Competition – James Shapiro


James Shapiro describes himself thus: 'I’m a 37 year old married father of 3 children under 5 who lives in Sussex. I work in London as an Operational Risk manager for an asset management company, so commute up on Southern Rail every day (for my sins).' His unedited entry in our seminal wine competition is published below.

I have been interested in wine, but perhaps initially with some detachment, since my late teens. My turning point from interest to love came in 2008 while on honeymoon in Italy. We ate at a restaurant called Antica Bottega del Vino in Verona, which at that point I had not heard of but have since realised it is somewhat of an institution for Italian wine lovers. Given the occasion, I pushed the boat out a little bit and ordered a bottle of Bertani Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1996. I can’t remember exactly how much it was; certainly an extravagant purchase but significantly cheaper than the cheapest price I can find now for that vintage.

The smell was intoxicating with barely a whiff of alcohol, something I’d previously not thought possible for wines at around 15% vol. Instead it was mainly cherries and vanilla. In terms of taste, I’d never experienced anything quite like it. Incredible smoothness and multiple layers of complexity (dried cherries perhaps being a primary flavour) but it was the finish that really blew me away. It seemed to last for minutes, with various nutty notes which was somewhat reminiscent of an aged vintage champagne. To pack in that much intensity and flavour without becoming overly dense or heavy I found truly remarkable.

My main memory of the wine is not necessarily the smell or the flavour (great though they were). It was the way I felt afterwards having devoured my half of the bottle. Length, complexity, balance of flavours, overall deliciousness etc. are all obviously crucial aspects of tasting wine. But it was this Bertani that made me realise a great wine is capable of catapulting your entire mood.

There are of course times in life when an occasion, a location, great company and great food can all come together in perfect harmony with a great wine. This was certainly one of those times. Sceptics may argue I was on honeymoon and therefore potentially may have just found myself caught in the romantic moment, with the wine as a willing and able passenger. I’m therefore likely to be exaggerating the overall effect of the wine. To that I would respond that this was a 3-week honeymoon, during which much wine was consumed, with the Antica experience happening about mid-way through the 3 weeks. There was no other wine that sent me skipping back to the hotel like a young girl towards a Taylor Swift concert.

After this point, I became somewhat obsessed with wine, tasting as many as I could at various Wine Society, BBR, Lay and Wheeler, Yapp tastings and events. Despite trying perhaps 300-400 different wines a year over the last few years I haven’t yet had another bottle or taste of Bertani Amarone. In my head I’ve attributed this to a fear of tainting the memory and changing my view on the wine. Particularly as I’ve tried a number of different Amarones in the last ten years and with some notable exceptions (Allegrini and Ca dei Maghi have been highlights) I’ve not really been blown away too often. My real satisfaction these days in terms of reds tends to come from Northern Rhone and Burgundy.

A friend once asked me, hypothetically, should the ’96 Bertani become magically available for £20 a bottle, would I still remain wedded to my romanticised principle of leaving it frozen in that moment in time, not wanting to sully the memory? I’d like to say I stood firm in the face of what is clearly unnecessary and highly improbable theorising and gratuitous provocation by my pal. And that I stayed true to my principles. Sadly, I cannot. I said I’d buy 2 cases as fast as I possibly could. It really was delicious. Surely far tastier than principles?