Alex pointed towards a hilltop as we entered the valley town of Negrar and I respectfully inhaled a first breath of Quintarelli air. We were on our way to visit Francesco Grigoli, Guiseppe Quintarelli’s grandson. Climbing a series of switchback roads and white knuckle turns landed us at a modest home sitting atop the cellars that had been ground zero for Guiseppe Quintarelli’s work, and now for the rest of his family that is capably embracing his legacy.
We parked in front of an open kitchen door releasing wafts of reducing ragu that lured us closer. Franca Quintarelli, Guiseppe’s surviving wife and Francesco’s grandmother, flashed us her buddha-like smile. After brief introductions, she slowly waved her arms across the hillside, valley, mountains, and horizon that her family’s wines embody and provides eternal calm to the Quintarelli family kitchen she commands. No wonder her door is always open:
And from the kitchen door, she could keep an eye on Guiseppe working the rows of vines closest to the kitchen door:
Francesco emerges into the sunshine that kissed the valley and hills this April day. His calm smile and gentility seems born from the surroundings. Quintarelli wines have always sidestepped brashness. The Amarones and Valpolicellas that are made from the spiciest of grape varieties either sit on top of powerful post fermentation dried grape skins (all of Quintarelli’s Valpolicellas are indeed Ripasso, even though you will never see the indication on the label, since Guiseppe felt it was the only correct way to make Valpolicella) or succumb to drying themselves as they become Amarone blends of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Still, the wines are always elegant and pretty. Embracing time with Francesco at the Quintarelli home and workshop, though, is less about tasting the wines and more about breathing the Quintarelli calm.
On the way down to a simple lower cellar we passed through work stations and holding areas where the wines hang onto the grace they assumed in a handful of vineyard filled hectares the family tends.
All is alive and well, with bottling and production carried on by the family without missing a beat since Guiseppe’s passing in January of 2012. Here the new vintage of Bianco Secco, a simple dry white wine that the label indicates is perfect for drinking with fish, is now being bottled.
As we descend into the lower cellar, now firmly out of reach of any kitchen or ragu aromatics, it becomes easier to connect with the wines with an even deeper Zen calm:
Francesco uncorked some wines. First Bianco Secco then a Primofiore (first flower) that boasted a classic red tomato nose, a Rosso del Bepi that Quintarelli lent his nickname to in lower quality vintages he refused to make Amarone from, through Valopolicella Classico, some Amarone, and the glorious, but sporadically made, sweet Recioto.
As we chatted with Francesco through the tasting, it was impossible not to notice the care and calm he used to pass wine to our glass. I tried to replicate this at dinner, slowly tilting the bottle so only a steady stream of thread sized wine hits the bottom of the glass without a splash. It is not easy, but he seemed to quietly pour like this as if he knew no other way.
Guisippe never believed in (nor ever had to) peddling wares at large exhibitions like VinItaly nor submitting to trade events or tasting dinners. If you are interested, you will come visit, smell the ragu, and feel the Zen. For those that climb the hill, Quintarelli reserves a box of dried Amarone grapes for viewing in lieu of any other exhibition-style pomp and circumstance.
It’s easy to believe that Guiseppe still oversees the cellar. With multiple vintages of wine he produced still in the barrels before they are ready for release, the wine is not his only presence. Small acknowledgements are everywhere:
Most are more respectful than sentimental. The wound of his passing must still be a bit raw. It was hard, though, not to gulp as I noticed a shelf with Bepi’s simple old straw hats laying around haphazardly. We smiled in respect at a small table of flowers outside the office as we ascended from the cellar with a new sense of calm and understanding for Quintarelli wines that have drinkers shaking their heads in amazement and thanks all across the globe.
With some Amarone, Recioto, and (I had to have it) olive oil made from the fruit of trees amidst Quintarelli vineyards now in the back seat, Alex and I didn’t speak much as we drove down the hill. Instead, we just enjoyed the sense of new calm we both came to know breathing Quintarelli air on a hillside perch above Valpolicella.