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Amarone Opera Prima 2022

Recently I was invited to Verona as a guest of the Consorzio della Valpolicella, to take part to a three day event culminating in the unveiling of the Amarone 2017 vintage.

For those of you not familiar with these wines, here is an introduction:

Amarone della Valpolicella (usually referred to as just Amarone) is an Italian DOCG denomination of typically rich dry red wine, made from the partially dried grapes of the indigenous Italian varieties:

  • Corvina offering cherry, spice, green almond, black walnut. Corvina usually makes up 45% to 95% of the final blend.

  • The rarer Corvinone may be used up to 50% of the final blend.

The high quality of Amarone typically uses the highest percentages of these two varieties and other small quantities of approved red grape varieties:

  • Rondinella adding floral aromas and fine tannins

  • Molinara tending to assist acidity levels.

The vineyards are to be found in the Valpolicella area in the province of Verona part of the Veneto region of northern Italy.

The wines from Valpolicella are:

  • Amarone made by fermenting dried grapes and ageing the juice for two years. Amarone has a very distinctive nose and taste consisting of prune, date, black pepper, soy sauce, roast meat, black walnut, sour cherry, Maraschino cherry, tobacco, smoke, liquorice, black fig, carob, cinnamon, cigar box, forest floor, cocoa, brown sugar, molasses, as well as one or two rarer finds…

  • Ripasso (ripassare means to pass again) is produced by putting Valpolicella Classico grapes through a second fermentation by adding the skins remaining from Amarone and Recioto production … Ah! I hear you say what’s this Recioto?

  • Recioto della Valpolicella refers to a dessert wine made from the grapes that were dried on mats after picking. This process turns the grapes to near raisins concentrating the juice. These wines are gloriously rich and sweet.

  • The wine known by the name of Valpolicella on the other hand is a youthful dry red wine produced without ageing. Its profile is a touch above medium acidity. Generally full bodied. Low to medium tannins. Highish levels of dryness. With a ABV between 14/16%*.

*Please do not be horrified at these numbers as the fruit quality and slow fermentation at low temperatures nullify any excessive alcoholic sensation.

Food pairing usually suggest heavy sauces with duck, lamb and pasta, wild boar, braised beef etc. But, as I was to find out on the second day of my visit (see below), you can discard all of this broad stroke information!

The three regions of the Denomination:

  • Classico which has six designations found mainly in three valleys of Negrar, Mariano and Fumare. Wines labelled as ‘Classico’ are most likely to be a blend of these designations. Amarone from Classico tends to be aromatic, elegant with remarkable finesse.

  • Valpantena has three designations in the valley of Valpantena. Amarone from Valpantena has a lighter body with forward fruit.

  • EST this stands for EAST and contains seven designations found in four valleys, named Mezzane, Illasi, Squaranto and Tramigna. Amarone from EST is bolder and richer with a higher alcohol content.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG must age for a minimum of two years.

Amarone Riserva must age for a minimum of four years.

Finally, a little more detail in the winemaking process...

Most grapes are hand harvested, the bunches are placed on straw mats where they are left to dry up to 120 days to ‘raisin’. Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG grapes must lose a minimum of 40% water content.

After this process the grapes are pressed and commence the fermentation process at low temperatures. Sometimes this fermentation can take up to 40/50 days to complete.

After 6 months from harvest the wine is transferred into oak or chestnut barrels to begin the refining process.

N.B. Because of this process the natural residual sugar level is around 3 to 7 grams per litre. But it is still a dry wine!

The most historical and respected names in Valpolicella are:

Allegrini, Bengali, Dal Forno, Quintarelli, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Guerrieri, Rizzardi, Speri,Tedeschi, Bertani, Nicolis, Zyme, Tenuta Sant’ Antonio, Tommasi, Torre D’Orti and Zenato.

Recognised great vintages:

1983,1988,1990,1995,1997,1998, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, and 2016.

N.B. Amarone is extremely age worthy even after thirty to forty years it will still show energy and freshness.

The opening event of the three day engagement was a Gala dinner at Giusti Palace and Garden located in the east of Verona, near the city centre.

The Palace was built in the sixteenth century and the garden is considered one of the finest examples of an Italian gardens.

This was the first opportunity of meeting my hosts the International Consorzio della Valpolicella, and in particular, Nicola Padovano, the head of International Relations and Events.

The three course dinner was accompanied by a list of about 100 wines covering the different styles produced in the denomination. Our table’s host was Marco Speri, the owner and winemaker at Secondo Marco, who throughout the evening introduced the table to approximately 25 wines from various parts of the region. For me there were two standout wines from this dinner: Secondo Marco Valpolicella DOC Classico 2013 and Le Guaita di Noemi latest release Valpolicella Superiore 2012.

The evening came to a close after a welcome speech from the President of the Consorizo, Christian Marchesini.

The following day’s wine events consisted of two Masterclasses held at the grand Palazzo Verità Poeta.

The First Masterclass turned out to be an amazing twist on wine and food pairing: the speaker was the renowned wine and food critic Davide Scapin in collaboration with the 2-star Michelin chef Nicola Portinari of La Peca Restaurant. I was completely bowled over by the exceptional culinary expertise with these lighter and complex dishes and how they married with the complexities of the chosen wines. A resounding success which proves without any doubt that Amarone della Valpolicella can be a wine partner to any cuisine in the World. Here are pictures of each dish and my blind tasting notes...

Mid garnet in colour with a slight opaque undertone. Aromatics of red and purple florals, cherry and black berry fruits, mint, faint cigar box, balsamic notes, dried herbs. Cool entry. Medium bodied. Ultra fresh acidity. Balanced with a smooth texture and a linear juicy close. Points 90 TW