Style of the Red Wines from the Veneto
It’s a memory that never leaves me. It was after a celebratory meal at a legendary steakhouse in Calgary. A bottle of Masi Amarone was ordered. It has pre-2000 vintage. Along with the bottle, a cheese plate was served. It was love at first sip and deep passion at the first bite of a blue cheese (maybe Castesllo Blue or Cambozola) to pair with this sip. I was smitten and forever dreaming of this label and the flavour experience.
So where do you find Amarone? It’s home is the Veneto, one of Italy's most prolific wine producing regions. Amarone is made with grapes that are partially dry on straw mats. The term appassimento refers to the process of drying indigenous grapes Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara on mats in open air farmhouses for approximately 100 days. Well, that's the romantic version. From here the grapes are fermented and then the resulting wine is racked off into casks. The traditional barrels used, better known as botte, are crafted from neutral Slovenian 600L oak although today the use of smaller French oak barriques is also employed. The idea however, is to create harmony where oak supports the fruit flavours, without overshadowing the character of the wine. A classic expression of Amarone is aromas of rich floral and ripe black fruit compote on the nose, with similar notes on the palate adding more complexity with notes of chocolate, coffee, spice and lots of structure from acidity and fine grain tannin with a very smooth mouth filling texture. While the alcohol can be high, these wines should be balanced, elegant and delicious.
What does Amarone go with? Some might say the whole meal especially a big flavorful one with a variety of grilled meats and vegetables. My first experience of Amarone at the end of the meal was sublime. Cheese will always trump cake in my world. If you want to find a good bottle of Amarone - read on!
Veneto is Home to Valpolicella & Amarone
The Veneto is one of Italy's most prolific producers of wine. It's a land of history and of wines blended to perfection. Referred to as Tre-Venezia, it’s home to Valpolicella and its famous big brother Amarone! But it doesn’t stop here. There is much more to discover.
The Valpolicella territory borders Lake Garda to the west and the Lessini Mountains to the east and north. The regional capital is Venice (Verona), one of the great cities of Italy, uniquely built on wooden stilts on marshlands of the Venice Lagoon at the head of the Adriatic Sea. The climate is cool continental in the north to warm continental in the south.
The Valpolicella landscape is extremely rich and fairly diverse noted by its many valleys. These topographical areas produce wine reflecting the terroir. In the north, the mountainous areas formed by the Lessini Mountains protect the hills and valleys to the south. The mountains protect the hills and valleys from the northern wind and climatic events. The hilly area is where most of the vines are planted on good draining soils of alluvial, limestone and marl. The clayey valley floor fed by the Po River is warmer than the other two areas and home to vineyards, olive and cherry trees and a range of agricultural activities.
Lake Garda to the west, mitigates the extreme winter and summer temperatures much like Lake Okanagan does here in beautiful British Columbia’s wine country the Okanagan Valley. The annual rainfall amount is between 900 and 1100 mm with the abundant summer rainfall. While this coincides with the growing season, it is the heavy autumn rains caused by the Sirocco wind that can cause damage. The Sirocco wind is a warm, humid southeast wind that can gust up to 50-60 km/h.
Corvina is considered native to Valpolicella and the backbone to wines of Valpolicella and Bardolino blends. Corvina brings aroma and acidity to the blend. When Corvina is dried (appassimento) its small berries and thick skins play a key role in bringing beautiful aromas and structure to Ripasso and Amarone style wines.
Corvinone is a standalone native variety that is increasingly used instead of Corvina because it is more resistant to disease. Its berries are larger and offer more color, tannin and sweetness when ripe.
Rondinella is the third grape variety in the blend and brings color and aromas to the wine. It is fairly disease resistant and dries very well which makes it useful to Amarone blends.
Molinara is a native variety playing a minor role in the blends. It is pale in color and contribute primarily acidity. It is reported that this grape is being phased out.
Reading the Label
Valpolicella DOCG is a basic style that is dry, fresh & youthful and should be consumed now. Prices range from $15 – $20 in the BC market (if you can find a bottle)
Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOCG is a style that offers more precise fruit (spicy bramble and cherry and fresh acidity). The rule for Superiore is that the wine must be aged for at least 1 year suggesting better fruit and a higher quality wine. Prices range from $25 to $35.
Valpolicella Ripasso & Ripasso Superiore DOCG are wines with greater richness and power. Ripasso refers to the juice being passed over the Amarone skins. Here the use of the Amarone must adds flavour and sugars resulting in higher alcohol and more texture. These wines have more black fruit aromas and flavours and extra weight on the palate. This is definitely a wine style to go with stews and braised meats. Prices range from $35 - $50
Amarone della Valpolicella & Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva DOCG offer concentrated and intense aromas and flavours with precision. The length of these wines is usually very long and the appeal is to collect and continue to age these bottles. These wines are the richest, biggest most flavoursome wines of the Valpolicella. While not sweet, the richness is high and as I experienced these wines go very well at the end of a meal with a cheese plate. Prices for Amarone start at $60 and can quickly move into the $100+ range.
Producers are many and prices vary. Over the past five years Zenato has been a consistent quality producer in our BC market. The price value equation here makes this "good wine". While iconic producers like Dal Forno, Quinterelli and Masi are available in our market, the prices are astronomical. It's a good time to restate that high prices are a reflection of market scarcity, limited production and collector demand. Le't's appreciate Zenato for the possibility of a great taste experience at a price you can afford.
If this is tempting you, there is much more on this subject ahead. Get the answers to your question and more with Mark Shipway at our online wine session - "Not Only Amarone".
Sip well wine lovers. Life is short. Drink good wine!