Amarone—high alcohol

By Gus Clemens

Amarone is amazing wine created in Italy’s Valpolicella region (Valpolicella is region, not a grape) centered around city of Verona.

Yes, Verona, city of Romeo and Juliet. That “amarone” flagrantly flirts with Italian word for love (amore) hardly is happenstance.

Amarone is made from corvina and corvinone, helped by rodinella and molinara, grapes found only in Valpolicella. Pliny the Elder, grape expert when Jesus walked the earth (he coined phrase “in vino veritas”), observed when you plant those four grapes elsewhere, grapes cry so much they do not produce wine. Still so today.

After harvest, grapes dry on bamboo racks from October to February, a process called appossimento that reduces water by 40 percent. Almost-raisin results make wine beautifully fruity, wonderfully smooth, famously high alcohol. Amarone commands high prices, too, thanks to work done and delicious results.

Fruit sugar is heart of wine. Yeast feasts on sugar; by-product is alcohol and carbon dioxide. More sugar means higher alcohol. Appossimento packs grapes with sugar, and yeast responds by generating levels of alcohol flirting with 17 percent, pinnacle of wine wow (much past that, alcohol kills yeast).

For years, amarone was high-alcohol king of wines because of this desiccation technique.

Thanks to climate change (hot temperatures enable super-ripening of fruit) Paso Robles in California and Barossa Valley in Australia have zins and shiraz touching mid-teens-plus in alcohol achievement.

Those New World efforts remind me of sleeveless muscle shirts, Daisy Dukes, tattoos; Audrey Hepburn vs. Pamela Anderson.

Amarone reminds me of radiant, star-crossed lovers speaking in eloquent Elizabethan English: “Oh Amarone, Amarone, wherefore art thou, Amarone.”

Tasting notes:
• Fattori Amarone Gregoris 2008. Deliciously smooth, semi-bold for Amarone, subdued dry fruit, plum; clean, elegant; low acidity, value. $40
• Zeni Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009. Black cherry, blackberry, plum, smoke; balanced, medium mouth, rich, velvety, delightful. $43
• Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009. Smooth, fleshy, creamy; plum, cherry; supple balance, depth, elegance; dry yet tastes subtly sweet. $74

Last round: Wine is the reason I get up every afternoon.

Email Gus at Follow tasting notes on Twitter @gusclemens.