Amarone wines are some of the most intriguing, but also controversial, wines from Italy. Made in an unusual style, they have a unique character and heady richness that is hard to surpass.
Amarone is the name of a style of wine, not the region the wine comes from. It is produced in the large area in Italy's northeast known as Veneto (Venice is there on the coast). Within that large region is a smaller wine producing region known as Valpolicella. There, several styles of wine are produced including basic dry red wines labeled as Valpolicella. The Amarone are usually labeled fully as Amarone della Valpolicella.
Amarone wines are produced from this same region and from the same grapes, but by a unique method. The grapes used include Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, which are the same used in the standard Valpolicella wines.
How They Are Made: The unique method that is used is to harvest very ripe grapes and then to let them sit and air dry on mats for extended periods of time. This process is known as appassimento or rasinate which basically mean to dry or to shrivel (to raisin). The grapes slowly dry out, the water within evaporating, leaving concentrated dense raisins with very high sugar content. These concentrated grapes are then pressed and fermented. Most normal dry wines are made by pressing and fermenting grapes right after harvesting, without this drying out stage. The wine is left to ferment completely dry, although there are other similar styles made that do have residual sugar, notably wines called Recioto.
How Do They Taste? Because of the drying of the grapes which concentrates their sugars and flavors, Amarones have a very powerful, full bodied, ripe and alcoholic personality. They tend to have over 15% alcohol, although they are not fortified like port, which tends to be closer to 20%. Also like port, they have very ripe, raisiny flavors although they are not technically sweet. They are full bodied, rich in flavor and texture and with age can develop rich meaty and leathery aromas. The best can be insanely concentrated and complex. The weaker ones can seem almost cloying in their ripeness and high alcohol. Some people love them for their rich, flashy and heady exhuberance while others think they are a bit lacking in elegance and finesse for that reason.
Amarone is best sipped alone or with hearty foods like Italian-styled stews. However, one of the best pairings is simply with a good aged Parmagianno, maybe with some dried nuts.
Whatever you think of them, Amarone wines are a unique tasting experience not quite like anything else out there. For their bold personality and complexity they are worth the high price, although the superstars of the region, especially Quintarelli and Dal Forno, are now fetching stratospheric prices.
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