In a recent post, we looked at the Valpolicella DOC, a (usually) fairly light and fruity red wine from Veneto. As I mentioned in that post, the Valpolicella DOC shares it’s boundaries with a few other wine regions which produce wines that usually have more depth and complexity to them. This wine is from the most notable of those regions – the Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, commonly referred to as just Amarone. It is probably the most prized red wine in Veneto (and maybe even the Tre Venezie in general), and is known for being a big, powerful wine. This is a bit counter-intuitive for people who know something about winemaking. To make a big, powerful wine, you typically need very ripe grapes. This is because as grapes ripen, their sugar levels increase and since sugar gets converted into alcohol during the fermentation process, a grape with more sugar produces a wine with a higher alcohol content (usually). A high alcohol content typically equals a very full-bodied wine, making these wines bigger and more powerful than their cool climate brothers (and sisters). This is why people who like that style of wine typically look for Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley or Shiraz from Australia. Veneto is a cooler growing region, and therefore produces lots of red wine akin to Valpolicella – light and fruity.
However, through the years winemakers in this region have figured out a way to go against that trend, using a relatively unique winemaking technique called passito. The grapes used for Amarone are allowed to hang on the vines longer than normal, to allow them a little extra time to ripen. Once they are finally picked, instead of pressing them right away they are left out on straw mats and allowed to dry for a period of typically three or four months. This drains most of the moisture from the grapes, intensifying the sugar and flavor, which makes the resulting wine very full-bodied, while adding a thickness to it that can almost be described as syrupy. The process is both labor-intensive and risky – by leaving the grapes on the vines late into the season the winemaker risks having them ruined by a poorly timed rainstorm or frost. That, combined with the fact that more grapes are required for each bottle of wine produced, means that Amarone is not cheap; $60-$80 for a bottle is common.
The name Amarone comes from the Italian for bitter – amaro. It is made from the same grapes as Valpolicella, primarily Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, and is grown in the same area. In fact, since the overall regions are the same, Amarone can carry designations for the same sub-regions as Valpolicella. This particular wine, for example, is designated as Classico, since the grapes used to produce it were grown in the “classic” Valpolicella areas.
The DOC designation for Amarone was created in 1990 and upgraded to a DOCG in December of 2009. Since this bottle is from grapes grown in 2009, and therefore harvested while Amarone was still a DOC, this bottle is still carries the DOC designation. It is produced by Zeni and made from the three classic Valpolicella grapes: 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella, and 10% Molinara. It has a clear appearance, and a deep ruby coloring. The nose is clean and quite pronounced, almost overpowering. It has a bit of a sweet jamminess quality to it, with notes of dried fruit, mainly prune and fig, blackcurrant, and a little bit of mint. It also has a nuttiness to it which calls to mind a nice port wine. On the palate it is dry, with medium acidity and a good amount of tannins, which are smooth and well-rounded. It is definitely full-bodied with a thickness that feels almost syrupy. There are lots of dried fruit notes (again mainly prune and fig) along with some black pepper, almond, and a bit of chocolate. It has a nice long finish with lingering spice and black pepper. Overall a really nice wine with good depth and complexity.