If star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet could have shared a final glass of wine, maybe they would have reached for Famiglia Pasqua's Passione e Sentimento Rosso. It's a red wine made from Corvina, Merlot and Croatina grapes grown in vineyards located not far from the Verona balcony where Juliet was serenaded by her lover in the courtyard below.
Tourists still flock to the famous site and pin sentimental notes on the wall of the famous apartment building -- something the local carabinieri are trying to stop by handing out fines of 300 euros.
Ah, but traditions die hard in Italy, especially in this part of the Veneto, where passions for love and wine and beauty run so high.
When Allesandro Pasqua tells the story of his family's nearly 100-year-old love affair with making wine in this area's hills and valleys, the energy and enthusiasm drips with every lyrical word.
"Yes, there is a business of wine, and we all have our jobs to do," said Pasqua, 34. "But this is a family love affair. That's what the wine tells us. We put all our passion into the land, the grapes, the production plant ... everything to make the best quality wine. We are proud of this great tradition."
Allesandro is a third-generation member of the Pasqua wine family. Based in Manhattan, he directs the global marketing of the 12-wine portfolio, headed by the sumptuous Valpolicella della Amarone DOCG -- one of Italy's most prestigious and powerful wines.
"Amarone is very special. It's a celebration every time you drink it," said Alessandro of the big, bold, opulent wine made from the appasimento process.
During that process, late-harvest grapes are placed on wooden mats (graticci) and allowed to air-dry for three months in ventilated, hillside lofts (fruttai) before crushing. As the grapes lose their fluid and dessicate, they gain concentrated extract and sugar.
To make Amarone, most of the residual sugar is converted to alcohol in the fermentation process. It produces a dark, rich-tasting and dry wine of wonderful complexity. Pasqua's Amarone is aged in small oak barrels for 18 months and bottle for four months before release. The texture is velvety smooth.
The Pasqua family has taken its Valpolicella and Amarone wines to a high art form. They've got a line of entry-level wines, the white and red Passione Sentimento, that use the appasimento method to enhance the flavorful characteristics of Italy's indigenous grapes as well as international varieties.
In tasting several wines with Allesandro Pasqua at La Campania Restaurant in Waltham recently, it was apparent that the family's philosophy is to create enjoyable, fruit-forward wines that stay true to their unique terroir.
In 2009, the family constructed a winery and production plant in San Felice, north of Verona. It features three underground, height-sensitive levels for the appasimento process. Because heavy winds and rains can turn the dessicating grapes to rot in the outdoor fruttai, the Pasqua's protected fruttai can control the process to near perfection. There is no fungal disease or loss. This is vital, because even in their best year, Italian winemakers produce only 1 million bottles of Amarone.
The Pasquas produce a total of 80,000 cases of wine per year, which is then sold in 50 countries. While the bottlings to this area were limited in the past, Mark Raymond, Carolina Wine Brands' N.E. regional vice president, said there is a push on to bring these quality products to more consumers here. In fact, the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is selling the Pasqua Amarone for $29.99 a bottle, a 40 percent discount from the regular $49.99 price. It also has both versions of the Passione Sentimento wines ($13.99).
What follows are my tasting impressions of Familglia Pasqua's wines.
Prosecco Brut DOC, $16: Made from the Glera grape, the Prosecco was a nice way to start dinner. It's got a golden straw color and appealing fruit flavors. I loved the dry, lingering finish.
Pasqua 11 Minutes Rosé, $19.99: This is a killer rosé, and I'm predicting it will become part of many festive occasions in the region very soon. It's available in New Hampshire Market Basket stores. Some rosés are thin, made from lightly pressed grapes, but this one is done appasimento- style, which heightens the expressions and adds a creamy texture. Four red and white grapes make up the blend -- Corvina, Trebbiano di Lugana, Syrah and Carmenere. It's delightful. The label name refers to the amount of time the grape skins and freshly pressed juice stay in extended contact to enhance the flavors.
Passione Sentimento Rosso, Passione Sentimento Bianco, $16: As mentioned previously, they are both made from dried grapes that magnify the dried fruit effect. The labels depict colorful notes left at Romeo and Juliet's courtyard. The rosso is silky, delicious and savory in dark-cherry fruit with hints of chocolate; the bianco is made from Garganega -- the signature grape of Soave -- and features citrus fruits, almond and peach traits. This white distances itself from many wines you've had before, believe me.
Valpolicella DOC Superiore, $46: Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Oseleta make up the high-alcohol blend (15 percent). This is not made appassimento-style, yet it's still intensely rich in cherry, coffee and tobacco notes. A real treat with red meat and hard cheeses.
Pasqua Vallpolicella della Amarone 2012, $50: This was the evening's coup de grace and accompanied a roasted lamb shank in which the meat flaked off the bone. The dried cherry-chocolate fruit flavors, with a touch of cocoa, astonished the senses. I love Amarone and Famiglia Pasqua's stands out as made for a modern consumer desiring the excellent traditional trappings of experts who know their craft. It's a steal at $29.99 at the Wine ConneXtion.