Un poco di storia personale
My second real wine love was Amarone. It happened on the same day I discovered and fell in love with Nebbiolo. But my relationships with these two have played out quite differently over the years. While Nebbiolo and I have increased the frequency of our rendezvous as of late, Amarone and I have always done better to maintain a bit of a long-distance relationship. It’s probably because of the grudge I hold against it from that trip we took together cross country back in the summer of 1999. I splurged on a bottle that I was going to enjoy in my new apartment in Montreal after I finished my first week of graduate school. Well, it couldn’t take the heat evidently and arrived all sour and full of fits.† It was a totally inappropriate way to celebrate my new accomplishments with me in my new abode. But, over the years I have worked through these resentful emotions and admit that I still love Amarone, despite our disagreements.
This past July I attended the Society of Wine Educators annual conference in Washington DC. In my effort to coddle my fragile relationship with Amarone, I attempted to sign up for a session on Amarone’s newly-acquired DOCG status. In fact, I was really looking forward to it but as it turned out, I had registered too late and it was completely full. Begging to be let in was not working so I decided I’d just show up, and make sure they let me through the door. Luckily for me they had scheduled the session on the very last day, in the very last time slot. So I was banking on many members being overly worn-out and hopefully hung-over from post-session late-night imbibing (which I had not done!). BAM! Hit the nail on the head. I got in!
The following information is summarized from the “Amarone, at long last, a DOCG” presentation given by Geralyn Brostrom, CWE, at the Society of Wine Educators annual conference, July 2010, Washington DC. The tasting line-up was part of the session.
Un poco di storia dell’Amarone
Amaro means “bitter” in Italian and the suffix “-one” indicates something big. The amaro part doesn’t refer to an unpleasant taste but instead the tart and dry flavors, i.e. not sweet, that characterize this wine. Since Amarone is made from partially dried grapes, the must has a higher sugar concentration than the must of regular wines which are made from freshly-harvested grapes. In fact it takes about 1,300 dried grapes to make one bottle of Amarone, whereas a regular bottle of wine takes about 630 grapes. Amarone, furthermore, is fermented to dryness (usually completely) and so the result is a very “big” wine, with a high alcohol concentration when finished. Amarone gained its DOC status in 1968 and only this year, on March 24, 2010, did it finally acquire DOCG status, mainly because the wine makers could never agree on all the requirements. The Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG takes effect with the 2010 harvest.
The hilly area of Valpolicella is located east of Lake Garda and north of Verona in the northeastern region of Italy.
It consists of a repetition of low ridges and short valleys, each with their own stream. Each of the valleys has its own particular microclimate and therefore contribute to the diversity of characters found in Amarone, and all of the Valpolicella wines. The classified Valpolicella wines are:
Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella ripasso DOC, Recioto della Valpolicella Spumante DOCG, and finally Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG.
The grape variety requirements for all denominations are as follows:
- 45% – 95% Corvina, where Corvinone can be substituted for up to half of the Corvina
- 5% – 30% Rondinella
- up to 15% of any nonaromatic local red grapes, with a maximum of 10% of any one variety
- up to 10% of other allowed red grape varieties
Typically the wines from the Valpolicella region are limited to mainly three red grapes: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Other local varieties that are commonly used include: Corvinone, Oseleta, Croatina, and Dindarella. Sometimes, in tiny amounts, some other “international” grapes can be added to the blend if grown in the area: Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Teroldego. But recently the Centro per la Sperimentazione in Vitivinicolture has been examining ancient indigenous varieties to see if they might be better blending additions. These include Castelrotto, Bressa, Spigamonte, Turchetta, and Corbina, among others. More information about these can be found here http://wineanorak.com/italy/newvarietiesvalpolicella.htm.
Allegrini Valpolicella 2008. Valpolicella DOC. Corvine Veronese 65%, Rondinella 30%, Moliara 5%. Aging 100% in stainless steel. Alcohol 13%. The wine shows a transparent bright magenta-pink color. Aromas of raisins and fresh cherries evolving to dried cherries, cocoa, dark herbs and spices, plums, roses, flavors of dried berries, spicy and dry with potpourri, finishing with mellow tannins, mostly acids.
Zenato Corvina varietal sample 2009. Valpolicella Classico zone. Corvina 100%. Aged 5 months in 50/75hl French oak casks. Alcohol 16.3%. The color is a dark inky purple-magenta. Aromas & flavors: stewed plums, blueberries, and “cellar” and grappa aromas… intense concentrated fruit with cinnamon and cloves… chalky tannins, hot finish with some citrus.
Zenato Rondinella varietal sample 2009. Valpolicella Classico zone. Rondinella 100%. Aged 5 months in 50/75hl French oak casks. Alcohol 15%. Dark and inky but the lightest of the varietal samples. Aromas & flavors: spicy red berries, red licorice, blueberries, star anise and melba toast (or is it that starchy grappa smell?)… red raspberries, coffee, gripping tannins, freshly crushed red berry jam, mellow finish, lovely fruit.
Zenato Croatina varietal sample 2009. Valpolicella Classico zone. Croatina 100%. Aged 5 months in 50/75hl French oak casks. Alcohol 17.25%. Inky dark plum color. Aromas & flavors: ruby port, blackberries, also developing later to the grappa aromas… tasting dessert-wine-like with plum and cinnamon… very high alcohol in the taste with raisins and prunes.
Zenato Oseleta varietal sample 2009. Valpolicella Classico zone. Oseleta 100%. Aged 5 months in 50/75hl French oak casks. Alcohol 15.6%. Most inky, purple, and black of all varietal samples, in fact, of any wine I’ve ever seen, even more than Alicante Bouschet. Aromas & flavors: beets, raspberry, blackberry, funky, very herbal (pesto, basil), reminds me of Petite Sirah in the aromas… tart, tannic, and mostly bitter.
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2005. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC. Corvina Veronese 80%, Rondinella 15%, Oseleta 5%. Aged 25 months in new French barriques. Alcohol 15.4%. Ruby in color, fairly transparent. Quite aromatic like men’s cologne, also red cherries, mellow clove, coffee, milk chocolate. Lush in the middle, finishing hot and spicy with raspberries, more cherries, however quite elegant and feminine with amazing fruit.
Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Sergio Zenato Classico 2004. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC. Corvina Veronese 80%, Rondinella 10%, Molinara 5%, Sangiovese 5%. Aged 36 months in new French oak and large Slavonian oak casks. Alcohol 15.3%. Opaque and ruby red. Perfumey with muted red berries, blueberry, and a nutty hint. The mid-palate is lush and elegant, full of black plums and blackberries, ending with velvety tannins, concentrated red and black berries, and eastern spices.
MASI Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2003. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC. Corvina Veronese 70%, Rondinella 25%, Molinara 5%. Aged 36 months in 34 hl Slavonian oak casks, 40% in a combination of 600L Slavonian oak and French oak casks (2nd, 3rd, 4th passage). Alcohol 16.3%. Inky, black, brick and ruby reflections. A leathery, oaky, slightly like whiskey with fermented caramel aromas and a little splash of blueberry. A big concentrated wine with earth and leather. Very little fruit showing.
Le Salette Le Pergole Vece Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2001. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC. Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Croatina, Oseleta. Aged 36 months in French oak barriques. Alcohol 15%. Ruby color, slightly transparent. On the nose: soap, eucalyptus, cola, cherry jam, pippin apple, tequila. Bright red raspberries, exotic spices, and agave. A spicy finish, more heat making me think of tequila, cherries, cranberries.
Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC. “Classic Amarone blend.” Aged over 6 years before release; oak regimen unknown. Alcohol 16.5%. Very brown and brick red; semi-transparent. Aromas of ruby port, raisins, figs, almonds, quite “rooty,” with the grappa aroma coming in. Ripe and dried fruits, quite nutty and herbal. Smooth!
What amazed me most about this tasting were the ranges of flavors and characteristics that are present in the grapes of Valpolicella wines, which I feel extremely lucky to have been able to try through the varietal barrel samples. I also was awakened to the grapes’ synergistic relationships with one another (furthermore thinking the Valpolicella blend is as indispensable as the great blends of Bordeaux or Chianti). I intensely respect the wine makers in this area who have worked so hard for so long to discover the potential here.
The diversity of styles and flavors that are coming from variations in blends, locale, production methods, and wine maker experiences and decisions, will keep me intrigued in the years to come. Amarone, for me is not an everyday drinking wine. (You will not share this opinion if you’re in the ranks of those who can down a bottle of Zinfandel on a daily basis). But for me it is certainly a style I have found worthy of the occasional tryst.
† …and that was my first (and last!) lesson about proper wine storage temperatures.