Amarone della Valpolicella
Amarone della Valpolicella is today unanimously recognized as the finest among the Veronese wines and one of the most important of the Italian red wines. It is very appreciated by demanding consumers all over the world. It originated as an evolution of Recioto, one of the most ancient wines of our vine-growing and wine-producing history. In the 4th century after Christ, Cassiodorus, a minister of Theodoric king of the Visigoths, described in a letter a wine obtained with a special grape-drying technique. It was then called "Acinatico" and produced in a territory known under the name of Valpolicella (according to some people this name would came from Latin "Vallis-polis-cellae" and might mean "valleys with many cellars").
From Recioto to Amarone
Acinatico was without any doubts a forefather of Amarone. In the past they only wine produced in Valpolicella was Recioto, a sweet velvety wine (whose name comes from the vernacular word "recia, meaning "ear" because originally only the upper and better exposed part of the bunches were used). As time went by, owing to fermentation, the grapes started giving a much drier wine, though processes in the same way. If at the beginning this transformation could be a problem, then the resulting Recioto, rather bitter and dry, easily prevailed and was more and more appreciated and required. Such was the birth of Amarone that owes its name to the characteristic bitterness and was first bottled in the early years of the 20th century for family use or for friends; it was put on the market only after the second world war and in 1968 it received the controlled designation of origin (DOC). Being a product that requires very high quality of the grapes and special care, almost at a craft level, it only represents a small percentage of the wine production; although since the second half of the Nineties its production increased considerably, when compared to Valpolicella Classico and Superiore, true symbols and strength of this area, the quantity of this wine will be always limited. For the production of Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella the maximum quantity of grapes allowed to be left to rest in crates is of 7.8 tons per hectare.
Amarone production techniques
Since Cassiodorus' times nothing has changed in the production method: the grapes are generally harvested in the third decade of September and the first week of October, unless there weather trend is peculiar and unpredictable. Lots of attention is put to the fact that the grapes must be perfectly sound and ripe, in order to effectively face the delicate drying phase. The current production specifications establish the blend composition as follows: Corvina (from 45 to 95%), nevertheless the presence of Corvinone is allowed to the extent of 50% in substitution of the same percentage of Corvina and Rondinella from 5 to 30%.
Non aromatic red-berried varieties recommended and allowed to be cultivated in the province of Verona can contribute to the blend to the extent of 15% of a Doc. A maximum of 25% in total in the winemaking can be represented by grapes coming from the following grapevines:
- non aromatic, red-berried varieties allowed to the cultivation in the province of Verona to a maximum extent of 15%, with a maximum limit of 10% for every single variety used;
- red-berried Italian varieties which have been classified as native according to the provisions of law nr..82/06, art. 2, and are allowed to be cultivated in the Province of Verona, for the remaining total amount of 10%".
Nowadays, more than in the past, the selection in the vineyard is very careful and, once harvested, the grapes are cautiously laid in wooden (often also plastic) crates or on bamboo fruit drying racks in a single layer in order to have better air circulation and avoid the crushing of the berries. These racks are then moved to grape-drying buildings called fruttaio built on top of the cellars, with perfect air circulation and suitable to grant an ideal preservation of the bunches.
The use of air conditioning systems operating at the same temperature of the traditional drying process is sometimes allowed during the crucial period of drying in situations in which the humidity could damage the grapes compromising their soundness. Grape-drying systems using heat for dehumidification are under no circumstances allowed. The grapes stay in the grape-drying buildings for three-four months until they lose at least half of their weight and reach a concentration of sugars equal to 25-30% due to water evaporation. They are kept under constant control and the bunches are turned regularly to avoid rot or bad moulds on the berries.
During this specific, and delicate, process several complex transformations take place into the grapes, eg. the decrease of acidity and the modification of the glucose-fructose ratio that lead to the concentration of polyphenols and to a considerable increase of glycerine and other substances rendering a wine obtained from drying completely different from a wine obtained from freshly crushed grapes. In the course of this operation, in the grapes destined to make Amarone, occurs also the development of a substance called resveratrol; the most reliable scientific-medical international researches have proved this substance to have an extraordinarily beneficial action, contributing to keep the arteries clean and to reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis and heart attack, within a moderate wine consumption.
When the drying process is over, after a careful check, the grapes are crushed. At present time in Valpolicella two vinification methods are used. The first is more traditional and, since the crushing occurs in January and February, is done with natural low temperatures; the contact with the skins is quite long and can last for some months. This method permits to obtain a wine that then requires longer ageing both in bottles and in barrels but gives strong emotions, unique characteristics and a flavour which is direct expression of the territory, even after a very long ageing.
The other method, more modern, uses specific "vinifiers" and thus offers the opportunity to obtain, youthful, softer wines with strong notes of fruits, which can soon be appreciated by the consumer and are stocked for less time in the cellar.
The refinement of wines in wood is a completion to both methods: the containers vary from big Slavonian oak casks to small 225-230 litre French barriques that permit a quicker maturation of the wines and fix the colour. Soon after the barrel and the bottling, they fine in the bottle, at the producer's, before being put on the market.
Amarone, unique and incomparable wine
Amarone is produced in strict accordance with the rules and is patiently left maturating until it becomes unique in the world and incomparable with its vivid bright colour, intense cherry, currant, chocolate, spices hints. Rich in substance, well-structured, full but at the same time soft, elegant perfectly balanced; very pleasant, soft, long-lasting to the palate, it will win everybody at the first sip. Unless other great Italian red wines for ageing, its round tannins and juicy fruits make it appreciable also when young although this is a magnificent wine for ageing. The most refined wine-lovers all around the world have learned to prize its unique accent, its character as an old but modern and up-to-date wine, able to testify the greatness, charme, authentic magic of Valpolicella.