Amarone della Valpolicella: inside one of Italy’s most distinctive red wines

Amarone della Valpolicella is a charming, heavyweight dry red wine of immediate pleasantness produced in Verona, located along the Adige river in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy. If literally translated, Amarone is conveyed as very or great bitter (wine). Interestingly enough, Amarone wine was first produced by mistake. And it all started with Recioto, an intensely flavoured, sweet red wine – made from dried (also known as passito) grapes – nowadays considered to be the ancestor of Amarone.

One may wonder how a beautiful dry red can result from a sweet wine and, on top of that, all by accident. There are many stories around how Amarone della Valpolicella was firstly produced. One well-known story is that after the Second World War, some wine producers in the Valpolicella area had, for obvious reasons, disregarded several Recioto bottles in their cellars. Consequently, these bottles fermented and aged much longer than they should have done. It was a sort of double fermentation which made the wine go rather bitter compared to what one would have expected the Amarone’s counterpart to be. Indeed, most of these bottles had been thrown away as the very final result was thought to be very disappointing and certainly rather bitter compared to the sweetness of the Recioto. Undeniably, the wine makers at the time would have expected a sweeter nectar, but ended up having a very dry, almost bitter wine instead. Even if a very pleasant and surprising one and all by accident!

The chemical explanation to this transformation is that sweet wines are made by halting their fermentation at a certain precise stage. This way some of the sugars are stopped from turning into alcohol by the activity of the yeasts. Since the Recioto wine was accidentally allowed to ferment a bit too much, it lost its sweetness and was aged to dryness instead.

Amarone is a blend of Corvina and Corvinone grapes but there are also other additional varieties such as Negrara, Molinara, Rondinella, Dindarella, Oseleta, Corbina, and Spigamonte that are blended to make this full flavour, full-bodied, intense and elegant Amarone della Valpolicella.

Today the Amarone wine is one of the most prestigious wines of Italy and it is appreciated all over the world by the most demanding consumers. It is awarded the certification of Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin (DOCG) which certifies the quality and the undisputed value of such a wine.

Moreover, Amarone is one of the most exported red Italian wines and this is pretty surprising considering that the Amarone wine was not commercialised until the late 50’s. Conversely, Amarone continued to gain international recognition over the years and its distinguished and elegant flavour earned this wine a reputation as one of Italy’s signature red wines. Moreover, the success of Amarone is not just to be found around the world as it is also extremely popular among Italian wine consumers. This said, 80% of its production does go abroad, where the Amarone wine is very appreciated, particularly in Scandinavia, Germany, the U.S., Switzerland and Canada. Apparently, its popularity abroad is to do with its own very simplicity that, at the same time, is enhanced by its rich, full-bodied cherry notes and well-rounded tannins resulting in a round wine with a strong personality.

One curious and interesting fact about Amarone della Valpolicella is that once the wine is put in oak barrels for fermentation, the semi-dried skins of Amarone – together with other grapes used for the Valpolicella Classico wine – are “infused” to make another even richer wine, namely Ripasso (which, if literally translated, conveys as “to go over again” or “revision”). Essentially, fresh Valpolicella Classico wine is poured in fermentation tanks together with the semi-dried grapes that had been used for the production of Amarone. This goes to show that nothing is wasted in wine making.