Today in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy computer-controlled drying fans are finishing their work or rustic straw mats are done cradling their bunches of grapes.
Corvina, corvinone, rondinella, and other red grapes have lost one-third or more of their moisture during four months of drying that turns them into semi-raisins. Now they will be pressed and the magic of Amarone fermentation will begin.
The drying technique is called appassimento (“dry and shrivel” in Italian). Amarone means “the great bitter,” although Amarone is not bitter—the name distinguishes it from Recioto, which is sweeter desert wine made in same region with same dried grapes.
Given higher sugar content created by appassimento, Amarone is high alcohol—usually 15 percent or more—with full body and wonderfully concentrated flavors. Work that goes into making the wine traditionally meant it was expensive and relatively hard to find. Then computers and fans and plastic drying trays came into vogue in Veneto, modernizing the effort and dramatically affecting production and availability.
Amarone production tripled during the past 15 years. New producers moved into the Valpolicella viticultural zone that lies northwest of Venice and north of Verona. Valpolicella now is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), the Italian designation of an apex production area. Grape harvest soared from 8,000 tons at the turn of the century to 35,000 tons today. Amarone is a “next big thing” in wine.
Such growth inevitably engenders conflict between traditional makers and the new kids on the Veneto block, but it means for consumers greater and more affordable access to this unique Italian delight. The desiccated grapes traditionally are pressed in January and February. In four-five years wine made now will hit your wine store—Amarone is a premium wine; it takes time.
You don’t have to wait for this year’s efforts, there is admirable Amarone available now. Give it a try.
• Zeni Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2009: Velvety flavors, impressive depth at price point. $33
• Fattori Amarone Della Valpolicella Gregoris 2008: Deliciously smooth, opulent fruit. $40
• San Rustico Amarone della Valpolicalla Classico Gaso 2005: Smooth, elegant. $60
• Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009: Fleshy, creamy, supple balance. $74
Last round: Coffee, you’re on the bench. Amarone, suit up.