13/05/2010 - 00:00

Cassiodorus, by any other name ...

13/05/2010 - 00:00


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THANK goodness the cold weather is here. It’s the perfect time for Western Australian wine lovers to cuddle up with a tasty tipple and help stave off the winter cold.

Cassiodorus, by any other name ...

THANK goodness the cold weather is here. It’s the perfect time for Western Australian wine lovers to cuddle up with a tasty tipple and help stave off the winter cold.

And, finally, I can get on with researching some big intense reds – and no wines do intensity better than amarone.

Hailing from Valpolicella, the wine-producing region surrounding Verona in the north-west of Italy, amarone is a style of wine unique to any other.

The fruit is grown normally – using two unpronounceable indigenous grape varieties – but things get interesting at harvest time. The grapes are taken off the vine and then, instead of being crushed and allowed to begin the fermentation process, the whole bunches get laid out on big drying racks and are left exposed to the elements for up to four months.

Spending a third of the year exposed to nature results in a shrivelling of the fruit as the grapes head in the direction of raisins, losing their moisture along the way (but nothing else).

All the goodies inside the fruit are still there in the same quantities but the relative levels of water drop dramatically. It’s these other goodies that form the interesting parts of the wine – colour, sweetness, alcohol, structure, phenolics – and so the longer the fruit lies out on these racks, the more intense these parts of the wine become.

You can find Amarone de Valpolicella in most good wine stores. As you can imagine, the intensity of flavour is the thing that really stands out about this wine – it’s like there are three bottles worth of juice all jammed into the one.

They have a raisin-like character from the shrivelling of the fruit and they are hugely muscular wines. They absolutely have to be decanted and you definitely need to have food with them – preferably something that’s still mooing.

The Italians have been doing this for centuries – the first documented case was when Paduan statesman Cassiodorus explained exactly this process in 535AD, claiming the style had recuperative qualities that held bad humours at bay. Cassiodorus was a man of some stature and is believed to be the father of the amarone style.

Interestingly enough, the very best of this style of wine that I’ve seen this year is not from Italy at all; it’s from right here in WA.

Mark Beeson, a local Freo boy, and his wife have a property down in Margaret River that makes some very good wine under their Forty Rows label. Mark became enamoured with these amarone-style wines and thought he would give it a try, making a truly remarkable wine under the name of – you guessed it – Cassiodorus.

However, instead of spreading the fruit out on racks to dry, Mark cuts the canes off at the base of the vine and lets them hang in situ for the weeks required for the drying out process, while the base fruit he uses is the pick of the cabernet on his property.

This produces a more tightly structured wine but all of those heady dried fruit characters leap up out of the glass. It’s brutishly big, seemingly bursting with overt energy, all kept in line with Mark Warren’s deft touch in the winery.

It’s a really interesting wine, well worth the $55 price tag. There are only 600 bottles made per year so I suggest you get some now before it achieves the cult status it deserves.



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