Amarone is a bold, intriguing style of wine from the Valpolicella region in the northeast of Italy. Its opulent mouthfeel and concentrated dried fruit and spice aromatics make it an excellent all-rounder, pairing perfectly with meaty, full-flavoured main courses as well as rich, chocolatey desserts and punchy cheese plates.
The Drying Process: appassimento
Few reds offer such versatility – the key is in its texture, which is created through a labour-intensive grape drying technique called appassimento. This technique works to concentrate flavour and sugar content. The bunches are dried on trays in well-ventilated lodges for three to four months during which time they lose up to 50% of their liquid. Amarone is primarily made from Corvina with only perfectly healthy grapes selected for drying (any rot will spread and intensify off odours through dehydration). After pressing and fermentation, the wines are typically aged in large Slovenian oak casks to allow the complex intensity of the fruit to shine.
Traditionally, the appassimento process was used to make a dessert wine called Recioto; the fermentation would be interrupted before all the sugar was converted into alcohol, creating a lusciously sweet wine. The wine we know as Amarone today was created quite by accident - discovered when a cask of Recioto was forgotten about and the extra time had allowed the yeast to transform all the sugar into alcohol, creating a dry full-bodied wine. Legend has it that the cellar master of Valpolicella co-operative winery Catina Negrar tasted the wine and shouted “questo non è amaro, questo è un amarone!”, highlighting its full, dry character. From then on, the wine grew in popularity and was eventually granted the DOC quality label in 1990, and was upgraded to DOCG in 2009 – an award only given to the very best Italian wines.
While Amarone is technically dry, drinkers often discern sweetness on the palate. This perception comes both from the intense fruity notes the concentrated, dried grapes bring, as well as the increased levels of glycerol (a sweet viscous liquid) present in wines that have undergone the appassimento process. This is why Amarone makes such a perfect accompaniment throughout a meal from mains to dessert.
Amarone drying chamber, Allegrini
Ripasso and friends
A traditional, simple Valpolicella should smell of fresh, red fruits: cherries, redcurrants and raspberries. It’s a wine with little tannin and extraction, full of bright acidity and is utterly drinkable. In the 1960s, winemakers started to experiment by passing fermented Valpolicella through the marc (pressed grape skins) and lees of Recioto or Amarone following their first racking. This process, known as ripasso (‘re-passed’), increases extraction and phenolic content as well as lowering acidity.
These wines are a fantastic option if the budget doesn’t quite stretch to Amarone, and they work well with puddings and cheeses as well as hearty main courses. We recommend Allegrini’s Palazzo della Torre, which was made using a modern version of the traditional ‘ripasso’ technique. Instead of using the leftover marc from their Amarone, they add freshly raisined grapes to the Valpolicella must to start a second fermentation. This makes for a wine that is ripasso-like in nature, but plusher and more concentrated.
The Allegrini family, Italian growers and winemakers since the 16th century, have been instrumental in growing the popularity of Amarone and other Valpolicella wines across the globe. After the untimely death of patriarch and winemaker Giovanni Allegrini in 1983 the future of the company didn’t look promising. However, hard work and drive from Marilisa, Franco and the late Walter Allegrini, Giovanni’s three children, has paid off with Allegrini now making over 290,000 cases per year. From their estate in Fumane, the Allegrinis have been key to the growth and promotion of Venetian wines.
Recommended wine: The 2013 vintage of Allegrini’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is outstanding. 2013 enjoyed ideal climatic conditions which encouraged a slow and optimal ripening of grapes. With imposing structure and depth, it has aromas of mature fruit and spices.