TENUTA CHEVALIER

Valpolicella, Veneto • CERTIFIED ORGANIC

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Paolo Zardini lives wine. He has been involved in winemaking since the age of 16, working in wineries big and small throughout the Valpolicella before recently acquiring Tenuta Chevalier.

Paolo is a big, jolly guy who has so much to share about the wine region he loves. Having experiences in different local wineries before purchasing his own, he has a very good grasp on what wines from the Valpolicella wines should taste like and how to maintain the integrity of such wines. I admire Paolo for also being on the front lines in terms of education. He has welcomed in students and groups from the University of Chicago for years, even taking on interns to help them learn the winemaking process and understand the Valpolicella region. He takes great pride in this and is sure to remind me each time I visit.

Chevalier is an organic small batch winery and, like many others in the Valpolicella, is on a main road in the town of San Pietro in Cariano. You pull up to what looks like any other ordinary building in the town, but immediately you realize this is not so ordinary. The winery has to be a hundred years old, with many signs of the way wine used to be made in this region. On the ground level, there still exists a spot where the wine would come in and, after removing the stems, the wine would flow down into the basement where it would ferment. Traditionally, that wine would then be moved to massive cement holding tanks for aging. Now it is just for show and you can stand in the tanks were wines once lined and see the permanent stain it left on the walls!

Currently, the ground floor is where almost all the action happens. This is where you find the massive “botti,” the big barrels of 50 HL where most of the wines will age in, including a barrel of Amarone from 2000 that is still aging!

The winery was founded by a family from Burgundy close to 100 years ago. They sold the property in the 50s to Paolo’s father in law who decided to keep the name based on the reputation the winery had created for itself.

Paolo’s vineyards are located in Negrar in the Classico D.O.C. Valpolicella zone, arguably the heart of Amarone. The soil here is what is the key in Paolo’s opinion. The soil has a high concentration of clay, marble-lime and tufaceous layers, making it very suitable to wine cultivation. This particular soil composition helps with ripening, giving the wines consistency and the unique characteristics that make them world renowned.

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In total Tenuta Chevalier constists of about 10 hectares of property. This is split between two different small properties located in two of the principle valleys of the Valpolicella. The reason for this is to be able to utilize grapes from different parts of the region to help create unique and balanced wines.

For example, the small property near the town of Marano provide elegance to Amarone, while those coming from Negrar instead provide more power. This comes down, of course to the soil the wine is planted in. The property in Negrar is located at about 450 meters and vines are planted in a heavy clay. This property is gorgeous and provides for a fantastic view of the valley below and Verona in the distance. It is East/West facing, is well ventilated and is exposed to the sun for most of the day. Vines here are an average of 60 years old, most of which are actually still planted on native rootstock! This is quite a rare occurrence as other pages on this website will tell you. The size of this property is 4 hecatres.

In the town of Marano Paolo owns 6 hectares. The vines are located at 300 meters. Here you find clay but also some limestone. This gives more elegance and salinity to the wines here. The vines here are about 40 years old. The important thing to note is that neither site is located in a valley, thus is constantly kissed by the sun and lovely breezes. This is important to note as generally a wine produced from vines in the valleys of the Valpolicella will be less interesting and lack balance.

The vines on both properties are trained in a system called “inclined open pergoletta,” with rows forming an open canopy to help bring grapes to a perfect maturity. Particularly in hilly areas (where you will find these vineyards) Paolo feels that this is the best way to control maturity in what can be a very warm climate despite the benefit of elevation.

Paolo uses a “natural fertilizer” planting alternate rows of local plant life every year. He weeds constantly to be sure his vines are getting the right amount of water and treats vines with natural remedies like copper and sulfur.

On average Tenuta Chevalier plants close to 4,000 plants per hectare. Yield are in the vicinity of 90 tons per acre, with even more selection for the Amarone. This is a small farm, who produce close to 20,000 bottles while selling off about half of their grapes to other wineries. They have the capacity to produce close to 80,000 bottles with the land they own.

Lastly, Paolo has three “huts” for drying the grapes destined for Amarone. None of this process is artificial as he leaves the windows open at each location and lets nature do the work. This is “old school” Amarone production as many have reverted to machines that help dry the grapes in a more controlled environment.

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Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso

Varietals : Corvina Veronese 40%, Corvina Grossa 20%, Rondinella 30%, Molinara 5%, Oseleta 5%

A dry red wine, often called baby Amarone, as it has many of the characteristics of Amarone but is made in a more approachable style. With plenty of aging behind this wine, it’s certainly full bodied, rich and well structured. Dried dark fruits dominate with hints of tart almonds. This wine also has a killer back end spice and acidity to finish it off with some freshness. There is also a very appealing but subtle herbal note on the finish that stays with you.
This wine needs some hearty food to stand up to it. Roasted meats, pork tenderloin and tasty, aged cheeses are just a few examples.
Harvest occurs in late October, early November with a rigorous manual selection. Ripasso wines undergo the “classic” red wine fermentation but with one little twist. After spontaneous fermentation the wine is literally passed over dried Amarone grapes, which sparks a secondary fermentation, giving more aroma and depth of color to the wine. This additional process is why the wine is called a baby Amarone. The wine is then aged in big french oak barrels of 25 hectoliters for a year and a half.
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Amarone Della Valpolicella

Varietals : Corvina 80%, Molinara 10%, Rondinella 10%

An old school Amarone in every sense of the word. Packing the power you would expect from such a wine and also incredible elegance, finesse and dare I say freshness (crazy right!). Plenty of dried prunes, dark fruit, spices and an almond finish. The finish on this wine never seems to end, as it is here where you feel the beauty and true balance of this wine. Open it up and drink it all week, the raw power of this wine will last that long. No industrial tannins here nor any from over-oaking, which would fade more easily.
My local favorite is a risotto all’amarone, game, red meat. Aged cheeses. Drink it with a nice cigar.
Grapes come primarily from Negrar, at an altitude of about 320 meters. Only the best grape clusters will be harvested and placed on bamboo lattices (and some small wooden crates) above the winery for the traditional “appasimento” until February. A very soft press occurs, followed by at least 50 days of fermentation at 10 degrees Celsius (low temps to maintain aromas). The difference in this wine is the choice of Slovenian oak, Chevalier uses large barrels (25 hectoliters) for up to 4 years.
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Amarone Della Valpolicella Riserva

Varietals : Corvina 80%, Molinara 10%, Rondinella 10%

Made once every 10 years this wine is Paolo’s best kept secret.
Roasts, Steak.
Essentially an identical process to his Amarone but this wine will see 5 plus years in large oak barrels.

Visit Tenuta Chevalier’s Website
(It’s in English!)

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