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Q&A: Marilisa Allegrini, Allegrini Estates, Valpolicella

L-R: The Allegrinis' Villa Giona, San Pietro; Marilisa Allegrini; Allegrini wines
© Allegrini Estates | L-R: The Allegrinis' Villa Giona, San Pietro; Marilisa Allegrini; Allegrini wines
Marilisa Allegrini is a sixth-generation member of top Valpolicella wine producer Allegrini Estates. As head of sales, she works with her brother on all aspects of the family business. In 2001, she added Poggio al Tesoro to the company's portfolio, and later acquired the Montalcino estate San Polo.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Most of the time I see a nice person that enjoys life, because I think I am a positive person. Sometimes I just say 'Okay, let’s go back to bed.'

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Valpolicella, in the countryside that surrounds the city of Verona, which is an area where people are very dedicated to agriculture. I studied in the city, and I think it was by moving away from my home town that I developed my curiosity to travel the world.

What drew you to wine?

At the beginning I was not very interested in the family business. In an agricultural family in Italy it is very important to have boys that take care of the family estate, so I considered myself outside of this. When I was 23, my father really wanted me to be involved in the company, and I felt it was a great privilege that my father wanted me to take part. The more I knew about the dedication my father had, the more interest I had in joining the family business.

When did you go from interested to passionate?

It was a process. I was not forced into wine, but it was not my immediate choice. When I understood all the implications of how to make a good wine, the more things I knew about what was involved, my interest grew. I learned about the labor in the vineyard and what you have to do with the land and the vinification.

I think the role of communication was the key factor for me. It’s not enough to produce good wine, you have to know how to communicate, and I think communicating about wine is something that was in my skin, in my heart. This is when I became passionate about the family business.

If you had not worked with wine, what would you have liked to do?

I wanted to be a doctor, but my father wouldn’t allow me to study medicine because he knew that if I did this, I would never come back to the family company. So I became a physical therapist instead. The medical field was actually my first choice.

The Allegrinis' Bolgheri estate, Poggio al Tesoro
© Poggio al Tesoro | The Allegrinis' Bolgheri estate, Poggio al Tesoro

Which areas of Italy do you believe are under-rated and why?

Sardinia has a few top wineries that have distribution all over the world, but it has the potential to make more great quality wine, and have a wider distribution and more recognition.

Do you think you'd invest in a vineyard in Sardinia?

No. I don’t want to just invest in an area, I want to be part of everything. To have three demanding wineries is more than enough.

Why did you buy your Bolgheri estate Poggio al Tesoro?

It was the first area outside Valpolicella that fascinated me. Bolgheri is an area that is blessed. You are close to the sea, there are good micro climates, there is a naturally good quality in the grapes.

How does winemaking mentality differ between Valpolicella, Montalcino and Bolgheri?

Bolgheri is exactly the opposite of Valpolicella. In Valpolicella, you have a long history, native grape varieties, good quality, but very challenging conditions in certain vintages because we are in the northern part of Italy. In Bolgheri, you have good quality almost every year because of the micro climate. You have international grape varieties. So it’s a good combination between tradition and innovation.

Montalcino, in contrast to Bolgheri by the sea, is in the central part of Tuscany. It’s where sangiovese has its best expression, and the area has a good mix of innovation and tradition.

Whom do you most admire?

Within my family, my father was the guy who made the Allegrini company into what it is today. He was dedicated to the land and was smart, investing in land and spotting the potential of the area. He gives me a lot of inspiration. I also admire all the winemakers who established the Italian wine production as it is today, like Marchese Piero Antinori and Angelo Gaia, who showed the world that Italy can make fantastic wine.

You made a wine called Dedicato a Walter as a tribute to your late brother. What did you learn from him?

I learned that vineyards and the way you manage your vineyards are at the base of everything. He always said that great wine is made in the vineyards. When you respect the vineyards and you try to keep your production at the top level, the knowledge that you had the previous year can’t be applied the next year. It’s a learning experience that never ends.

L-R: "Dedicato a Walter" is a wine created in memory of Walter Allegrini; Marilisa's daughters, Caterina and Silvia
© Allegrini Estates | L-R: "Dedicato a Walter" is a wine created in memory of Walter Allegrini; Marilisa's daughters, Caterina and Silvia

What characteristics do you like most in a wine?

A wine that expresses the terroir and the flavor of the grape variety. Wines that keep the flavor and fragrance of the grapes from which it originates. I like power and structure combined with elegance. It’s not easy to have these two aspects of the wine together.

And least?

I don’t like residual sugar without concentration and personality. High residual sugar is a trend we are seeing more and more, but wine with high residual sugar does not match very well with food.

What do you drink on a week night?

From my properties, I like the Valpolicella very much. Even if it is a simple wine with medium body, it has some personality. It’s easy to drink and you don’t need a complex meal to match it with. Otherwise, I like wines with similar style: a dolcetto or a nebbiolo.

What has been your best experience in the wine industry?

I had many great experiences and traveling around the world allows you to meet very interesting people. In the recent past I met with the president of Italy, [Giorgio] Napolitano, and spoke about wine.

And the worst?

Several years ago, when I was very young, I was in the U.S. and pouring wines in a wine shop. One guy came up to me and said, 'Is your wine better than Lambrusco?' I said, 'I hope so.' He tasted the wine and before he was leaving he said: 'Believe me, Lambrusco is better.'

There are some great Lambruscos but a wine like our Amarone or the single vineyards we produce... I do think they are better (laughs).

Do you have any regrets?

For a while, my regret was that I was not able to become a doctor, but to work in such an interesting world as the wine world has given me a lot so I don’t have to regret this anymore.

After 30 years I’m still very enthusiastic about what I’m doing; I don’t feel the difficulties of traveling around the world of waking up early in the morning to go to a new place. We work with the land and combine the commitment we have with the family legacy, and this is very special.

What brings you the greatest happiness?

To stay with my family, to have my daughters around me. They like what I do and respect what I do. My daughters are the most generous people I know, because even if we missed a lot of time together when they were young, they are very loyal to the family and they have never told me I was not there when they needed me. To be a mother is the most important thing I experienced in my life.

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  • Comments

    nick wrote:
    08-Jul-2013 at 15:37:15 (GMT)

    i was lucky enough to go to the landmark hotel in London last year for a decanter presentation of your amarone marilisa gave the fine wine tasting ,we tried several and they were all excellent or varying degrees,but,1990 stuck out like a beacon it was simply stunning. i spoke to her after the presentation were she talked about her vineyard and its welcoming fire places etc,she was utterly charming and a wonderful ambassador to her estate. when we spoke ,it was at the chance to buy a bottle of 1990 for a special friend,is it possible still to buy!!!

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