Amarone – A Winner from the Veneto

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Recently, my wife and I were among the journalists invited to attend the Anteprima Amarone, the yearly introduction of the newest of the venerable Amarone wine, the jewel of the Valpolicella family. This is the prized wine of the region surrounding the beautiful city of Verona, famous as the home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The Anteprima Amarone is an annual event held by the Consorzio di Valpolicella, a trade group representing most of the producers of all the Valpolicella wines. For the press, it serves as an opportunity to meet a large number of Valpolicella producers, try their various wines, especially their Amarone and learn about the philosophies of the winemakers.

Before I begin let me say that before attending this event, my impression of Valpolicella wines, including Amarone, was not very positive, based on the average at best Valpolicella wines I had tasted many years ago. After a week of tasting and discussions with a number of producers, large and small, I must admit that my opinion has changed markedly for the positive. The wines I tasted were uniformly excellent, especially the Amarones, and all were worthy of purchase.

It might be worthwhile to list the various wines that make up the Valpolicella region. Almost exclusively red, the wines of this region generally feature the same three red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella in various proportions dependent on the winery and the winemaker. Occasionally the winemaker will use a small percentage of Molinara, Oseleta or Crotina. The differences in taste are a function of the location of the vineyard, its altitude and the makeup of the soil. The region consists of five contiguous valleys just north of the city of Verona.

Virtually all of the wineries offer Valpolicella Classico, the lightest of the wines; Valpolicella Classico Superiore, a bigger version of the same; Valpolicella Superiore Classico Ripasso, made by passing the Valpolicella Superiore over the Amarone skins: and Amarone, the jewel of the Valpolicella wines.

Amarone is made from grapes of the same blend, air-dried for three to four months, with the result a bigger, higher-alcohol offering. In the past Amarone wines were 16% alcohol or even greater, but the current trend is to lower the alcohol content to the 15-plus percentage range.

During the various visits to wineries as part of our program, we tasted a variety of Valpolicella wines with emphasis on the Amarones. These varied from the small 25,000 bottle/year Corte Archi where third generation owner/winemaker Fernando Campagnola produces the Amarone Isobelle. We were treated to tasting the 1992 that he made with his father, a magnificent 16% alcohol wine that I rated a 95. One of the larger wineries was the 1-million-bottle Farina winery, where Sigorina Valentina Frignani offered us a 2011 Amarone Classico Riserva DOCG. This 16%-alcohol wine had been aged for ten years in barriques, two more years in Slovanian oak casks, then followed by one year in the bottle. With a long and smooth finish, I rated this excellent wine a 94.

White wine-lovers, do not despair. Some of the wineries, particularly those on the eastern side of the Valpolicella area, also make Soave, another wine that in the past was tarred by poor quality imports. This is a blend of Garganega with a little Trebbiano. The Soave we tasted was really quite good. Another white is Lugana which was made from the local white grape Turbiana. Both of these wines were very pleasant to drink.

As you can probably tell from the above, our visit was very enjoyable. In the following months I will write about the individual wineries and their offerings. However, based on our experience at the Anteprima Amarone, you can feel safe that the Valpolicella wines that you see today, especially the Amarone wines, are uniformly of the highest quality and will be a delight to drink. If you are going to Venice, you might consider spending a few days in Verona and visiting some of the excellent wineries located close to there. You will not regret the time.

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