girolles. This wine has been a favourite of mine since I came across it a few years ago. This Lugana is kept on its lees for 3-4 months and had lots of apple on the nose with hints of apricot. On the palate it showed more fresh citrus fruits and good length. It’s also great value, retailing at €13.50.

The fish course was red wine poached stone bass with bone marrow and was paired with the Valpolicella Classico 2009. This was an unusual combination and my palate didn’t really know what to do with red wine, fish and bone marrow. Once you got your head around it, it worked though. The Valpolicella was slightly fuller than many others I’ve tried and showed lots of ripe red berry fruits with also some bramble fruits squeezing in at the finish. This was followed by the crowd pleaser of the evening – the Ripassa della Valpolicella Superiore 2007, which was served with roast Wicklow venison.

Next up was the Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 which was much more approachable at this stage than I had expected. It was very rich and concentrated but still managed to retain a degree of freshness which nicely complimented the ripe dark cherry fruits, peppery spices and coffee aromatics. The Amarone was served with an aged comté coated in blackberry jelly. This was a nice pairing but was held back in my eyes by the texture of the comté; a slightly harder cheese would have been better I think. This was a beautiful wine and was without doubt my favourite of the evening. In presenting the Amarone, Alberto had the room in hysterics trying to explain the concept of vino di meditazione, or meditation wine. Sadly, I just think this isn’t a philosophy that sits well in Ireland.

The evening finished with a glass of the Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2006 and glazed apricot tart with almonds. The wine had lots of stewed dark fruits, fig and Christmas cake spices on the nose with sweet dark berries and plum jam on the palate. I believe the technical term for this was “yum”!

Factoid which may only interest me: Alberto explained that Recioto is actually derived from the term recia, local dialect for “ear” (orecchia in Italian). The background to this is that the grapes for Recioto are only taken from the lateral part of the bunch – or the ear if you will.

I was lucky enough to be sitting at the table beside Alberto for this dinner. A really gregarious and easy going guy, Alberto’s passion truly came to the fore when we spoke about Amarone and in particular the famiglia dell’amarone d’arte (Amarone Families). Zenato along with Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi and Venturini have come together to form an organisation who are rallying against overproduction and are trying to preserve the reputation of Amarone as a prestigious wine of exceptional quality.

Clearly such an association also brings massive commercial advantages, which is why I was keen to get Alberto’s take on its merits. Really, I just wanted to find out if this was just a big PR gimmick. I left the conversation entirely reassured that Alberto truly believes in the initiative and wants to use the group to maintain the history and tradition of Amarone, whilst still striving for yet further improvements in quality in the years ahead. That can only be good news for the consumer.

I haven’t talked much about the food but so it is worth saying that there are some amazing things going on in the kitchen at Valparaiso – every course was a feast for both the eyes and taste buds. I’m amazed that in all the times I’ve been in Monkstown, I’d never been to Valparaiso before, but it’s somewhere I’ll definitely be returning to.

All of the Zenato wines are available from Searsons Wine Merchants and in many good independent off licenses. Images courtesy of Searsons.