Amarone was born by pure chance!
The creation of one of Italy’s greatest meditative wines
Photography: Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella
Wednesday 25 May 2022
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The Valpolicella wine-growing area is a region full of biodiversity. Just west of Verona, it extends from Lake Garda to as far as the boundaries of Vicenza province. It is home to a wine that was discovered by chance: Amarone della Valpolicella. In fact, it was born from an amazing blunder. It all started with something that was unintentionally forgotten. Sometimes events that happen by chance, or serendipity, can lead to great discoveries. The term serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 and suggested by “The Three Princes of Serendip”, a fairy tale in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.
In the case of Amarone, according to legend, in 1936 the discoverer was a cellarman at the Cantina Sociale of Negrar, Adelino Lucchese, who forgot a barrel of Recioto that continued to ferment until all its sugars dissipated. The second fermentation turned it into a bitter and dry wine. It seems that the name “Amarone” comes from the famous exclamation by Adelino when he tasted it and discovered a drier and more bitter wine than Recioto: “This is not amaro (bitter), it is amaron!” In the venetian dialect, amaron means very bitter.
Why is Amarone a “meditation” wine?
Amarone is one of Italy’s greatest meditation wines, thanks to its extraordinary sensorial qualities. It is a red dry wine, velvety, opulent, with a nose revealing a multi-faceted bouquet that ranges from notes of ripe red fruits to hints of undergrowth, vanilla, tobacco, leather, chocolate, coffee. The real surprises are the spicy and ethereal scents after a long process of ageing in wood and the refinement in bottle that make Amarone’s flavour so unique. Typical “meditation” wines are sweet types like Vin Santo or Recioto. Also, dry wines such as Amarone are defined as “meditative wines”, a term coined by the renowned Italian wine author, Luigi Veronelli, used to describe Passito wines, or aged red wines such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. While this definition may sound religious, instead it refers to particularly structured wines that require time and contemplation.
Although, even the Church gave red wine an important role to play in their rituals, as well as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, who imbibed to reach a state of ecstasy while contemplating their Gods. Just like meditation, wine can also be enjoyed on its own. With regards to this aspect, the meditative wines differ from table wines: they can be savoured alone, not necessarily paired with food. For these reasons Amarone should be appreciated for its calming effect, as it is sipped by the fire while reflecting on its intriguing complexity.
How Amarone is made
Amarone is one of the world’s most iconic red wines. In 493 A.D. Cassiodorus, Theodoric the Great’s minister, mentioned a sweet wine made with dried grapes produced in Verona. The first bottles of Amarone were out into circulation in 1938. Since then, each year, the Amarone’s producers repeat intentionally that amazing blunder. According to the procedural guideline, Amarone is produced only in Valpolicella from a selection of indigenous grape varieties whose blend is composed mainly of Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella with other red grape varietals cultivated in the province of Verona.
Since 2010 it has been designated a DOCG (Designation of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), Italy’s highest classification of wine quality. One of the organizations within Valpolicella that encourage the local traditions which make the wines of the region distinctive is the Consortium for the Protection of the Wines of Valpolicella, whose aim is preserving the historical practices of the typical wines of the region through promotional and educational work.
Amarone is obtained through the drying process known as the Appassimento method, a unique technique of drying the grapes. Appassimento is the secret to Amarone’s creation because it gives it its special taste. Sweet wines were prized by the Romans, so this vinification method has been the heart of the Valpolicella region for millennia.
The ritual of Appassimento begins with a hand-selection of the best grape bunches during the harvest which generally occurs between September and October. Then the grapes are gathered in a special ventilated room (fruttaio) and left to dry on typical bamboo racks (arèle) for up to four months, until they have lost the necessary quantity of water to increase the concentration of sugars. Appassimento can be summarized with one word: concentration. It concentrates the colour, aroma, flavour. As the grape skins break, complex chemicals found in grapes such as phenols and polyphenols, begin to develop. When the grape is forced to metabolize itself, the harsher acids diminish, flavonoids and non-flavonoids increase, resulting in Amarone’s intense and full-bodied flavour. Without this drying process, this flavour could not be achieved.
Once the Appassimento is complete, the grapes reduce their weight by 40%. After being de-stemmed and crushed, the remaining must is extracted; the fermentation of the dried grapes takes place for up to 60 days. The wine ages for at least two years, typically in large Slavonian oak barrels, to produce the Amarone base and a minimum of four years for the Amarone Reserve. After the ageing process, the wine is generally clarified and filtrated to eliminate any residual solids. Finally, it is bottled and released after two years beginning January 1st of the year following the harvest vintage.
The result of the Appassimento process is a full-bodied wine with a ruby red colour and garnet reflections and low acidity, which pairs well with roasted calf with truffle, or game meats such as woodcock served on toasted bread. Grilled meat, BBQ or Chianina steak, makes Amarone the perfect companion thanks to its subtle notes of spices, tobacco and coffee. Risotto all’ Amarone is one of the classical regional pairings. It is superb with seasoned cheeses like Taleggio or Pecorino di Fossa. Amarone can even be appreciated if paired with a piece of chocolate.
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