Back in my New York days, buying wine for Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich’s Babbo, I bought a ton of wine from the legendary, irascible, somewhat reclusive importer Robert Chadderdon. I used to call him “The Voice” because we only spoke by phone -- he was not the kind of guy to show up at the restaurant with a bag of samples; he was the kind of guy who called you up and told you what you needed, and only if he’d first deemed you and your restaurant worthy of his inventory.
Robert Chadderdon’s curly signature on a neck label was as close to a guarantee as you could get, especially when you saw it under the larger, even-more-curly signature of Giuseppe Quintarelli. I’ll never forget my one visit, in 2000, to Quintarelli’s farm in Negrar – and I emphasize “farm” here, not “estate,” because he grew beautiful cherries and vegetables and lots of other stuff besides wine. It was just the two of us, in a dark and modestly appointed cellar, and he talked and I listened. He was soft-spoken and humble and Yoda-esque, supremely confident in the quality and originality of his wines but hardly inclined to puff out his chest about it.
With only a few exceptions, the Quintarelli lineup is all about the gradations of sweetness, viscosity and palate persistence afforded by the appassimento (grape-drying) process, which is not necessarily unique to the Valpolicella region but has come to define it. Quintarelli Valpolicellas are not the pizza-parlor plonk long associated with the appellation; they are deep and silken “baby Amarones.” His Amarone wines, meanwhile, ramp up the concentration and intensity without becoming Port-like confections. Grapes for Amarone della Valpolicella are typically dried from the end of harvest through March before being vinified into wine, giving Amarone is characteristic viscosity and concentration. Wines labeled “Valpolicella” are typically either blended with a touch of Amarone or passed over the leftover solids from an Amarone fermentation (ripasso). Across this spectrum, you might say that dried-grape wine is used like seasoning, like salt on a steak. Bepi Quintarelli neither under- nor over-salted. And even though he’s no longer with us (he died in 2012), his great wines still are via O.G. Bay Area importer Kermit Lynch (no relation).
Quintarelli wine is, as Dana Carvey-as-Johnny Carson might say, weird, wild stuff. Don’t miss it!