Monday Musings: Getting Back to Amarone

This Monday I am feeling happy that’s because I attended a great Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG event.

Amarone comes from the Veneto, specifically from the area of Valpolicella. In the 4th century after Christ, Cassiodorus, a minister of Theodoric king of the Visigoths, described in a letter, a wine obtained with a special grape-drying technique. It was then called “Acinatico” and produced in a territory known under the name of Valpolicella (according to some people this name would came from Latin “Vallis-polis-cellae” and might mean “valleys with many cellars”) . Acinatico was without any doubts a forefather of Amarone. In the past they only wine produced in Valpolicella was Recioto, a sweet velvety wine (whose name comes from the vernacular word “recia, meaning “ear” because originally only the upper and better exposed part of the bunches were used).

As time went by, owing to fermentation, the grapes started giving a much drier wine, rather bitter. Such was the birth of Amarone that owes its name to the characteristic bitterness and was first bottled in the early years of the 20th century for family use or for friends; it was put on the market only after the Second World War and in 1968 it received the controlled designation of origin (DOC).

Veneto Map

Grapes are dried for 90 to 120 days and can be hung on stings, or laid out on arele or put into crates then put into Fruttaio. the grapes lose 35-40% of their water which concentrates sugars, aromas, polyphenols. Air conditioning systems operating at the same temperature of the traditional drying process is sometimes allowed during the crucial period of drying in situations if humidity could damage the grapes compromising their soundness. Grapes are then destemmed and crushed, put into  fermenting vats for 30-40 days of maceration and then Amarone is drawn off and aged in oak.

The grapes used in Amarone are Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara, and sometimes Osleta. Croatina can also be used in a small percentage. Each winery makes their own style Amarone. At today’s tasting we tried 13 different versions from 13 producers who are part of an association called Le Famiglie Storiche.

I will write about each of the wines and some general themes in other posts. Today I just wanted to reflect on this amazing region and this wine which is one that I often need to think my way into. It has historic significance for me in that my Dad loves Amarone and always has but I have often found it hard to pair. That was the past however. The newer, more contemporary styles of Amarone are more approachable. Traditionalists may think that’s a bad thing but I do not. I am happy to find an Amarone that doesn’t bowl me over. These beautiful wines have great minerality and acidity, fruit, spice and sweetness, all in varying degrees. I was impressed by the breadth of depth of the tasting and excited to have found my way back to this wine, a process that started two years ago when I lead a tasting of Amarone during Wine2Wine. I was glad to have my impressions confirmed today as well.

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