Peter Gatti, Twin Liquors’ Director of Education here, continuing our Italian Wine Month theme of discussing different wines, and this week’s candidate is one of Italy’s vinous glories and greatest reds, Amarone.
In a nutshell, Amarone is a big, warm, rich, velvety, luscious, luxuriant mouthful of wine, intended to pair with rich, meat-based dishes, hearty stews, hearty bean dishes such as pasta-e-fagioli or cassoulet or aged fine cheeses. The wine can be so rich that often, it’s served at the end of the meal as a wine of contemplation, not unlike a fine Porto.
It’s been made since Roman times in the Veneto, and in the first century AD both Columella and Pliny the Elder mention a wine that is probably its direct ancestor. The Romans loved rich sweet wines, and not just because they travel well!
The Carthaginians invented ‘passum’ or nowadays ‘passito’ winemaking, which is just a ‘no-tech’ method for drying grapes to concentrate the sugars, flavors, aromas, extracts and acids to produce a big wine: lay them out in the sun and don’t let them get damp. Easily done in North Africa, but it takes a bit more preparation in northern latitudes, so nowadays, most producers use special temperature and humidity controlled drying buildings.
After about 4 months of drying, the now almost-raisins which have lost about 40-50% of their water weight are crushed to begin fermentation.
This lasts up to two months, after which the basic wines are aged for a minimum of two years from January 1 after the harvest, usually in large Slavonian oak, and the Riservas are aged for a minimum of four years, often even five or more before release. The large barrels are to minimize the wood flavors, and lately, some producers are moving back to traditional chestnut or cherry wood, as these seem to soften, round and refine the wines much more gently and elegantly than oak.
Modern dry Amarone’s history really only begins this century, either in 1938 or 1953, depending on who’s telling the story; supposedly, someone, possibly at Bertani, forgot a barrel of Recioto and it fermented to dryness, and the resulting dry wine, rather than being ruined as they’d feared, was a brand new style that was superb.
Historically, Amarone’s were always sweet, and those wines still exist, under the name of Recioto Della Valpolicella. In either style, one might find a broad array of concentrated fresh mixed berry flavors along with prunes, raisins, brown sugar, molasses, figs, tamarind, cinnamon, chocolate, and any number of different fruit liqueurs. All in all, a wonderfully complex wine!