What is Amarone?
Amarone – a rich dry red wine from Italy whose full name is Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone is made from the partially dried grapes of the Corvina, Rondinella (5–30%), and few other red grape varieties. Valpolicella, in the name Amarone della Valpolicella is actually a place in the province of Verona near Venice in North-East Italy.
Amarone means “the great bitter,” which was used to differentiate from the other grape variety that was sweet and comes from the same region. There are three regions where the Amarone wine is grown, Classico, Valpantena, and the extended zone ‘Est’. Surprisingly, though the three regions are close together, they still lend a different character to the wine. The Amarone from Valpantena are fruity light. Classico will be elegant and romantic, while the ones from the extended zone will be richer and muscular.
Amarone Wine processing
The Amarone label is relatively new in the history of winemaking and was coined in the year 1936. Amarone allows grapes only from the Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella varieties to be processed. The key flavors and aromas of the Amarone come mostly from Corvina and then a bit from Corvinone.
Harvesting and drying:
These grapes undergo harvest season in the first half of October. The harvested grapes are then allowed to dry in drying rooms with warm temperatures and low humidity. The traditionally used ripe grapes drying methods were on a bamboo rack, wooden crates, or laid out on straw mats. As mandated by the DOCG regulations, which is the regulatory body governing Amarone quality and production, the water content in Amarone has to be under 40%. This process reduces the water content and retains the sweetness of the fruit, which becomes concentrated as they dry up. The process is termed appassimento or rasinate in Italian.
The grape skin gives the wine its intensity of flavor, the rich red color, and the tannins. In modern times, Amarone grapes are processed in large drying chambers for more or less 120 days, where you can control the drying factors and health of the grapes including their skin quality. From the harvest time in October to the end of January, the drying process leads to an almost 30 – 40% reduction in the grapes’ weight.
Processing and fermenting:
In the next process of fermentation, as usual, the grapes are made to undergo fermentation which can last up to 50 days. In the entire process, fermentation is very crucial. If fermentation is not done correctly or if the fermentation period is low, there will be residual sugar left in the wine. Thereby giving the end product a sweeter taste, which is not typical of Amarone. If this happens, the resulting wine produced is the one called Recioto della Valpolicella.
Initially, Amarone was essentially Recioto wines that were left to ferment for longer, by when even the residual sugar was consumed, and the end product was a no-sweet product called Amarone. It’s important to note that the process of drying the grapes, duration of appassimento, and duration of skins fermenting can have a large impact and can dramatically change the style and quality of Amarone.
Oak aging process:
Thereafter, the extracted wine is left to age for at least 2 years in wood to age well and develop the character and taste required. In reality, the wine can remain in the barrels for as long as 9-10 years a well. The wood used in the barrels can be acacia, cherry, chestnut, and usually are French and Slavonian oak.
The end product of fermentation and the two-year-long aging process is a wine with an alcohol content of more than 15%. This full-bodied wine is raisiny, rich, chocolaty, and with very little acid content. The wine is then bottled and shipped all over the globe.
This wine is classed under the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) system. The strict quality control means winemakers have to adhere to the following mandated norms.
- The wine must’ve at least 14 percent alcohol content by volume.
- After the grape drying process, there must be a minimum of 40 percent water loss in dried grapes.
- The wine must have 45 to 95 percent Corvina/Corvinone grapes. 5 to 30 percent Rondinella, among other grape varieties.
- Aging must be a minimum of 2 years in oak casks (and 4 years for Riserva vintage varieties).
Three styles of processing and aging
Amarone comes in 3 distinct varieties as per their processing and aging. They result in a surprisingly wide variety of flavors, aromas, and tastes emerging after the processing.
- This is the simplest version of the lot and undergoes less wood aging. This wine is typically consumed around the 10th year of aging and is when it gives the distinct round, balanced, harmonized, and soft flavor.
- A few batches of the wine from the best quality of fruits are separated from the lot, fermented, and given extra wood aging. The long aging process becomes more premium and can last around 20 years in a bottle. This one is called the Risvera.
- The final variety is more modern than a traditional approach to processing. In this process, the grapes’ drying process, called appassimento is more controlled, and smaller new oak barrels are used.
Why makes the Amarone premium and so expensive?
Amarone wines are not the easily affordable wines in the sun-$20 range. It easily costs anywhere between $50 – $60 range, which is certainly not cheap but is regarded as Italy’s top red wines. It’s the high cost that keeps wine connoisseurs from tasting it. Although almost everyone familiar with wines has heard about Amarone. The grape that goes into making the Amarone follows an entirely different path from field to bottle. Due to the long process and the relatively large amount of grapes required to produce a small amount of wine, it increases the prices. Let’s understand this in more detail.
- The grape wines selected for growing the Amarone grapes are usually the most mature of the lot in the vineyards.
- To ensure complete ripeness, the grapes are also picked up much later in the harvesting season.
- They have to dry all winter long to reduce their water content and turn into raisins.
- It takes double the amount of grapes to produce the same amount of Amarone wine.
- Fermentation is a long 50-day process.
- The high sugar content converts after fermentation into a high alcohol content.
- Needs a long, at least 2-year, aging process to help it mature well and turn it into the Amarone wine that is so well-known.
All these factors, time, effort, labor, and resources needed translate into a greater business investment than the other wines that have a very straightforward cycle from farm to bottle. These are the reasons why Amarone is a niche product and is priced much higher than regular wines.
Baby Amarone – The affordable alternative
Amarone is special and is premium priced. That straight away makes it out of bounds for a lot of people. However, Amarone has another variation, rightly called the Baby Amarone, which you can pick up for $20. Let us explain to you how. There are overall 5 different Levels of the Valpolicella Wine family listed below.
- Valpolicella Classico
- Valpolicella Superiore
- Superiore Ripasso Valpolicella
- Amarone della Valpolicella
- Recioto della Valpolicella
The Amarone winemakers produce another wine product called the Valpolicella Ripasso. To make Ripasso wine, the winemakers will combine the Valpolicella Classico wine with the grape skins that are leftover from the Amarone winemaking process. The skins are not thoroughly processed. They still retain some of the necessary elements that are required to make the Amarone wine. These skins are a byproduct of the original Amarone making process and are dual purposed here to make the Baby Amarone wine.
Instead of putting the skins to waste, the winemakers will combine the skin with Valpolicella Classico wine. The wine will absorb all the leftover elements from the grape skins and develop some of the additional body and flavor. In the end, what you get is a wine that is similar in taste and flavor to the Amarone and which is dry and medium-bodied with added depth and complexity to their standard Valpolicella wines. The end product is thus rightfully named Baby Amarone. The best part’s that this wine is available for under $20.
Amarone Food Pairings
The unique taste and high acidity in Amarone make the wine pairing easy with a variety of foods. Due to its intense flavor profile and remarkably high alcohol content, it can be consumed as an evening tipple or can be accompanied by good food. You can appreciate the flavors by just drink it on their own.
However, when it comes to food, Amarone goes well with Charcuterie, Stew, Game, Duck, Red meats (beef, reindeer, venison, steak, etc.) or simply with Pasta, Dark chocolate, or Ripe cheese like parmesan. It’s beautiful to have a wine that is so nice, premium. You can have it by itself or with the right food.
Avoid pairing Amarone with light dishes like salads or fish as the taste of the wine is too intense to match these foods.
Due to the long processing periods, many winemakers have gone back to further experiment and better the process of making Amarone in the hope of finding an easier method to get the same taste or even better. With the long process leading to a lot of resources being tied up for almost half a year and leading to less wine production, there has been more focus to experiment and come up with better production methods.
While a lot of other winemakers have stuck to their roots and the finer time-tested traditional process of making Amarone. In Italy, DOCG classification, meaning the wine production is closely governed, monitored, and quality controlled to ensure only the best grapes and wine make it through. Thus making it quite expensive. Amarone wines are rich and vibrant due to their extended drying, fermenting, and the aging process.
Thus giving it their full-bodies, concentrated and powerful taste. Amarone della Valpolicella entices with its flavors of black cherry, brown sugar, and chocolate. The bold and dry body, light tannins, and luscious aroma of cherry liqueur, black fig, and carob give it a unique personality. Try it out and enjoy the experience.