“When the moon hits your eye”
“like a big pizza pie, that’s amore”
“When the wine is so good”
“and pairs with most foods, that’s Amarone…”
Actually Amarone’s roots start with the simple wine, Valpolicella. Situated in the Verona region
of Italy, Valpolicella starts with three grape varietals; Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and
Molinara. Though it’s not considered a wine of distinction, Valpolicella is Italy’s second largest
exported wine right behind Chianti. This easy drinking red wine that’s usually seen as Bolla
Valpolicella or Allegrini Valpolicella is the perfect red table wine for your own version of
Bolognese or Marinara sauce with pasta.
Not Just Grand Canals
Along with the picturesque grand canals of Venice and beautiful Venetian glass, this tourist
destination is also home to the Veneto wine region. This region produces the easy drinking
white wine, Soave and the equally subtle reds, Valpolicella and Bardolino. You may have tried a
bottle or two of these food friendly, blended red wines as they are mass produced by that Italian
conglomerate, Bolla wines. Affordable, food friendly wines that are available at most
supermarkets. However there is a vast supply of Veneto wines beyond Bolla.
Starting with the Basics
As mentioned, Valpolicella (and Bardolino) wines are a blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella
and Molinara grapes. The Corvina Veronese is the backbone of Valpolicella mainly due to it’s
hardiness in volcanic soils and it brings cherry, almond, spice and acidity to the party. Rondinella
is mainly the party crasher that complements the qualities of Corvina Veronese but would never
be able to stand alone as a single varietal wine. The Molinara brings enough acid to fortify the
body of Valpolicella, more than Corvina and enough to make up for what Rondinella lacks.
Alone, each grape would probably make a poor wine but combined, they produce a good red
table wine perfect for your everyday Bolognese sauces or roasted white meats. And all for less
than $20 a bottle… mostly.
For the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
The top level wines of the Veneto region actually aren’t limited to the upper echelon of wage
earners. Amarone or the Queen of the Veneto region is made with the same grapes as their
common cousin, Valpolicella. The difference lies in location. As your real estate agent would
say; location, location, location. The grapes that produce Amarone usually originate from
Southern facing vines so each grape cluster receives more afternoon sun and thus has a chance
for full ripening. Of course, location doesn’t explain all. The best condo in the Tenderloin with
southern exposure probably still costs less than the worst condo in the Marina with northern
exposure. After ripening as much as possible, these harvested grape clusters are then are laid on
straw mats to dry for weeks… or even months before being pressed. These fully ripe, partially
dried raisins have then concentrated their flavors logarithmically to produce that luscious wine
known as Amarone.
As the story goes, Amarone was produced by accident years ago. The original intended product
was Recioto della Valipolicella which is a luscious sweet dessert wine made from aforementioned
dried grapes. Supposedly the winemaker left a batch to ferment too long and it produced a
totally dry wine with slightly bitter – or amaro – qualities from the bitter almond flavor of the
Corvina Veronese. Hence, the dry dried grape Valpolicella wine or Amarone was born.
Whether your tastes prefer dry (Amarone) or sweet (Recioto della Valpolicella) wines, these
wines do cost a little more than basic Valpolicella wines. They start at $50 and rapidly progress
all the way up to Guiseppe Quintarelli’s wines which are pretty much limited to the Lifestyles of
the Rich and Famous.
Amarone has a concentrated mouth feel with red, raisiny fruit and lots of spice. It stands up to
the heartiest of meat based pasta sauces and stews. I find that the spiciness also complements
Middle Eastern dishes that are flavored with cinnamon, coriander, cumin and fresh herbs.
The Happy Medium
Between the basic Valpolicella and luscious Amarone are the Ripassa wines of the Veneto region.
Basically, someone in the Veneto region had the foresight to say, “Hmm, we spent more time
ripening the grapes that make Amarone and spent months drying them. What a waste to press
the grapes and discard the remaining grape flesh”. Thus was born Ripassa or that bridge between
simple Valpolicella and luscious Amarone. What the vintner does to make Ripassa is let the basic
Valpolicella juice soak in the expended Amarone grape flesh – which still contains a lot of flavor
compounds – then ferment said juice to produce Ripassa. Or Valpolicella juice that has been
“passed through” Amarone grape flesh, skins and residue – Re-passed or Ripassa – to gain an
additional level of complexity not attained with the initial production of Valpolicella. And
Ripassa is usually closer in price to Valpolicella than Amarone.
Where to Start?
I recommend first purchasing a bottle of both a basic Valpolicella and a bottle of Ripassa for
comparison’s sake. The cost difference isn’t that much though you probably have to peruse your
local wine shop for a bottle of Ripassa. Try them side by side with roasted pork loin or roast
chicken. You’ll probably notice that the Ripassa can handle heartier dishes – even up to a beef
Carpaccio. Then after setting aside some dinero (skip that Starbucks mochalatta for 3 or 4
weeks), look for a mid level Amarone. This concentrated bad boy with its raisin, concentrated
red fruit and tons of spice – allspice, anise, hints of cinnamon and ripe fruit – can pair with the
heartiest of beef stews or Middle Eastern dishes. It also ages well so don’t feel compelled to drink
your Amarone stash immediately. Of course, if you do feel compelled, I can be reached at…
Queen of Dried Wines