What’s the one wine I always reference when someone asks for an interesting wine pick from my studies? Amarone.
Amarone is one of the kings of Italian wine – showcasing the best of winemaking and producing a bold, age-worthy, wine that is unforgettable. Fitting for this deep and romantic wine, Amarone comes from Verona – the home of Romeo and Juliet – in the Valpolicella region. Within Valpolicella, there are three subregions where this wine can be produced: Classico, Valpantena, and Est. In general, Amarone is made up of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and/or Molinara grapes; though, for some more modern methods of production, it can also have up to 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Sangiovese.
What makes Amarone stand out is how it is made, which is an incredibly long, slow, and labor intensive process. Once picked, grapes for traditional Amarone must undergo a process called apassimento, where they are dried until they have 40% less liquid. This can take as long as 120 days and is done in large neutral oak or chestnut barrels or shelves. For modern-method Amarone, the grapes can be temperature and humidity-controlled rooms to slightly speed up this process. Because the juice is more concentrated from dried grapes, there is a higher amount of residual sugar in Amarone than other red wines. However, the wine has an incredibly high natural acidity, which the residual sugar balances to appear dry.
Once the grapes are dried, they are slowly pressed to extract the juice – often needing twice as many grapes to produce the same quantity of wine as non-dried grapes. Finally, the grapes are slowly fermented over a period of 35-50 days (typical fermentation for red wine is 7-14 days).
Depending on the style of Amarone, the wine is then aged in oak barrels: “Normale” means a minimum of 2 yers and “Reserve,” 4 years. Once bottled, traditional-method Amarone can be aged for 20-40 years; Modern-method, 8-10 years.
For either method, when you open a bottle of Amarone it’s best to decant it to get the full affect of aromas from the wine. Amarone typically has noes of cherry liquor, black figs, cinnamon, chocolate, and plums.
When purchasing Amarone, there are several different styles of Valpolicella you may need to watch out for as the first few are not Amarone. The first is Valpolicella Classico – the lowest quality and typically highly acidic. Second, Valpolicella Superiore, slightly more concentrated and an easy drinking red wine. Third is Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, which is made by macerating the remaining grape skins and solids left over from Amarone production and mixing it with Valpolicella Classico. I find Ripasso is still a highly acidic wine to taste, but has some of the deeper cherry and plum aromas like Amarone. Finally, you have Amarone della Valpolicella, and then Recioto della Valpolicella, which is a sweet dessert wine made of the same dried Amarone grapes.
I feel totally spoiled because the day after I learned about this wine, I walked into Trader Joe’s and there it was… for $16! I have only been to Trader Joes’ a handful of times, so I obviously took this to mean the wine could be found anywhere and was pretty moderately priced. Oh, I was so wrong. Typically, true Amarone is around $50-60 a bottle; so, the fact that Trader Joe’s has two for under $20 is a reason to shop there more often!