Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Powerbomb Wine: Amarone della Valpolicella!

From the Valpolicella region, located to the north and west of the city of Verona, comes Amarone, a very powerful and expressive red wine, made from a blend of three native Italian varieties: Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, with the occasional addition of Oseleta and Molinara grapes.

’s surprising that such a concentrated red can be created but this happens thanks to the Appassimento process, in which grapes are laid out on bamboo mats or plastic bins and left to air dry for a few months, becoming raisins. When this happens the grapes lose about 40% of their weight (mostly water) while sugar levels increase considerably, rendering flavor, high alcohol and glycerol. The raisined grapes are then crushed and pressed, obtaining this concentrated and unbelievable juice. The only risk is the development of mold or botrytis, which could give the wine faulty aromas and flavors, for this reason only, producers opt to raisinate grapes gradually and in special rooms under tight controlled temperature and humidity conditions.

Geographically, the Amarone area is influenced by the Adige river and its many fertile valleys where all types of produce is grown. The Alps in the north and west also have some influence in the vineyards, but not as strong as in the appellations in north Italy. The best vineyards for Amarone are located on undulating hills in the original Amarone Classica zone, and in the Valpantena zone on the east, both featuring well drained, volcanic, sand, clay and gravel soils.  
Pic of grapes air drying and map courtesy of the Consorzio della Valpolicella
Because the process of the Appassimento is so labor intensive and lengthy, Amarone wines are not cheap. If you want to spend less, consider trying the Valpolicella Ripasso wines. Known as “baby amarones”, Ripasso wines are made from the same grape varieties but without any appassimento. Instead, producers simply add some Amarone pomace or deposits, which allows them to have some of the concentration and intensity of true Amarones.

Stylistically, Amarones are powerbombs, with full bodies, high alcohol levels (15 to 16º ABV), noticeable tannins and medium to medium + acidity. Their intense and perfumed nose will show notes of  ripe black fruits: blackberry, tart black cherry, prunes, raisins and figs, blended with spicy notes of brown sugar, espresso, chocolate and molasses.
Amarones are usually dry but there’s also a sweet version called Recioto della Valpolicella that may contain from 4 to 50 grams of residual sugar. This residual sugar comes naturally from grapes, as the fermentation is halted before yeasts have the chance to consume it.

According to their minimum aging: Amarones are classified by law, in Normale (normal), which are aged for two years in French or Slovakian oak and Riserva, which is aged for four years. The general practice of most quality producers is to age all wines much longer and up to 10 years, before release.  Because of their massive structure, Amarones will only improve with cellar aging, allowing you to keep them for 20 years or more, concentrating their fig, chocolate and espresso character even further.

Top Amarone producers are Allegrini, Zenato, Masi, Speri,Tommasi, Begali, Musella, Brigaldara, Tedeschi, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Venturini, Begali, etc.
My recommendations include four wines presented during the Famiglie Storiche Amarone Seminar that took place on May, 2023 in New York:

*Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2017, $79.99
*Guerrieri Rizzardi Calcarole Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 $95.99
*Masi Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2013 $181.99
*Musella Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Riserva 2010 $59.99

Flavorful, powerful, artisanal and delicious, Amarone wines have conquered the hearts of wine fans from all over the world, a treat all of us should enjoy for sure. Cheers! Silvina.

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