After Chainti, Asti, and Soave, the best selling wine in Italy is the ripe, powerful, and full-bodied Amarone della Valpolicella. The sweet, high-alcohol wine is traditionally made near Valpolicella which lies north of Verona. The place is full of old hamlets tucked deep within the many valleys which are surrounded by hills and cherry trees. Amarone has been produced here for generations. Some believe that the name came from the Vajo Amaron vineyard near the famous hamlet Gargagnago. The most dominant grape variety used for making wines is the Corvina. This is also combined with other indigenous varieties like Corvinone and Rondinella to create a variety of blends. It is worth mentioning that till 1990, Amarone was superceded by Recioto, once the major wine in this region, but the search for full bodied wines by many buyers and also the ever-increasing prices of the other major brands lead to the acceptance of Amarone in 1990 and it became an instant hit.
How it is produced
Amarones generally contain a minimum of 15% alcohol. They are manufactured by harvesting and traditionally drying well selected grapes on straw mats. This process of drying the grapes is quite distinct in the world and is known as “Appassimento” and traces its roots to the Romans. It is done to concentrate the sugars and flavors of the grapes.>>>>>More
Too much concentration of sugars would have adverse effects as the excess alcohol would impede the fermenting process. Some manufacturers purposely concentrate much sugar but the wines that are so produced do not carry the Amarone designation. Occasionally ‘Botrytis cinerea,’ a powdery fungus is deliberately allowed to grow on the grape clusters to improve the sweetness of the grapes. This fungus is also known as ‘noble rot.’
In 1983, Masi Agricola, a famous Amarone producer, began testing with a particular strain of yeast, which reduced time for fermentation as well as the oxidation in the wines. This was a watershed event in Amarone’s history as with the progressive usage of this type of yeast the flavors of the wine have become more pliable to fresh fruit flavors which many preferred.
A variety of prestigious red wines are produced in the vineyards of Valtellina valley located northeast of Milan. In fact tracing right back to the pre-Roman period, winemaking has been traditionally providing a stable source of income to its inhabitants. This can be attributed to climatic conditions which are near ideal for developing vineyards. The vineyards are planted on a series of terraces supported by dry-stone walls. Valtellina wines are popular throughout the world and are obtained exclusively from the native Italian grape, Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo was found and introduced in the 14th century but the Nebbiolo wines did not flow until the 16th century.
So famous are the wines of this region and so scenic are the valleys in Valpolicella that there are even wine tours organized by various operators. A visit to select the vineyards of the place - each one producing its own blend of the Amarone – is generally the central theme of the tours. Not only do you get to see the entire process of making wines, you would also get to taste some of them and dine in the scenic restaurants abounding in the hills nearby. A local expert will accompany you to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.
The amazing turnaround for Amarone came in 1995. Albeit a small harvest, the grape quality was astounding and this lead to all-time record sales of over 2 million bottles. The 1997 vintage went one step farther and about 3.2 million bottles were sold.
Though the business is booming in the hills, there is an inherent risk for the vineyard owners of indiscriminately drying out huge quantities of grape. Italian wine manufacturers shun well-defined methods of growing the fruit and depend on individual processes. Rather, the need for a more strategic outlook is strongly felt and many feel that this is the only way to carry forward this rich and remunerative business. Also modern wine-making techniques, though proving to be rewarding, have caused manufacturers to abandon the elements inherent in the wine-making process that yields it its uniqueness.
All said and done, it is only the very best that get stamped with the title of Amarone. So the next time you are hovering around a bottle make sure you don’t miss out on it, especially if you have not tasted one at all.