Amarone della Valpolicella is a typically rich Italian dry red wine made from the partially dried grapes of the Corvina (40.0% – 70.0%), Rondinella (20.0% – 40.0%) and Molinara (5.0% – 25.0%) varieties. The wine was awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata status in December 1990.
The name of this wine was given to distinguish it from the sweet Recioto
, wine from which it was, inadvertently, originated.
The legend recites that a producer wanting to do the Recioto with Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara desiccated grapes, forgot the wine in the barrique
. The product continued to ferment, all its sugars were transformed to alcohol and the wine lost its sweetness. In opposition to what it should have been, it was named “Amarone” (big bitter).
The first documented selling was recorded in 1938, but official trade started only in 1953, year in which Amarone was firstly sold by choice and not by chance.
It gained immediate success, however to a small public of passionate lovers.
The production of this wine remains modest, covering only 10% of the territory production in the province of Verona (Veneto), dominated by Valpolicella and Valpolicella Superiore, fragrant red wines, often to be drunk young, refreshing and tasty. Those wines, even though made with the same grapes than Recioto and Amarone, are easier to produce (there is no desiccation involved), to sell and to drink.
Until 1990, production of Recioto was largely greater than Amarone’s. Later on, starting from that year regulation change clearly differentiating the two products and giving it the status of Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Amarone’s demand started to grow, to peak in 1995.
In conclusion, Amarone is quite recent but produced by skilled and experienced winemakers, which is what is needed to drive to the right level of desiccation the grapes designed for this precious wine.
Grapes are harvested perfectly ripe in the first two weeks of October, by carefully choosing bunches having fruits not too close to each other, to let the air flow. Grapes are allowed to dry, traditionally on straw mats
. This process is called rasinate
(to dry and shrivel) in Italian. This concentrates the remaining sugars and flavors and is similar to the production of French Sauternes
. The pomace
left over from pressing off the Amarone is used in the production of ripasso
Modern Amarone is now produced in special drying chambers under controlled conditions. This new approach minimizes the amount of handling that the grapes go through and help prevent the onset of botrytis cinerea. In Amarone, the quality of the grape skin is a primary concern as that component brings the tannins, color and intensity of flavor to the wine. The process of desiccation not only concentrates the juices within the grape but also increases the skin contact of the grapes. The drying process further metabolizes the acids within the grape and creates a polymerization of the tannins in the skin which contribute to the overall balance of the finished wine.
The length of the drying process is typically 120 days but varies according to producer and the quality of the harvest. The most evident consequence of this process is the lost of weight: 35 to 45% for Corvina grapes, 30 to 40% for Molinara and 27 to 40% for Rondinella. Following drying, end of January/beginning of February, the grapes are crushed and go through a dry low temperature fermentation process which can last up to 30/50 days. The reduced water content can slow down the fermentation process, increasing the risk of spoilage and potential wine faults such as high volatile acidity. After fermentation, the wine is then aged in barriques made from either French or Slovenian oak.
is stopped early, the resulting wine will contain residual sugar
(more than 4 grams of sugar per litre) and produce a sweeter wine
known Recioto della Valpolicella
. Unlike traditional Amarone, Recioto della Valpolicella can also be used to produce a sparkling wine
is an Italian wine produced when the partially aged Valpolicello is contacted with the lees
of the Amarone, including the unpressed grape skins. The lees
still contain a lot of sugar and the Valpolicello undergoes a second fermentation. This will typically take place in the spring following the harvest. The resulting wine is more tannic, with a deeper color, more alcohol and more extract. The word Ripasso
designates the winemaking
technique and the wine, and is usually found on a wine label
Characteristics and faults
The final result is a very ripe, raisiny, big-bodied wine with very little acid. Alcohol
content easily surpasses 15% (the legal minimum is 14%) and the resulting wine is rarely released until five years after the vintage, even though this is not a legal requirement. The labor intensive process poses significant risk for the development of various wine faults
. Wet and rainy weather during harvest time can cause the grapes to rot before drying out which then requires winemakers to be diligent in removing rotted bunches or moldy flavors in the wine will be accentuated.
Amarone in popular culture
- In the novel The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter eats the census taker's liver with fava beans and a "big Amarone", rather than a Chianti as in the film version.
- In The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) by William Trevor, Amarone is a wine drunk each afternoon of their sad exile in Italy by the Gaults, the parents of the daughter they assume dead.