Very few wines in the world have as close a bond with the territory as Amarone della Valpolicella does.
Not so much for what the French summarise as "terroir", meaning the set of climatic conditions that characterise a wine area, but for the magical harmony of tradition and culture of one of the most suitable production areas in the entire national territory.
Amarone della Valpolicella, like Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo, is one of the top wines of domestic production in a market situation where specificity, obsession with quality and connection with the territory seem to be the key features essential in dealing with the difficult economic situation.
Analysed by experts, the 2000 vintage seems to have been, in terms of quality, very good for all of Valpolicella, despite having suffered from the climatic point of view. The high temperatures of early summer, higher than normal, were followed by a period of unusual cold in July, with maximum temperatures up to 10°C on days 12 through 15. The month of August, which also started off cold, later turned out to be the hottest month of the entire summer, featuring high temperatures and excellent temperature fluctuations between day and night, high solar radiation and very little rainfall. It was followed by a disastrous autumn climatically speaking, with insistent rains and storms of considerable intensity. Nevertheless, the early harvest that began on September 13-14 allowed producers of Valpolicella to already have all the grapes in storage before the arrival of more bad weather. The sugar content of the raw material, given the excellent ripening of the grapes, is evident at the tasting table, producing dense, almost impenetrable, wines and significant alcohol content. The bad autumn weather did not disturb the withering phase on racks almost at all, thanks to the structural characteristics of the skin, which allowed for excellent protection from the attack of noble botrytis.
However, moderate presence of this fungus enriched the must with compounds which are particularly welcome, giving the final product complexity in terms of taste and smell and very interesting aromatic nuances.
The overall impression is that 2000 was a year of particular importance, characterised by products with an imposing structure.
The large initial concentration, combined with rigorous withering, even under unfavourable weather conditions, allowed us to greatly expand the full spectrum of flavour and scent, giving the product depth and presumable longevity.
It is precisely the remarkable overall structure, combined with the great elegance and unexpected balance of such a young product that brings into prominence the exclusive nature of a wine which has deservedly been one of the elite wines produced worldwide for years.
"The icon of Veronese wine production, the jewel among Scaligeri wines." In fact, more than 70 million Euro was earned with worldwide sales of only 5 million bottles."
This is the unanimous definition of the national press when presenting the 2001 vintage at Gran Guardia, in the historic centre of Verona, during the "Amarone 2001 in anteprima" event open to the press and to the public at the end of January 2005. But Amarone is not only synonymous with numbers; it is a wine of "across-the-board" charm which pleases both fans and less experienced consumers, men and women, young and old. It is evident from a study commissioned by the Protection Consortium, conducted by the two Italian research institutes, GPF and Osservatorio Manheimer, entitled "Amarone della Valpolicella: come ci vediamo, come ci vedono" (Amarone della Valpolicella: how we see ourselves, how we are seen), with the purpose of understanding the reasons for its success and the strategies to adopt for it to remain competitive in the future.
It is a very precious wine; women prefer it to other "important" ones such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino and it is especially appreciated by consumers between 35 and 45 years of age. The year 2001 presented itself in the "field" as a year that was rather low in quantity but high in quality. All the vintages of warm years feature a high concentration of sugar. The producers are now all in suspense, awaiting the decision on DOCG for Amarone: the request is in fact being licensed by the Region and is about to go to Rome. For many, however, the delay is such that it is no longer as important as it could have been years ago, given the high level of quality standards already obtained by this wine. But it is almost certain that the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin will arrive in time for the 2005 harvest. A limitation of this wine, which emerged from the research, is a lack of consumer knowledge about the Valpolicella area. If it is true that 31% of the adult Italian population, nearly 15 million people, know Amarone, only 45% of them know that is produced in Valpolicella (and most of them place this area exactly in the Scaligera province); but 55% think that this wine is produced in another area. Amarone, although not a cheap wine and certainly not for daily drinking, has not suffered from the recession like certain Italian reds "of great fame" in the domestic and foreign market, along with other good local wines.
In classifying the vintages, from 1983 to 2001, there are 7 5-star vintages, the highest mark. Two of them are accompanied by an "E" which indicates Excellence. If you have it in the cellar or you can get a 1995 vintage, or more easily a 2000, and if you have at least uncorked one bottle, you should be happy. They are the ones with the "E": you can’t do better than that!
The name of this structured red wine from Verona, Amarone, comes from the word "amaro" (bitter), adopted to distinguish it from the sweet Recioto from which it unwittingly originated.
According to legend, in fact, a producer wanted to produce Recioto with dried Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, but forgot about it after putting it in the barrel and the product continued to ferment until it became dry. The sugars thus transformed into alcohol and all the sweetness of the wine was lost, which, in contrast to what it should be, was given the name Amarone. Once discovered, Amarone was not immediately perfect. Indeed, sometimes it was made by chance, by luck, still sweet but with a final taste of almond, maybe the result of a batch of Recioto where the manufacturer lost control of the fermentation.
The first label and the first document of sale dates back to 1938, but it was officially marketed from 1953, the first year of sale of Amarone made by choice and not by chance. It immediately had great success, although among a limited clientèle of enthusiasts, both historically and now. The production of this wine covers 10% of the total production of local wines, dominated by Valpolicella and Valpolicella Superiore, young and fragrant red wines, often to drink immediately, fresh and tasty.
Though derived from the same grapes as Recioto and Amarone, they are easier to produce (there is no determinant withering process in between), market and drink. But until 1990 production was covered by the much higher quality Recioto. Then, due to the change in the guidelines that year, which clearly made a distinction between the two products, demand for Amarone began to rise, reaching its peak in 1995.
Amarone, in short, is a wine that has assumed its own identity relatively recently compared to its other experienced companions such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti. But it is made by producers of great ability and experience. That is what is needed to properly wither the grapes intended for this precious wine. Withering is fundamental, so much so that some have called this phase a second harvest.
Healthy and perfectly ripe grapes, not only on the surface but also internally, are already selected at the time of harvest, in the first two weeks of October, choosing the sparse bunches, with grapes that are not too close together, that allow air to circulate. These small dark "nuggets" are placed on large wooden trays, increasingly replaced by perforated plastic ones, for ventilation and to ensure quicker washability after use.
The trays are stacked in storage rooms, which are ventilated rooms generally above the houses and cellars. This is a useful location for those who must periodically check and turn the grapes and then process them quickly, at the right time.
The fruit storage rooms must be in locations that allow continuous ventilation, controlled by properly arranged windows, where the temperature can change gradually and where there is no stagnant moisture. For this reason, certain historical cellars are built on mounds and sides of hills in sometimes improbable locations, ignoring common practicality. Sometimes the location of the fruit storage room decided the placement of the entire building. For proper withering, to control temperature, ventilation, humidity which are not constant but vary as the weather outside changes due to the approaching winter, many manufacturers have decided to air condition their fruit storage room. All phases, in short, are kept under control using equipment, mainly to avoid attacks of mould and early rot and essentially to deal with any adverse conditions and keep the drying process on track.
Withering lasts about 120 days, but sometimes even more, depending on the percentage of water originally contained in the grapes. The water disappears from the grapes due to withering, leaving the sugars almost intact. The most obvious visible consequence of this phase, in addition to the wilting of the grapes, is the weight loss of the bunches that varies depending on the type of grape: from 35 to 45% for the Corvina, 30 to 40% for Molinara and 27 to 40% for Rondinella, so it is the one which “slims down” the least. In late January, early February, the grapes are pressed and skin maceration takes a long time. The low-temperature fermentation is also very slow, taking even 30/50 days. This serves to make sure that the sugars, by the effect of yeast, are transformed into alcohol. If the final wine has less than 4 grams of sugar per litre, it can be defined as Amarone. If the amount is greater than 4, you get Recioto instead.
The minimum alcohol content for Amarone must be 14%. From fermentation to bottling, at least 2 years must pass starting from December 1 of the harvest year; 4 years starting from November 1 of the grape production year for the Riserva typology. Ageing period that the wine spends in large barrels or barriques. Today, many manufacturers tend to put the wine directly into these latter small 225-litre barrels, preferring them to the larger barrels. All this is done to produce a full-bodied, alcoholic wine with great flavour and aroma of raspberries and cherries.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reviewing the procedures for issuance and the passage of Amarone from DOC to DOCG; the goal is to promote the best-exposed hills and grapes.
In these vineyards, the grape quantity is expected to fall to 90 quintals per hectare, instead of staying at 120, as is expected today in the guidelines. The result is that the manufacturer will have to establish a priori the vines to devote to the production of Amarone and not decide after vinification based on the residual sugar content of the wine. This means an Amarone of even higher quality than the current one.
According to existing production regulations, the blend must be composed mainly of Corvina (40-70%), Rondinella (20-40%) and Molinara (5 - 25%), but a proposal for an amendment has been presented recently, aimed at encouraging a further quality improvement. This would increase the percentage of Corvina Veronese, allowing a percentage of up to 50% of Corvinone, and relegate Molinara to "non-aromatic red grape vine varieties, authorised and recommended for the province of Verona", which is allowed up to a maximum of 15% by DOC.
More so today than in the past, the grapes are carefully selected in the vineyard and, once harvested, are arranged with care in a single layer, to let the air circulate better and prevent the grapes from getting crushed, in wooden trays (but increasingly also plastic ones) or on bamboo cane trellises and placed in large storage rooms above the cellars, perfectly ventilated and able to ensure optimum conservation of the bunches.
Production area: in the Valpolicella Classica in the Negrar, Marano, Fumane, Sant'Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano municipalities. Further east in Val Pantena, Val Tramigna, Val d'Illasi and Mezzane
Grape varieties used:
- Corvina 70 al 40%
- Rondinella 20 al 40%
- Molinara 5 al 25%
Olfactory Hints: ripe fruit, black cherry and raspberry jam. In those aged longer, even hints of musk and tar can be perceived, the latter called ‘goudron’ in technical jargon.
ABV: the expected minimum alcohol content is 14%. But the more full-bodied varieties can reach even 16%.
Ageing: from 10 to 15 years, depending on the quality of the production year.
Method of serving: in large glasses, in order to give the fragrance a chance to evolve with the oxygenation of the wine. Ideal serving temperature from 18 to 20°C.
Serving suggestion: perfect with autumn and winter foods such as braised meats, stews, casseroles, roasts, especially game. A great red which can accompany "important" dishes such as venison and roasted meats, but also cured meats, cheeses and traditional dishes such as "pasta e fasoi" (pasta and beans) and risotto with Amarone. Even drunk by itself, it is a good ending to an evening meal or may be even be a meditation wine.
Amarone della Valpolicella shares vine varieties with Valpolicella Classico and Valpolicella Classico Superiore. See the "History and Locations of Valpolicella" page for a complete description of Valpolicella wine and its vine varieties.