Amarone della Valpolicella, or most commonly known as “Amarone'', is one of the most famous Italian wines, notoriously known for being on the pricier side. It’s definitely more of a graduation or anniversary dinner wine than a wine that you would open for a typical Wednesday lunch. But what exactly is it? How is it made? What makes it so expensive? Make sure to stay with us until the end of the article to find out everything you need to know about Amarone.
A quick geography and history lesson
The amarone style was originally developed by winemakers in the Veneto region of Italy, in an effort to increase the body, complexity, and alcohol content of their wines. The Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Oseleta varieties grown in the region are not bold enough to produce a rich wine. This is mainly due to the fact that the cool climate of western Veneto doesn’t allow the varieties to fully develop in terms of aroma compounds and sugar content. In order to concentrate these elements, winemakers began to dry the grapes after harvest, in order to remove water and retain sugars, phenolics, and aroma compounds.
The first wine that was ever marketed as Amarone came out in 1953. In December 1990, the wine was assigned the status of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and later, in December 2009, the status was upgraded to Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
All in all, we’re talking about wines that have been proven to be of high quality and need a lot of effort and expertise to be made.
How is Amarone della Valpolicella made?
The long process of making Amarone wines begins in the first weeks of October by harvesting ripe grapes. This process is done manually in order to ensure that only healthy and high-quality grapes are turned into wine.
After the harvest, the grapes are allowed to dry on bamboo racks (called arele) or plastic and wooden crates. This process is called “appassimento” (meaning: to dry) and it facilitates the evaporation of the water that's on the inside of the grapes and the concentration of the remaining sugars, flavor and aroma compounds. In more recent years, modern Amarone has been produced in special drying chambers that work under controlled conditions, designed solely for the purpose of making high-quality wine. Typically, the appassimento process takes place for 120 days, but this can vary according to the producer and the quality of the yearly harvest.
After the drying process is complete , approximately at the end of January or beginning of February, the grapes are crushed and undergo a dry, low-temperature fermentation for 30 to 50 days.
When the fermentation is complete, the wine has to undergo an aging process of at least 2 years in wooden barrels.
Amarone Tasting Notes
These wines can be described by one word: "bold." When it comes to the scents of an Amarone della Valpolicella, you should expect aromas of ripe red fruit, black fig, cinnamon, some hints of chocolate and even crushed gravel dust. They have a medium to high acidity, balanced with high alcohol, at least 14% ABV, and flavors of chocolate, brown sugar, and black cherry. The older the wine, the more prominent the notes of brown sugar, molasses and fig will be.
Different Amarone Styles
There are 3 variations of the Amarone wines, the Amarone Normale, the Amarone Riserva, and the modern version of the wine, each one being different from the other.
The Amarone Normale goes through the minimum aging process, staying in the barrels for only 2 years, making it friendlier on the palate and on our wallets. Many experts recommend drinking this type of amarone by the time it reaches 10 years of age when it is still full and soft.
The Amarone Riserva is made in smaller batches, from the finest fruit of each grower, after going through a seperate fermentation process and staying in the barrels for 4 years. These wines are bolder, with more prominent aromas and tasting notes of brown sugar and blag fig. Riserva versions can age in the bottle for up to 20 years, so you can invest on one to keep in your cellar for a special occasion. On our website you can find the "IL VELLUTO" AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO RISERVA DOCG, which is definitely worth a try. This is a high-quality Amarone, perfect for experienced wine drinkers. Made from a blend of the top Corvina Veronese, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes and aged for 5 years, you can drink it straight away or keep it until a special occasion arises to share it with loved ones over the course of a comfortable dinner.
The modern version of Amarone wines is quite different from the others. It’s more concentrated, longer-lived, and less oxidative. This is mainly due to the controlled appassimento method that was mentioned earlier in the article. These wines also tend to go through aging in smaller and new oak barrels.
There are many variations by many producers, so it is guaranteed that you can find an Amarone that matches your palate.
Food Pairings with Amarone
Finding the perfect food pairings for this wine can be a challenge due to its unique and complex character. A tip that I have always found useful when it comes to wine and food pairing is the phrase “what grows together, goes together”. This means that Amarone della Valpolicella complement perfectly classic Veneto dishes, like roast chicken liver, pumpkin soup, and a traditional hand-made pasta served with meat sauce, called “lasagnette”. In general, avoid overly fatty foods and extremely seasoned dishes, in order to best appreciate the character of the wine.
While it shouldn’t be confused with Amarone della Valpolicella, this style is definitely worth a mention. Instead of discarding the dried grape skins, winemakers from all around the region use them to add some complexity to standard Valpolicella wines. The base wine and the grape skins undergo a second fermentation process together. During this process, tannins and phenolic compounds found in grape skins are infused into the wine, creating the Valpolicella Ripasso.
We hope that this article has helped you better understand what makes Amarone wines so unique (and unfortunately, so expensive as well). The winemaking and aging processes might be very long, but the results are definitely worth it. Hopefully, by now you’ll know everything there is to know to find yourself the perfect Amarone della Valpolicella. Cheers! Or as they say in Italian, “Cin Cin”.