Amarone della Valpolicella, usually known as Amarone, is a typically rich Italian dry red wine made from the partially dried grapes of the Corvina (40.0% – 70.0%), Rondinella (20.0% – 40.0%) and Molinara (5.0% – 25.0%) varieties. The wine was awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in December 1990. On 4 December 2009, Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella were promoted to the status of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
Pronounced: ah-mah-ROH-neh -In Italian this means “big bitter”
Its name probably comes from Vaio Amaron, the name of the vineyard originally owned by Serego Alighieri, a member of Dante Alighieri's family. Dante was an Italian Florentine poet. His greatest work: The Divine Comedy, is considered one of the last and greatest literary statements produced during the Middle Ages, and one of the first of the Renaissance.
Its full name is now Amarone della Valpolicella as confusingly before 1990 some wines were labelled Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone. Amarone is the dry version whilst Recioto is the sweet version. Also sparkling and fortified styles are made in small quantities. This is a wine produced from exactly the same grapes as a standard Valpolicella:
Corvina: richness and aroma. Molinara: smoothness and balance. Rondinella: colour and tannin.
Grapes are harvested ripe in the first two weeks of October, by carefully choosing bunches having fruits not too close to each other, to let the air flow. Grapes are allowed to dry, traditionally on straw mats. This process is called appassimento or rasinate (to dry and shrivel) in Italian. This concentrates the remaining sugars and flavors and is similar to the production of French Vin de Paille. The pomace left over from pressing off the Amarone is used in the production of Ripasso Valpolicellas.Appasimento dates back to Roman times and Amarone as a wine did not grab the headlines until 1990. This was the year when Italy enjoyed an exceptional vintage and buyers having exhausted the “usual suspects” were desperately trying to find other new full bodied red wines: Amarone was propelled to fame almost overnight.
Modern Amarone is now produced in special drying chambers under controlled conditions. This new approach minimizes the amount of handling that the grapes go through and help prevent the onset of Botrytis cinerea. In Amarone, the quality of the grape skin is a primary concern as that component brings the tannins, color and intensity of flavor to the wine. The process of desiccation not only concentrates the juices within the grape but also increases the skin contact of the grapes. The drying process further metabolizes the acids within the grape and creates a polymerization of the tannins in the skin which contribute to the overall balance of the finished wine.
The length of the drying process is typically 120 days but varies according to producer and the quality of the harvest. The most evident consequence of this process is the loss of weight: 35 to 45% for Corvina grapes, 30 to 40% for Molinara and 27 to 40% for Rondinella. Following drying, end of January/beginning of February, the grapes are crushed and go through a dry low temperature fermentation process which can last up to 30/50 days. The reduced water content can slow down the fermentation process, increasing the risk of spoilage and potential wine faults such as high volatile acidity. After fermentation, the wine is then aged in barriques made from either French, Slovenian or Slavonian oak.
If fermentation is stopped early, the resulting wine will contain residual sugar (more than 4 grams of sugar per litre) and produce a sweeter wine known Recioto della Valpolicella. Unlike traditional Amarone, Recioto della Valpolicella can also be used to produce a sparkling wine. Ripasso is an Italian wine produced when the partially aged Valpolicella is contacted with the lees of the Amarone, including the unpressed grape skins. The lees still contain a lot of sugar and the Valpolicella undergoes a second fermentation. This will typically take place in the spring following the harvest. The resulting wine is more tannic, with a deeper color, more alcohol and more extract. The word Ripasso designates both the winemaking technique and the wine, and is usually found on a wine label.
CHARACTERISTICS AND FAULTS
The final result is a very ripe, raisiny, big-bodied wine with very little acid. Alcohol content easily surpasses 15% (the legal minimum is 14%) and the resulting wine is rarely released until five years after the vintage, even though this is not a legal requirement. The labor intensive process poses significant risk for the development of various wine faults. Wet and rainy weather during harvest time can cause the grapes to rot before drying out which then requires winemakers to be diligent in removing rotted bunches or moldy flavors in the wine will be accentuated.
The overall climate is mild in the entire Valpolicella zone. The territory is well protected by the Lessini per-Alps to the north and has fortunate hillside or valley-bottom exposure to the south. The climate resembles the Mediterranean climate (cypresses and olives are present). Annual rainfall averages between the 850 mm. of the plains area, at 100 meters above sea level, to approximately 1200 mm. in the zone between 500 and 700 meters above sea level and 1000 mm. in the mountain zone. Minimum average temperatures (about 10°C) were calculated in the period form may to September (the growth period for grapevines), between 12 and 15°C whereas the average of maximums (about 18°C) was calculated, during the same period, as between 23 and 30°C. The directions of dominant winds are important from the point of view of climate. Winter winds come form the north-east (Bora or Greco). These are cold and fairly dry winds. South-east winds (Scirocco) are warm and humid. In the summer, together with mountain and valley breezes during days with stable weather and clear skies, we find west and north-west winds after strong thunderstorms. There are no dominant winds in the intermediate seasons: directions are extremely variable. The föhn (normally a winter wind) deserves special mention: it is a mild and very dry wind. These comments are insufficient to define microclimatic trends in these valleys and consequently we cannot say to what extent climate contributes to differences between the wines that are produced here. From a height point of view, without considering many other variables, we can roughly state that the upper Valpolicella (350-500 meters above sea level) has a more balanced production, rich in alcohol, unlike valley-bottom or plains products (produced at about 100 meters above sea level) which are less distinctive even though the quantities are more important.
The special geology of the Valpolicella zone has generated different types of soil. These can be indicated as follows:
- Red and brown soils lying on debris are found upstream from the terrace formed during the quaternary era that Joins S. Ambrogio to Parona. The Castelrotto hill is an exception, where we find brown soils on cretaceous marne. These red and brown soils, on top of debris, can also be found in the foothill zone up to the entry into the Fumane valleys, at San Floriano and in the first section of Valgatara up to Pozzo, at Pedemonte and part of the Negrar valley, penetrated by brown soils on cretaceous marnes.
- Compact red soils on eocene limestone are to be found to the north of S. Ambrogio and S. Giorgio and on the ridge that descends from S. Maria Valverde down to Gnirega, Valgatara, S. Floriano and Pedemonte. Terrain of the same nature is also found on the ridge that descends to Parona, Arbizzano and Novare. - Brown soils on cretaceous marnes are found in the high part of Valpolicella (Mazzurega, Purano, Monte Comune and part of the Negrar valley). - Compact red soils on basalt are limited to zones that mix landslides and limestone, located in the upper Marano and Negrar valleys. According to tests performed by the grape-growing test institute, brown soils on marne or basalt have a good potassium and phosphor dioxide content even though these are scarcely utilized by the plant. Limestone, with a few exceptions, ranges between 15 and 50% and Ph between 7 and 8.