At the Dante Alighieri wine estate, Possessione Casal dei Ronchi, the Alighieri's have been making excellent Valpolicello and Amarone wine for the past 700 years.
Today Cynthia Chaplin, sommelier and wine connoisseur, and I chatted about Dante and the Alighieri wine estate, and the fabulous wines produced in this region. Find out more about Cynthia on Instagram and read her recent article, Sipping History: The Wine of Dante’s Descendants.
About Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and died of malaria in Ravenna on September 14, 1321. He's buried in the Tomb of Dante in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Ravenna.
Dante is best known for his Divine Comedy and in particular Dante’s Inferno. If you're daunted by Dante's Inferno you can check out a simpler version of it: Dante's Inferno In Plain and Simple English.
Dante dabbled in Florentine politics and was forced into exile by the Government of Florence after ending up on the losing side of the battle between the White and Black Guelphs. He was forced into exile and ordered to pay a fine which he never paid. Because he never paid the fine the exile escalated into two decades and the death penalty. It was only in 2008, nearly 700 years later, that the exile was posthumously lifted but Dante’s conviction still remains.
Since 2008 Dante’s descendants have made every effort to have the conviction lifted but as recently as this spring 2021 another posthumous vote to remove his conviction was denied.
Dante and Wine
Following Dante’s exile his family settled in Verona in the Veneto region. In 1353 Dante’s son Pietro began making wine at an estate just a few miles outside of Verona. Pietro purchased this 300 acre estate, the Possessione Casal dei Ronchi, and the Dante family has been making wine there ever since. Valpolicella and Amarone are the two main wines produced on this estate, both iconic Verona wines.
They also produce an impressive and surprisingly delicious white wine, Possessioni, using the ancient indigenous garganega grape along with some sauvignon del Veneto. The garganega grape is even more ancient than any of the reds from this wine region.
Fun fact: Italy has around 500 indigenous grape varietals, more than any other country; next is Greece with about 200. If you're interested in a deep dive into Italian wines then check out Italian Wine Unplugged.
Valpolicella and Amarone wines
Valpolicella is made in the province of Verona and it’s a light and fruity red wine made using three grape varietals: Corvina Veronese (usually 40-70%), Rondinella (about 20-40%) and Molinara (from 5-20%).
Recioto della Valpolicella is a delightful sweet red dessert wine - supposedly Emperor Augustus loved this wine - made with grapes that are harvested and then set aside on racks to dry until late fall / early winter. There's also a dry version of Recioto: (Recioto) Amarone. Both have high alcohol content, about 14% -16%.
Amarone della Valpolicella is a wine made with partially dried grapes. The process of partially drying out the grapes, which are then slowly pressed and slowly fermented, is known as appassimento and it’s the technique used to make Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone means bitter, and comes from the Latin word amarus. Amarone is the dry (bitter) variety of the Recioto Valpolicella wine.
There are a few grape varieties used in Amarone wine – mainly Corvina, but also Corvinone and Rondinella, plus some lesser known grapes. The aroma and flavor of Amarone is mostly determined by Corvina. Amarone must spend a minimum of two years in oak, and even up to nine or 10 years, which inevitably contributes to its higher cost.
Serving great wine
A very tasty local risotto dish is Amarone Risotto and here's how to make it.
More risotto recipes
Verona is the largest city in the Veneto region and the second largest city in northeast Italy. It's a major tourist destination because of its artistic heritage which includes opera, annual fairs and shows. UNESCO declared Verona a World Heritage Site.
William Shakespeare set two of his plays in Verona: Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona although supposedly he never visited the city.
A recent Dante family wine-making project is a 200 acre red wine producing estate not far from Montalcino where Brunello di Montalcino is produced. It's a joint wine venture between Dante descendent Pieralvise Serègo Alighieri and Masi, the Veneto based wine producer, but it’s basically run and managed by the Masi family.
Leonardo da Vinci and his winery
Leonardo da Vinci was also passionate about wine. His historic vineyard in Milan has recently been brought back to life and is producing wine once again centuries later. Read about it here.
Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci is responsible for the invention of the corkscrew?
For wine drinkers who like to enjoy just a glass of wine at a time, use a Coravin, instead of opening up a wine bottle with a corkscrew. A Coravin extracts just a glass of wine at a time without removing the cork!
More wine stories and podcast episodes
What’s going on in Italy to commemorate Dante Alighieri's 700th anniversary
Italy is marking the 700th anniversary since the medieval poet and father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri’s, death with a host of free and online programs. Here are a few of them.
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence created a virtual exhibition, “To See the Stars Again” that was launched at the start of 2021 and will run through the end of the year. It features 88 fragile drawings from 1586 to 1588 from The Divine Comedy.
The Biblioeca Civica in the city of Bergamo in northern Italy is dedicating every Sunday in 2021 to a different book or manuscript by Dante. Every Sunday you can find the details on the library's Facebook page.
From October 5, 2020 through December 31, 2021 43 Italian cities are celebrating Dante. Find out about the cities on the Piazza Dante website, or on Instagram.
Here's yet another listing of Dante 2021 events taking place throughout Italy.
The American Academy in Rome has an upcoming Dante event on September 28, offered both in person and via zoom. To commemorate the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death writer Jonathan Levi, filmmaker Ric Burns and Italian literary scholar Riccardo Bruscagli will discuss their new film about the life and works of Dante.
The film is a mixture of reenactment of Dante’s life and his poetic journey along with an examination by both contemporary Italian and international scholars as to why seven centuries later Dante is still a literary inspiration. You can reserve for this event on an in-person basis or via zoom here.
If you're visiting Rome this fall don't miss the Dante’s Inferno exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale, from October 15 2021 through January 9 2022.
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