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 Vigna Seré!!! 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.

Marco Dal Forno with Michel at the entrance to his winery, facing the vineyards of Valpolicella. Photos by Marla Norman.

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. 

Photo of Romano Dal Forno riding through his vineyards. (Marco bears an uncanny resemblance to his father!)

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 level. 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.

Newly harvested grapes in the enormous drying room of Dal Forno Romano.

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.

Spectacular barrel room at Dal Forno Romano, with both foudres and new French oak barrels.

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 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…….

Tasting with Marco Dal Forno: 2014 Valpolicella Superiore, 2013 Amarone, 2003 Passito Rosso Vigna Seré. Photos by Marla Norman.

Travel on with us as we head to Verona and Venice. But pick up a couple of great bottles for the road! To order write mthibaultwine@gmail.com or call 850-687-1370.

Dal Forno Romano
2003 Passito “Vigna Seré” $199.99. 5 half-bottles
2004 Passito “Vigna Seré” $199.99. 4 half-bottles
2012 Valpolicella. $89.99. 3 bottles
2013 Valpolicella. $89.99. 3 bottles
2014 Valpolicella. $89.99. 4 bottles
2015 Valpolicella. $99.99. 12 bottles
2013 Amarone. $319.99. 13 bottles

More Amarone & Ripasso
2016 Tommasi Amarone. $52.99. 12 bottles
2016 Zenato Amarone. $53.99. 18 bottles
2016 Buglioni Amarone. $52.99. 12 bottles
2018 Buglioni Bugiardo Ripasso. $28.99. 24 bottles

2015 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera. $89.99. 6 bottles
2017 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera. $89.99. 12 bottles
2017 Elvio Cogno Barolo Cascina Nuova. $59.99. 14 bottles
2013 Batasiolo Briccolina. $75.99. 12 bottles
2013 Batasiolo Cerequio. $66.99. 15 bottles
2016 Ceretto. $52.99. 18 bottles
2016 Damilano Cannubi. $89.99. 30 bottles
2015 Gaja Gromis. $106.99. 24 bottles
2015 Parusso Bussia. $108.99. 6 bottles
2015 Prunotto Bussia. $78.99. 18 bottles
2-17 Sandrone Le Vigne. $118.99. 18 bottles

2015 Prunotto Bric Turot. $69.99. 16 bottles
2018 Prunotto. $36.99. 6 bottles
2017 Cortese Rabaja. $62.99. 24 bottles

Brunello di Montalcino
2015 Val di Suga. $49.99. 24 bottles
2016 Val di Suga Vigna del Lago. $79.99. 12 bottles
2016 Val di Suga Poggio Granchio. $69.99. 12 bottles
1997 Banfi. $89.99. 12 bottles
2016 Banfi. $58.99. 48 bottles
2012 Banfi Poggio d’Oro. $143.99. 12 bottles
2016 Antinori Pian delle Vigne. $69.99. 12 bottles
2013 Caparzo La Casa. $74.99. 18 bottles
2016 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Prime Donne. $89.99. 12 bottles
2010 Le Maccioche. $99.99. 12 bottles
2016 Luce. $119.99. 18 bottles
2015 San Polo Riserva. $194.99. 24 bottles
2012 Biondi Santi Riserva. $519.99. 3 bottles
2013 Biondi Santi Riserva. $589.99. 3 bottles

Rosso di Montalcino
2019 Val di Suga. $23.99. 36 bottles
2016 Biondi Santi. $89.99. 5 bottles

Other Italians
2016 Toscana IGT Banfi Excelsius. $77.99. 6 bottles
2018 Toscana Antinori Guado al Tasso. $109.99. 12 bottles
2018 Toscana IGT Tua Rita Redigaffi. $249.99. 6 bottles
2018 Toscana Petrolo Galatrona. $79.99. 12 bottles
NV Toscana Tenuta Sette Cieli Yantra. $19.99. 18 bottles
2017 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Volpaia Coltassala. $75.99. 30 bottles
2015 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Borgo Scopeto. $45.99. 12 bottles
2016 Montefalco Caprai Sagrantino Collepiano. $39.99. 9 bottles
2016 Sicily Isola dei Nuraghi Argiolas Turriga. $83.99. 6 bottles
2016 Sicily Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara. $46.99. 24 bottles
2013 Langhe Rosso Conterno Fantino Monpra. $39.99. 3 bottles
2012 Venissa Rosso. $124.99. 3 bottles
2015 Venissa Bianco. $159.99. 2 bottles

Ciao, Amici!!