This article is my entry for January’s #MWWC. As a reminder, the #MWWC was created by The Drunken Cyclist to encourage exploration and innovation in wine blogging. As is tradition, last month’s winner Duff’s Wines choses the following month’s theme. This month’s theme is Tradition. To learn more about #MWWC click here; to read all the entries follow #MWWC on Twitter.
The theme of “tradition” draws me back to the wonderful Valpolicella adventure I had last fall and one of my favorite wine making traditions: Amarone! With the 12th annual Anteprima Amarone release happening January 31- February 1; featuring Amarone from 64 winery members of Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella I thought now would be a perfect time to revisit the tradition of one of the world’s most beloved wines.
Amarone is unique in both its labor intensive making process as well as the time it takes to produce traditional Amarone. Members of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, over 200 wineries strong, adhere to strict guidelines and tradition for crafting Amarone.
Amarone is crafted from Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and less frequently Monlinara. All the grapes used to produce Amarone are hand selected in the first pass by skilled pickers who have been taught how to select the best grapes from each vine.
Once these grapes have been picked they are dried in a single layer in wooden or plastic crates in a single layer to provide optimal air circulation and avoid crushing the grapes. The crates are stacked in racks and moved to the top of the wineries cellar in a room called the fruttaio. During the 3-4 month period while the grapes are dried to half their weight the use of an air conditioning system is allowed, in keeping with the traditional drying method, to assist in minimizing humidity that can damage the grapes. However, grape drying systems using heat are strictly forbidden.
Upon completion of the drying process the grapes are crushed using one of two approved methods. The first method is more traditional; since the grapes are crushed in January or February the temperatures are naturally cool and the grapes remain in contact with their skins for a long time, “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 flavor which is direct expression of the territory, even after a very long ageing.” The end result is a beautifully complex and layered Amarone. The second method is a more modern technique, offering an 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.
After one of these two processes, the wine is aged in French, American or Slovenian oak. Traditionally Amarone is aged in beautiful large barrels or casks to allow the fruit to create the flavors with limited influence from the oak.
So why is Amarone so expensive? First of all it takes years to produce one bottle of Amarone (We were tasting 07’s through 09’s as the current releases); second, because of the drying process the grapes lose half their weight, therefore, it takes a lot more grapes to produce a bottle of Amarone then it does say a Valpolicella Classico; third, if a growing season is too wet (like 2014) the grapes become too full of water and cannot be dried properly according to tradition; thus no Amarone will be produced, rather all the grapes will be used in the Vallpolicella Classico, Superiore and Ripasso instead.
A perfect way to describe the beautiful tradition of Amarone comes from the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella web site:
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.
So the next time you visit your favorite local wine retailer take a moment to study their Amarone offerings and think of the tradition that goes into this beautiful wine; then buy a bottle or two. Yes, it will cost more than some other wines but you will not be disappointed once you drink it. Pair your Amarone with a lovely Italian meal of braised veal cheek, pasta with Bolognese sauce or a hearty Italian beef stew. Amarone will reward you with beautiful flavors of bright black cherries and spice as well as layers of other flavors in a round structured wine with great acidity, smooth tannins and a lingering finish. Your palate will thank you.
My Song Selection: The song I have chosen to pair with the tradition of making Amarone represents another great Italian tradition: Arena di Verona. Each year visitors come from all over the globe and locally to attend an opera at Arena di Verona; and one of the most famous of Italian operas performed at Arena di Verona is AIDA by Guiseppe Verdi. This song, Marcia Trionfale comes from a summer 2012 performance at the Arena di Verona. As you watch this beautiful clip from this amazing Opera take in the additional beauty of the amazing outdoor Roman amphitheater that was built in the first century and stand tall today.
Get your own bottle of Amarone and let me know what song you would pair with it. Cheers!