From the tiny village of Negrar in the picturesque Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) to the upper reaches of the One-Percenter wine collectors in the U.S., the world of wine is in mourning: On Sunday, Giuseppe Quintarelli, 84, one of the greatest winemakers of our lifetime, died in his home in Italy after succumbing to a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
From Milan, to Warsaw, to London, to New York, the great maestro of Valpolicella has been eulogized by nearly all of the leading mastheads in the world of wine writing (see Eric Asimov's New York Times obituary here).
Although I never met him in person, I had the great honor and pleasure of interviewing "Bepi" Quintarelli by phone. He was exceedingly gracious and generous with his time... not what you'd expect from a winemaker who's current releases can sell for nearly $400 a bottle (if you've ever tried to get Michel Rolland on the phone, you know what I mean). In fact, every time I called the winery (except for in recent years, when Bepi's health made it impossible for him to be involved with the day-to-day operation of his small yet illustrious winery), he answered the phone himself.
"The winery must always be open," he once said to his student, Luca Fedrigo, who spoke to me by phone yesterday morning and who continues to make wines in the same style as his maestro. "No matter what hour of the night, if someone arrives at our gates, we must receive them." And it's true: To this day, the Quintarelli family happily receives visitors and tasters (although "an appointment is appreciated" according to the estate's calling card).
This openness and magnanimous spirit are uncommon among winemakers who cater to the richest among us. But even in the wake of the cultish following he developed in the late 1980s, Bepi, born in 1927 between the two world wars, never lost touch with the humanity of a generation who had known and faced the hardships of world conflict and tragedy.
As in New York and Los Angeles, many of Houston's greatest wine collectors have been breaking out their stash from Vin de Garde (the city's premier private wine storage facility) and impressing one another with coveted vintages of Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella from the 1990s and beyond.
And while most of Quintarelli's wines remain out of reach for the rest of us, the Houston Wine Merchant sells the 2000 Valpolicella by Giuseppe Quintarelli for around $70 (a more than reasonable price, by the way, with respect to pricing across the U.S.).
I tasted the wine for the first time in January 2011 when I visited the winery but it's superfluous for me to report my notes here: Quintarelli only bottled his wines in vintages that he felt lived up to his standard of quality and he -- unlike most winemakers -- only released the wine when he felt it was ready to drink. I highly recommend it to you.
That's not to say that you can't put this bottle down in the cellar and let it mature for another five to 10 to 15 years and even beyond (if cellared correctly). While the wine is drinking gorgeously right now, it will continue to age gracefully and the patient collector will only be rewarded by the wait.
There are also other bottlings by Quintarelli available in the Houston market for around $40, like his 2006 Bianco Secco (dry white) Ca' del Merlo, a bit tired but delicious, with low alcohol and surprisingly vibrant acidity for a wine intended to be drunk in its youth.
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And, of course, for the big spenders out there, his 1997 Alzero (pronounced AHL-zeh-roh, his famous partially dried-grape Cabernet Franc) will put you back around $400 (also at the Houston Wine Merchant). I tasted the wine a year ago at the winery and I can report that it's worth every penny...
Sit tibi terra levis Iosephe...