Guide to Italian Wines The latest from Amarone
© by Tom Hyland

Wine lovers can't seem to get enough of Amarone. Whether it's the big, ripe, almost sweet fruit or the raisiny character or the fact that it's a big wine with ample alcohol (usually 14.5%), it's more popular than ever these days.

For those unfamiliar with the charms of this wine, Amarone is made in the Valpolicella district with the same grapes used to make Valpolicella. Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara are the primary grapes and when blended together they produce a nice, medium-bodied red in the $12-18 range, which is Valpolicella.

Amarone drying boxes
Plastic boxes holding just-harvested Corvina grapes to be dried for the production of Amarone.
Photo by Tom Hyland © 2003
But when the grapes are harvested a bit early and then left to dry in boxes or on mats for four months before fermentation, something unique happens. Making a wine in this fashion is known as appassimento, and it is this technique that gives Amarone its singularity.

Over the drying period, the grapes lose about 30% of their weight (most of that is water) and the result is an intensity that would not be present with a traditional fermentation. Amarone is finished dry, but as the grapes pick up a raisiny quality and are high in alcohol, there is the impression of sweetness.

There is a sweet wine made in this fashion, but it is not Amarone. Rather, this is Recioto, or more formally Recioto della Valpolicella Classico (the formal name of Amarone is Amarone della Valpolicella Classico- both wines tell you in their name that they are from the Valpolicella Classico district). Recioto is quite sweet and a bit like port, though not as high in alcohol (15% versus 18-20%). Drink a Recioto after dinner by itself or with a dessert such as a plum tart or even just with a little bittersweet chocolate.

Amarone will age well and as the wine is quite full in body as well as intense in flavor, it is much more enjoyable when consumed 7-10 years after the vintage. But that doesn't stop a lot of people form consuming Amarone when it is released (most current versions are 1999, with just a few 2000s on retail shelves, while there are some available from 1998 or even 1996).

Amarone tends to work well with game, poultry (duck is a great match), lamb or aged steak. Not that you have to stop there, of course. Many restaurateurs tell me that groups love Amarone and order that first and then comes the food, be it as rich as venison or even as light as baked chicken. Drink what you like of course, and plenty of Americans like Amarone!

CURRENT RELEASES OF AMARONE

Allegrini 1999
Deep ruby red-light purple with a lovely nose of ripe black cherry, oak and a hint of raisin. Medium full to full-bodied with excellent concentration. Quite elegant for an Amarone. Long finish with youthful but balanced tannins. Enjoy over the next 10-12 years. ($75) ****

Bertani 1996
Deep ruby red with an aroma of dried cherry, cinnamon, sage, tar and oak. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Very generous mid-palate, this has layers of flavor that coat the palate. Lengthy, beautifully balanced finish with elegant tannins and lively acidity. This is a gorgeous Amarone - power, spice, earth and finesse. Drinking beautifully now, this will keep for another 5-7 years - maybe longer. ($75) *****

Cesari 1999
Deep garnet-light ruby red with an aroma of raisin, cherry, thyme and subtle oak. Medium-full with good concentration. Moderate tannins and tart acidity. Drink over the next 5-7 years. ($28) ***

Cesari 1997 Amarone "Il Bosco"
A single vineyard Amarone. Deep, brilliant ruby red with an aroma of cherry, licorice a hint of sage and oak. Medium-full with very good concentration. Firm tannins and balanced acidity. Rich and ripe with an elegant finish. Drink now and over the next 5-7 years. ($42) ****

Cesari 1997 Amarone "Bosan"
Bosan is a new Amarone for Cesari- one that is made in a more international style and one that will be produced only in exceptional years. Bright ruby red with an aroma of sweet oak, a hint of raisin and dark chocolate. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Big and ripe but balanced throughout. Quite impressive. Drink over the next 7-10 years. ($60) ****

Masi 1999 "Costasera"
Costasera refers to the vineyards that catch the evening sun. Deep ruby red with an aroma of raisin, plum, black raspberry and oak. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Generous mid-palate. Long finish with wonderful complexity. Subtle and stylish- very harmonious. Enjoy for 7-10 years. ($45) *****

Santa Sofia 1998
Bright ruby red-light purple with an aroma of oak, cherry, plum, raisins, tar and oak. Medium-full with very good concentration. Round and elegant with lively acidity. Quite nice for a 1998, which was not a vintage that lent itself to concentrated wines. Drink over the next 3-5 years. ***

Santa Sofia 1999 Amarone "Gioé"
Gioé represents the best part of the Montegradella vineyard. A blend of 65% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Bright ruby red with an aroma of dried cherry, tar, menthol, anise, licorice, oak and a hint of sage. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Polished tannins and balanced acidity are features of a long, long finish. Wonderful complexity of rich, ripe fruit and elegance- quite stylish. Gioé is only produced in exceptional years; 1964 was the first bottling and the 1997 is only the 13th release of this wine. Clearly, Santa Sofia knows that Gioé is a special wine! Enjoy over the next 10-12 years. *****

Tedeschi 1999
Deep brilliant ruby red color with an aroma of black cherry, raisin, clove, tar and oak- a classic aroma! Medium full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate with a long finish. Lovely balance with elegant tannins. Lively acidity. Enjoy over the next 7-10 years. ($40) ****

Tedeschi 1999 "Capitel Monte Olmi"
Deep ruby red with an aroma of dried cheery, oak, leather and tobacco. Medium full to full-bodied with excellent concentration. Big and spicy with rich tannins and balanced acidity. A bit tight now, but time will round out this wine. Best in 7-10 years. (36 Euros- not imported currently in the US) ****

When I visited Amarone for the first time, a local writer told me that if I wanted a great Amarone, I should try Accordini. I did not know at the time there were two different producers named Accordini - Igino and Stefano (their estates are located right next to each other!), but I do know and both are great producers. I wonder if that writer meant that comment about Accordini on purpose! Either way, I am glad I learned about the wines as they are among the finest examples of Amarone you can find. (By the way, these wines are very hard to find in the United States, so there's a reason to visit the Valpolicella area (close to the town of Verona), just in case you need a reason!

Igino Accordini 1999 "Le Bessole"
Deep ruby red with a lovely aroma of cherry, thyme, a hint of raisin and nicely integrated oak. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Layers of flavor and persistent fruit in the finish. Very harmonious and finesseful. Lovely wine! Enjoy for the next 7-10 years. (22 Euros) *****

Stefano Accordini
Stefano Accordini, whose 1997 Amarone "Il Fornetto" was one of the five best Italian red wines the author tasted last year.
Photo by Tom Hyland © 2003
Stefano Accordini 2000
Deep ruby red with an aroma of dried cherry, subtle oak, thyme and a hint of oregano. Medium-full with very good concentration. Long finish with persistent fruit. Youthful tannins and balanced acidity. Bottled in May, 2003. Drink over the next 7-10 years. ($65) ****

Stefano Accordini 1997 "Il Fornetto"
This is a special bottling of Amarone that Stefano Accordini produces only in the finest years. Deep ruby red with an expressive aroma of coffee, chocolate, cherry, nutmeg, sage and oak. Full-bodied with outstanding concentration! Intense but quite elegant. Rich, layered fruit with perfect tannins and balanced acidity. This is a mouthful of wine that has tremendous depth of fruit as well as power- it is everything you could want in an Amarone! A great wine, this is one of the finest Amarones I have ever tasted. This was one of the five best Italian red wines I tasted all last year!. Drink over the next 10-12 years. (US price not available - price at the winery 60 Euros) *****

RATINGS

***** Outstanding
**** Excellent
*** Very Good

March 2004

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