Amarone is essentially a modern day update on a traditional wine made for centuries from dried grapes in the area around Verona in Italy’s Veneto region--Recioto della Valpolicella. Whereas Recioto is quite sweet, however, thanks to a substantial amount of residual sugar, Amarone is fermented to complete dryness.
Like the dry red table wines from the Veneto’s Valpolicella region, both Amarone and Recioto are made from a blend dominated by Corvina (sometimes using the bigger berry version, Corvinone), along with the aromatic Rondinella and, in decreasing use, the high acid Molinara. Other red grapes may also be used in small amounts, making up to 15 percent of the blend.
The grapes for Amarone are harvested when ripe in mid-October and then allowed to dry, a process termed “appassimento” in Italian. This drying process typically lasts three to four months, concentrating the grapes’ sugars and reducing their weight by 40 to 50 percent. As a result, it takes over twice as many dried grapes to make a bottle of Amarone as it does a regular bottle of red wine. The dried grapes are then crushed and go through fermentation that turns the grapes’ sugar into alcohol, aided by special yeasts that continue to ferment even when the alcohol levels exceed those that usually kill off standard yeasts. The resulting wines, which generally exceed 14 percent alcohol, are then aged in large barrels and/or barriques.
The first Amarone was created in 1938. The story goes that its creation was accidental - a Recioto continued to ferment until it came out dry. Whether that’s true or not, little of it was made or sold until the mid-1950s. Fermentations used to be quite lengthy, often resulting in wines with high volatile acidity and oxidation. Improved drying methods and specialized yeasts have led to shorter fermentations, preserving more of the fruit flavors and minimizing VA. Amarone della Valpolicella was recognized with Italy’s highest designation, DOCG status, in 2009.
Amarone image via Shutterstock
What to expect: Amarone
Amarones are rich, dense and powerful wines with firm tannins. They offer complex aromas of dried cherry, black fruit, tar, anise, herbs and powdered chocolate. With age, they add leather and tobacco dimensions. On the palate, they are rich and dense, showing similar flavors with long finishes.
Amarones are terrific with braised and roasted meats and all dishes with rich meat sauces. Stews and roasted game can also be wonderful with these wines. Pasta with wild boar sauce is a natural. Tomato and truffle sauces also pair well. Of course, Amarone pairs to perfection with Venetian dishes, like risotto all'amarone and brasato all’amarone. Amarone also stands up well to aged cheeses—think mature Gruyere or aged Pecorino Romano.