It is easy to see why some might turn away from Molinara, though all seem enthusiastic for its future as part of the wonderfully light and fruity wines of Bardolino, a wine that we in the states have come to too closely associated with Valpolicella. Myself included. Molinara was useful when the weather didn’t fully cooperate. When one had to wait for real ripeness in the grapes, and perhaps risk losing a bit of acidity. For whatever reason, climate change has come to Valpolicella in a rather obvious way and that is no longer the case. Grapes ripen with gusto here, and early enough to retain plenty of acidity so the delicacy of Molinara is falling by the wayside.
Delicacy. Not a term one often associates with Amarone. Is it the chicken or the egg? Are the wines less delicate, delicate being relative of course, because producers are using less Molinara or are producers using less Molinara in order to produce wines with more power and perhaps less grace? In either case the results are the same, and the causes many, though one can not argue that Amarone has been stricken with the larger is better disease that has devastated so many wine regions over the past two decades. Wines are fruitier, more alcoholic, and in many cases sweeter than they had been in the past. Two important influences are at work here. The hand of the winemaker of course, and that hand being not so gently guided in the pursuit of critic’s points, which in most cases are misguided and have perverted the perception of what great Amarone should be. But climate change is also a culprit here.
Climate change is all around us but with Amarone in particular it is most apparent. Amarone evolved, to a certain extent, as a response to climate. A climate that was cool, and didn’t favor the production of rich, powerful, age worthy wines. The standard Valpolicella of days gone by was a light, refreshing wine, but one that wasn't equipped for ageing, nor did it produce much alcohol. An effort to concentrate its character, and to produce something that might last out a year or two resulted in Recioto, which in turn lead to Amarone.
Amarone was a big wine, by the standards of its day. 14.5% alcohol was not uncommon in a time when table wine might only be 10%. Today things have changed around the world and for better or worse 14.5% is pretty standard for table wines, and Amarone is now typically pushing 16%. Climate change certainly has played a role in this, as have clonal and site selection, more efficient yeasts, and vineyard management. It’s ironic that the same process once used to make delicate wines more intense is now, in the face of warmer and longer summers, being examined in an effort to ratchet back these effects. There is little one can do to turn back the tide of a warming climate, but one simple solution to try and keep alcohol in check is to stop fermentation, resulting in wines that have residual sugar. An increasingly common occurrence in Amarone, and one that further distort the public’s perception as to what this grand wine is truly capable of.