On the sixth of June last year we blogged about Ripasso Valpolicella and then on the third of this month we did regular Valpolicella, so you may want to peruse those blogposts before we tackle Amarone here. Valpolicella is like the Beaujolais of Italy but Amarone is the great reserve wine of the region and it is something wholly other than a great Cru Beaujolais. Amarone is actually a creation wholly different than any other wine anywhere.
Amarone was created by accident, by the way. The supposed great wine of the Veneto region was Recioto Della Valpolicella, a sweet and slightly frizzante dessert wine. Recioto, however, differs from the many similarly charming sweet Italian reds on store shelves today because of the way it is made. Historically the Valpolicella grapes were harvested and then spread out on straw mats in the sun to shrivel and dry (appassimento). That process, now modernized in temperature and humidity controlled drying chambers, concentrated the sugars, tannins, and other flavors into ripe raisiny berries which were then crushed and fermented. That fermentation was stopped early to create the sweet Recioto. Occasionally the fermentation went on too long resulting in a drier wine that came to be known in time as Amarone (The Great Bitter One).
Amarone is truly one of the great wines of the world and here are three reasons why. One is that the process just set out above greatly changes the finished product. The drying of the grapes metabolizes acids in the grapes and accomplishes a polymerization of the tannins in the grapeskins. Grapeskins are responsible for color and the intensity of the flavors along with the tannins. The drying process lasts 120 days+- and reduces the weight of the berries by 30-40%. The juice is then fermented at a low temperature for another 30-50 days. Obviously the grape flavors would have to become concentrated in this process and the resulting wine would end up being highly extracted.
The second reason for Amarone's greatness lies in its ageing potential. Amarone, like regular Valpolicella, can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the viticultural zone but the great ones come from the hillside vineyards in the classico area. The great historic producers there age their wines for two to five years before releasing them to a public who will hopefully then hold them another five to ten years. Not cellaring the great Amarones means not enjoying the full potential of the wine.
The third reason for Amarone's greatness relies in its historic blend. Corvino is the primary grape of Valpolicella and in Amarone it provides backbone, body, acidity, and necessary structure for the long haul. Rondinella, Molinara, and two optional minor grapes flesh out the blend which in combination with the winemaking process and ample ageing over time yields a rich, dry, full-bodied, and low acid red dinner wine.
What to eat with your Amarone is a common issue for wine lovers. My suggestion is to allow your Amarone to tear into any rich and hearty roast like venison or perhaps let it brew with any busy multiple component stew. Actually cold weather might help also, so why didn't I think of this blog four month ago?
This Thursday from 5 to 7pm Gail Avera of Atlanta Beverage joins us for a tasting of Austrians, Germans, and Italian Proseccos. Please join us for that one and please become a "follower" of this blog.