Now, onto Amarone (pronounced am-a-ro-nay).  “Amarone” refers to the way in which this wine is made in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy.  The varietals included in this wine include Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella – all dark grapes.  Amarone reigns primarily sub-region of Valpolicella.  The south tip of Valpolicella borders Romeo & Juliet’s city of Verona.  The word “Amarone” is derived from the Italian word “amaro” which means bitter. Do not let this dissuade you though – the wine is rich and succulent and while it is full of tannin, the bitter quality is not negative and in well-crafted wines consumed in good timing, is well-integrated.  I liken “Amarone” more so to the Italian word “amare” meaning to love because, well… I love Amarone.

The process: when harvest season arrives and the grapes are picked, only the best bunches are selected for use in Amarone.  Rather than being crushed immediately for fermentation as typical red table wine, these grapes are left whole and left to dry for an average of three months.  The traditional method was to put the bunches on straw mats, wicker shelving, or to hang them from the rafters and leave them be.  The grapes would dry and raisin (this is called appassimento).  During this process the grape becomes dehydrated but the skin remains intact and rich in both flavor and color.  The modern method is to leave the grapes to raisin in an interior space on racks with controlled temperature and humidity, fans and dehumidifiers so as to lessen the amount of rot and mold.  Purity and cleanliness both have improved wine in general over the last century and the same is true for Amarone.  While certain types of fungus (ie Botrytis) can be beneficial, the exclusion of most types of fungus, rot or mold has led to a cleaner and more balanced Amarone.

When the drying process is complete, the grapes are crushed and fermentation commences.  During the appassimento, about half of the grape’s liquid has been lost so fermentation can be a challenge.  During fermentation the yeast needs the liquid to eat and metabolize all the while breaking down the large amounts of skins.  This is a lot of work for the yeast so a common problem with Amarone is that the fermentation comes to a halt; this is referred to as stuck fermentation and is very problematic.  The most common side effect of this is high amounts of Volatile Acidity (VA) in the final product.  A small amount of acetic acid is in almost all wine and is a natural by-product of fermentation.  Higher amounts of acetic acid causes unpleasant aromas most notably, a barnyardy-ness.  (Good word, I know.)  Stuck fermentation can be restarted, but that is a whole other topic that I won’t get into in this post.  The rest of the winemaking process of Amarone is the same as for typical red wine.  A notable characteristic is that it is quite high alcohol, but by today’s standards, not that noticeable since most wines are ridiculously high.  Read James Suckling’s recent experience with an old bottle of Amarone here.  Amarone is most often aged in barrique barrels from Bordeaux that are a bit different than the more popular Burgundian barrels.  It is then aged and then bottled.  It almost always needs a good decanting before service – this will remedy the likely present VA also.

Amarone is rich in color with a deep core.  It has aromas of dried cherries, dried prunes, chocolate and coffee beans.  The tannins are plush and powedery.  It is a book on the palate, complex and long with rich coffee, fruit and chocolate flavors and high alcohol.  The production of Amarone has increased dramatically over the last decade, so be careful and do a little research about which producers are quality.  (Jancis Robinson recommends Allegrini, Bussola, Ca’La Bionda, Quintarelli and Dal Forno.)  Then have a bottle with something rich and spicy like spaghetti piccante or flavorful pizza.  And love it.