According to his legend, Amarone was “discovered” in the cellars of Villa Mosconi Bertani, then the headquarters of the Cooperative Winery of Negrar. The villa was built in the 1700s in neoclassic style, in the center of a beautiful valley covered by vineyards on the eastern side of Valpolicella Classica.
Today Villa Mosconi-Bertani continues to be a winery. In its grand cellars Amarone was born by chance in 1936. In those years the best product of Valpolicella was Recioto, a sweet wine made from semi-dried grapes that is still produced today.
Cellar master discovered a barrel of Recioto he had forgotten in a corner of the cellar. He feared that the sugars had all turned into alcohol, and that the wine had become dry, bitter and basically undrinkable. He tasted it and to his surprise he immediately realized that the wine had become dry indeed, but that it was also extremely pleasant.
The first bottles with the name Amarone on the label appeared few years later, in 1939. The very first bottle is on display at the cooperative winery Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar. In 1953 started the production on a regular basis.
Natural sweet wines like Recioto are obtained by artificially stopping the action of yeasts during fermentation, so that not all the sugars inside the must are transformed into alcohol. Today, with modern winemaking techniques and tools, this is easily achieved, but in the past the action of the enzymes was not always properly stopped. It was not uncommon for a sweet wine, stored inside a not perfectly sealed cask, to continue to slowly ferment so that all the sugars contained in it were transformed into alcohol. The result must have been rather disappointing for the winemakers of the past who, expecting a sweet nectar, ended up with a very dry wine, which in contrast to their expectations felt bitter on the palate. Such a “bitter” wine in a world where sweet wines were appreciated did not have much market, and it was sold for cheap, given to servants or used for cooking.
Consumer tastes change with time and gradually, towards the end of the 19th century, dry wines began to spread, and what was previously considered a mistake, gradually began to be produced intentionally. At the beginning on the labels the indication was Recioto Amaro (Bitter Recioto), then came Recioto Amarone. And it was only in 1990 that Amarone finally gained its independence from Recioto and got its own identity on the label. Since then Amarone has continued to increase in popularity, becoming one of the most famous and appreciated wines not only in Italy but all over the world.
Since the 2010 vintage, Amarone has obtained the DOCG certification, the highest mark of control and quality for Italian wines. The full name is “Amarone della Valpolicella” which is to all intents and purposes a registered trademark protected by international laws. In order to use the “Amarone della Valpolicella” denomination on the label, a winery, in addition to having the vineyards within the boundaries of the area designated for the production of Valpolicella, must follow a series of very specific minimum quality parameters that establish every single aspect of production: from the type of vine, the duration of the drying of the grapes, the aging time, etc..
When talking about Valpolicella, however, there is something to be said. It is not a particularly vast territory, however it is divided in some subareas according to the wine production. One of them, the most ancient one of all, is called Valpolicella Classica. This is an area where wine making tradition has its roots in a remote past.
This area includes the five historical communes which first started the production of wine: Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and San Pietro in Cariano as well as the three valleys of Fumane, Marano and Negrar. Products of this area, in the label, are labeled as “Classico” (such as Valpolicella Classico).
When the demand for Valpolicella wines started to increase around the end of the ’60s, especially because of foreign demand, it was decided to expand the production area to supply the increasing requests and to crate the area called Valpolicella Allargata. Going eastwards from Verona, the enlarged area consists of the valleys of Valpantena, Mizzole, Marcellise, Mezzane and Illasi.
Although initially the wines from Valpolicella Classica were considered better than those from Valpolicella Allargata, in fact this region has always had its own history and independent dignity when it comes to wine making.
Today, the quality of the wines of Valpolicella Allargata is in every way comparable to those of Valpolicella Classica, and the only difference is in the name.
Amarone della Valpolicella is made with local grapes Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella (and often also with addition small amounts of other red not aromatic varieties recommended or authorized for the province of Verona) generally picked (barring anomalous weather conditions) between the last ten days of September and the first week of October. In order to successfully complete the critical phase of "appassimento" (drying process), the fruit must be fully ripe and in perfect condition, therefore the fruit selection in the vineyard is very accurate. Once picked , the grapes are laid out carefully in a single layers, to allow air to circulate around the bunches, in either wooden trays or on bamboo cane mats and placed in special drying rooms.
The grapes remain in the drying rooms for three to four months. During this period their condition is continually monitored: any infected grapes are removed immediately. Meanwhile many changes take place inside the grapes: a reduction in the level of acidity, loss of water, concentration of many substances (sugars, polyphenols), a significant increase in the amounts of glycerine and other components.
Once the period of drying is completed, the grapes are crushed. In Valpolicella, today two approaches to vinification exist side by side. The more traditional one involves long fermentation at the low natural cellar temperatures of January and February and a period of maceration which may last several months. In the more modern approach, wines are vinified in multi-functional vats which allow the producer to control temperatures, break up the cap and stir the skins in the must with the overall objective to making a softer style of Amarone with distinctive fruit character, which can be enjoyed after a shorter period of aging. Whatever the style of vinification, Amarone undergoes a period of a natural aging in wood which may be in larger Slavonian oak barrels, or in the French barriques.
Amarone is a full-body red wine with a big structure and high alcohol content that nowadays easily exceeds 15%. Expect bold aromas of cherry liqueur, black fig, carob, cinnamon, and plum sauce along with subtle notes of green peppercorn, chocolate, and crushed gravel dust.
On the palate, Amarone wines often have medium-plus to high acidity balanced with high alcohol and flavors of black cherry, brown sugar, and chocolate. The older the wine, the more it will offer flavors of brown sugar, molasses, and fig.
The scent of Amarone is of an incredible aromatic complexity, there are no words to explain the sensations that it gives the palate, they are so unique and extraordinary, it is absolutely essential to experiment them.
When it comes to food matching, the same rules used for this type of important red wines apply: stew, braised meat, game, red meats with rich gravy, mature, tasty cheese.
However, unlike prestigious wines made with Cabernet, Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, what makes Amarone so unique, is its great and very typical softness and roundness since a young age. Thanks to the particular drying process, and the long aging in barrel, Amarone is normally ready to drink few months after bottling. It generally doesn’t need long years of bottle-aging to tame rough and sharp tannins.
Amarone is also among the wines that can age longer in the bottle. Any Amarone, from the moment it is bottled and put on the market, can easily remain in the cellar for 10-15 years. Particularly favorable vintages from wineries that make long aging in large casks, can easily age for 20-25 years. This, of course, provided that the storage conditions are correct.
Tasting Amarone is a fascinating experience. You’ll want to be sure and decant the wine and serve it in oversized glasses to collect its aromas. Younger wines can typically be served just below room temperature and older wines slightly cooler.