The Incomparable Dal Forno Romano
Text & photos by Marla Norman, TCO Publisher
We’re sitting across from Marco Dal Forno — if you enjoy wine, it’s one of those moments you can’t stop pinching yourself, wondering if you’re dreaming…
In our glasses is a 2014 Valpolicella Superiore. The wine is all bright cherries, plums and espresso. Unbelievably smooth, velvety and ripe. Next up is a 2013 Amarone della Valpolicella, intensely powerful, yet sleek and elegant with a long, dense finish. Amarone like this only exists at Dal Forno Romano!
Just when we think it can’t possibly get any better, Marco says he has something else “we might like to try.” He returns with a 2003 Passito Rosso Vino Dolce!!! Because Dal Forno’s standards are so exacting, only six Passitos have been made in the 30 years the winery has existed. Marco pours carefully while we breathe in the aromas of the wine: spice, violets, dark chocolate and raisins. The taste is voluptuous, both sweet and savory — absolutely magical.
We’re reveling in the moment, forgetting the stress of the day. Earlier we’d driven seven hours, in heavy rain on mountainous roads to the winery, located outside Verona. The sun was setting when we pulled up, but Marco himself was there to greet us. Dynamic and animated — he energizes a room the moment he walks in.
The Dal Forno Romano winery is like nothing we’ve ever seen. The size of the buildings alone is impressive, but the intricate tile work, marble, frescoes and carved ceilings resemble something from a museum. Once you hear the Dal Forno story and understand the family’s uncompromising efforts to achieve perfection, it all makes sense.
The winery’s history is actually quite brief. The Dal Forno family has owned vines for a number of years in Valpolicella, on the eastern side of the historical Classico zone. However, they had always sold their fruit to a local co-op. In 1983, discouraged by low prices, Romano Dal Forno decided to start making his own wine.
His family was adamantly opposed to the idea, but Romano managed to coax legendary winemaker, Giuseppe Quintarelli, to tutor him. Intuitive and driven, Romano Dal Forno quickly established a name for himself. By 2008, only 30 years later, he had built a state-of-the-art winery and a brand recognized as one of the two best in the Veneto. Only his mentor, Quintarelli is considered to be on the same par. Quite an achievement.
Marco Dal Forno is justifiably proud of his father. As we follow him through the winery, he points out the newly harvested grapes in an enormous drying room, with rows and rows of electric fans. “The fans ensure that the air flow is as natural and as constant as possible, with even distribution of air and humidity. This is a method my father developed,” he adds smiling broadly.
As is typical in Amarone vinification, grapes are air dried, a process called appassimento. At Dal Forno, the Valpolicella is dried 1½ months, while the Amarone requires 3 months. Marco tells us that the “grapes are sorted by hand twice: once prior to drying, and again after they’re dry. It’s a very very time-consuming and labor-intensive process,” he says with a grimace. “Beyond that, 7 full vines are required for a single bottle of Valpolicella and 13 vines for a bottle of Amarone.”
The process is a staggering amount of work. And that’s just the beginning — after drying, the fruit is pressed, fermented under temperature control and then punched down by pistons. “These machines were also engineered by my father.” Marco explains “They are designed for maximum extraction but use very gentle pressure.”
While some of the region’s wines have residual sugar, the Dal Forno Valpolicella and Amarone are fermented to dryness. Stainless steel tanks keep the wine under vacuum pressure between fermentation and barrel-ageing to avoid oxidation. An automated cleaning system uses hot air and steam to clean the tanks. This system again was engineered and patented by Romano Dal Forno.
Marco leads us down long, winding stairs into a spectacular cellar. Pointing out endless rows of barrels, he says, “Our wines spend two years in new French oak, then four more years in bottle prior to release.”
“Now, let’s go taste some!” he says, bounding back up the stairs, smiling and grabbing a few bottles as we exit.
So here we are. Amazed by the wine and the family who produces it. And especially grateful for these singular experiences that come along like a rare, rare vintage…….