When you think of the most prestigious Italian wines, you think of the three B’s: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino. What you don’t typically think of is Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone wine is a bit of a red headed step child among this iconic group, since it is so stylistically distinct.
It is made from dried (passito) grapes, through the appassimento process, where grapes are laid to dry all winter long on racks until they shrivel to raisins, after the harvest and before fermentation. The grape clusters are placed on bamboo shelves which permit airflow throughout to prevent unwanted rot. Most wineries select their best and most mature vines for Amarone production, as it is the star of the region.
Northwest of the historic city of Verona, you’ll find the stunning views and rolling hillsides of the Valpolicella growing area. Here wine is made from four indigenous grape varieties: Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara.
Grapes are picked from the vine later than usual, in mid-October, to ensure they fully ripen. In fact, without the appassimento drying method, the Corvina grape would probably never fully ripen naturally due to its very thick skins.
Amarone are generous and powerful wines. Look for characteristics of ripe cherry, roses, perfume, cinnamon, and plum. Earthy aromas and flavors of black peppercorn, chocolate, and dirt are also prominent in more mature wines. Make sure to serve Amarone in an oversized glass to coax out all of the rich aromas. With decades of ageing potential, you’ll want to lay these wines down in your cellar to allow for the development of earthy, secondary aromas. In comparison to the great Bordeaux which can fetch up to $500+ per bottle, you can land a gorgeous Amarone for $60 and it will be incredibly rewarding with bottle age.
Amarone is not cheap. It is so labor intensive and expensive to make because so many grapes are used, about twice as many as in normal wine. When the grapes are dried, they lose 30% to 50% of their total weight. Moreover, a very slow and laborious 45+ day fermentation is undergone, with long periods of aging at the winery to boot. All of these factors explain the price tag and why it’s one of Italy’s top wines. Today, the tradition really doesn’t make much sense and it totally is impractical for bulk production.
Pro tip: Fans of sweet wines can look for Recioto della Valpolicella, as a divine after dinner drink.
Try Our Top Amarone Selections:
2010 Cassiano Amarone della Valpolcella $59.99
Opulent and rich aromas of orange blossom, expresso, leather, black plum, and spice. Full-bodied, lush, hedonistic, and generous.
2010 Speri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico $69.99
Speri is one of Valpolicella’s most famous wineries, and with good reason. This single-vineyard Amarone is full-bodied, refined and elegant while still offering deeply rich and vibrant black fruit. Aromas of stewed black plum, blackberry along with, black pepper, chocolate, and leather. This wine is close to perfect now and it will continue to improve in the bottle for decades.
2012 Ferragu Amarone della Valpolcella $149.99
Aromas of raisins, sweet jam, cinnamon, clove and thyme. Velvety tannins, one of the most delicious wines from the region.
Don’t want to shell out the dough for Amarone? Ripasso wines from the Veneto are the ideal choice for people on a budget who love bold and complex reds. Ripasso wines are fermented Valpolicella wines which are added to a cask containing the skins and lees remaining from recently fermented Amarone wines. The process of adding the lighter Valpolicella wine to the leftover materials of the more powerful Amarone, imparts bolder color, texture and flavor to the Valpolicella.
Try Our Top Ripasso Selections:
2013 Speri Valpolicella Ripasso $23.99
The fruit offers subtle and complex spice, anise, and coffee notes. Interesting herbal and black fruit flavors appear on the long finish. This wine is fully mature and ready to drink now. Pair it with a juicy grilled steak or short ribs.
2011 Cassiano Valpolicella Ripasso $29.99
A ruby colored red with aromas of red raspberry and blueberry. It is a unique Ripasso as it is kept in contact with the skins of Amarone without a re-fermentation, so it takes on the color and concentration from the skins but retains its lively and bright fruit. This lovely wine is elegant, full-bodied, and supple with classic cherry fruit complemented by hints of raisin and spice.
2012 Gamba Ripasso Valpolicella Classico $27.99
An elegant and bold red with sweet, inviting aromas of violets, stewed blackberry, Christmas spice, tobacco, and truffle.
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