This is a story about a boutique wine that reflects a man and a woman's passion for wine and artistry. Wait. Come back. It's different, this time. It's love, Valpolicella-style.
Fabiano Ramaci makes wine in the style of Amarone della Valpolicella. From Italy's Veneto region, Amarone is produced using the appassimento method. According to Ramaci, his is the only wine in California made with the four traditional grape varieties: Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Negrara. Grapes are hand-picked and gently crated to the cellar in small bins—same story as every winery will tell you. Then Ramaci does something that makes appassimento sounds like a condition of derangement affecting vintners: he lets the grapes lay around for more than three months—that's the appassimento method.
Ramaci pressed his 2014 vintage on Feb. 3, after the grapes dried on plastic racks for a hundred days and fermented for three weeks. When the grapes lose 30 percent or more of their weight, aromas and flavors are concentrated and transformed. Each bottle of this rare wine gets a unique label, a floral motif hand-painted by Fabiano's wife, Alena Ramaci.
Ramaci was born in Sicily, but was soon brought to San Francisco. His father ran La Traviata, where "all the opera stars went back in the day," Ramaci recalls. He was managing a Napa Valley restaurant when he stepped down to work as a server, so that he could also take a second job during the crush.
Today, Ramaci is general manager at Glen Ellen's Aventine, which recently hosted a dinner with Raffaele Boscaini of Masi Agricola, Veneto's giant of Amarone. To produce Masi's 2010 Costasera Amarone, grapes were not only dried, but infected with botrytis mold, enhancing the mouthfeel. "You have the sensation of sweetness, even if the Amarone is a dry wine," says Boscaini.
Ramaci also poured his Mora Estate 2009 Valpo ($65). The bright, ruby-red wine has a spicy, musky savor of dried roses that reminds me of a desiccated old Valentine's bouquet which, years ago, a friend chided me for hanging on to long after the girl had gone—so perhaps this is the Amarone magic. But it's also surprisingly fresh and chewy, with tart cherry flavor—a more fruit-forward style than the Masi, everyone at the table agreed, but they liked it—including Boscaini, son of Italy's "Mr. Amarone," Sandro Boscaini.
"If I were to pursue making Chardonnay and Pinot," Ramaci tells me, "I just don't know how it would work. Following my niche and my heart is how to do it."
Several retail locations and restaurants carry Mora Estate wines, including the Wine Shop, 331 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Masi Agricola Amarone is widely distributed by Kobrand Wine and Spirits.