Amarone: the super-charged Valpolicella

HEAD SOMMELIER AND MANAGER OF LUTYENS RESTAURANT

IN the North of Italy in the Veneto, there’s a wine called Valpolicella. Perhaps you know it as a light, cheerful, quaffing sort of wine with some bright cherry fruit – something to drink on holiday but nothing, frankly, to write home about. In fact, like many famous Italian wine regions, there has been an explosion of quality in Valpolicella and for summer drinking, they are well worth seeking out. But what we’re talking about today is a peculiar regional specialty: Amarone.

Amarone, or Amarone della Valpolicella (to mention its rather glorious full name), is a super-charged version of regular Valpolicella and made from the same grape varieties. For Valpolicella, the Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes are vinified in a conventional way, whereas the grapes for Amarone are picked in whole bunches and laid (traditionally on straw mats) in a special drying room (the attic originally) and the grapes are dried for several months. The process is known as Appassimento and, in the same way that boiling a sauce concentrates it, as the grapes dry, the water content goes down and the juice of the grapes becomes more concentrated.

When all the grape sugar has turned to alcohol and fermented to dryness, an Amarone can have as much as 16 per cent alcohol whereas Valpolicella might have up to 12 per cent. It’s powerful stuff and there’s no mistake, all that fruit concentration can make it seem a little sweet even when dry. The drying process imparts complex earthy, spicy, even chocolate, flavours that make it a fabulous accompaniment with venison or duck.

The story doesn’t end there; many producers add the skins from the Amarone once the wine has been pressed to their basic Valpolicella. This provokes a second round of fermentation and results in what’s known as a Valpolicella Ripasso: a Valpolicella that borrows some of Amarone’s grandeur and power but at a more reasonable price. It’s well worth looking out for.

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