The wacky things people do to make wine never cease to amaze me. We pour herbs into it (for Vermouth). We bake it (Madeira). We encourage mold to grow on the grapes (Sauternes) and on the wine (Sherry). We plant vineyards where the primary vineyard pest is a condor (in Argentina). And as of recently, we shoot wine into space.
Through it all, one theme remains: more alcohol!
New to The Chopping Block's Wine List: Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
More is More!
One of the most popular more-is-more wines is Amarone della Valpolicella. It’s a mouthful in more ways than one.
Amarone (ah-mah-ROH-neh) is produced in the wine region of Valpolicella (VAHL-po-li- CHELL-lah) in the northern Italian Veneto province. It’s a bold red with powerful tannin, packed with flavors including extra-ripe red fruits, coffee and cocoa, brown spices, and dried herbs. And it all happened by accident.
Amarone is the offspring of Recioto, a red wine produced from a grape cluster’s “ears” (in local dialect recie), the upper-most grapes which receive the most sunshine. After harvest, these extra-ripe grapes are suspended from rafters or spread on mats to dry and further concentrate sugars. After several months, the raisined grapes are fermented into the sweet red Recioto della Valpolicella. (“More sugar!” had been wine’s major theme until the mass production of sugar and other sweeteners.)
According to legend, in the 1930’s, a winemaker forgot one of his barrels, which allowed fermentation to transform all the Recioto’s sugars into alcohol. On tasting the concentrated tannins and alcohol, locals called the new wine “Amarone” (the big bitter one). In 1990, Amarone received approval by Italian wine law (the Denominazione di origine controllata or DOC) and was elevated in 2009 to Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) status.
Officially, Amarone grapes must be dried from harvest until at least December 1st. The wine may contain up to 16 grams per liter (g/l) of sugar, though 5g/l to 7g/l is most common. (In the U.S. we taste sugar beginning at about 6g/l). Amarone is aged at least two years in oak barrels, four years if the wine is designated Riserva, to round out rough edges and add warm, woody and brown spice accent. Alcohol levels typically reach 14.5-percent, not unusual today, but considered rocket fuel before the advent of California’s warm climate wines.
For Carnivores Only – Not!
Packed with power, Amarone is a natural for dishes with rich fat and protein, including meats and the richest poultry. In Veneto, locals enjoy Amarone with Brasato all’amarone (beef braised in red wine) and Ragù d'anatra alla Veneta (duck ragu). But modern production techniques have transformed Amarone into a gentle giant, no longer limited to meat-centric dishes. Try it with Risotto all’amarone, if possible made with the hearty, specialty rice Vialone Nano Veronese IGP. Grilled mushrooms and dishes involving truffles also make delicious Amarone pairings.
At The Chopping Block, our new Amarone is:
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Ca' del Monte
2015, VENETO, ITALY
Complex flavors of leather and herbs with dark chocolate accents. Produced from raisined grapes, the wine is dense, bold and savory, but also plush on the palate from maturation in oak. A favorite of meat-lovers, this rich red also complements the richest vegetarian dishes such as grilled mushrooms. The Classico designation refers to the classic, original Amarone vineyards.
Experience Amarone and The World of Wine
To experience Amarone, along with 32 other artisanal wines, join us in September for World of Wine: A Tasting Series. In four in-depth sessions including a graduation dinner, we’ll explore the world’s primary grapes and regions tasting eight hand-crafted wines every class, all accompanied by wine-friendly appetizers. Conducted by yours truly, World of Wine: A Tasting Series builds an informed foundation for entry-level wine lovers, takes intermediate wine knowledge to the next level and provides a solid review (and insider tips) for seasoned aficionados. Substantial wine-friendly snacks will be served during each class. Space is limited and registration is required.