After listening to Pavarotti and glorying in the silky tones of ‘Nessun Dorma’, I was reminded recently of bitter memories of England’s footballers at the 1990 world cup. So it is with my wine style of the month, Amarone, which is Italian for impressive bitterness. Again I am prevented from giving you ‘real’ tasting notes thanks to the Covid lockdown restrictions, so I acknowledge with thanks the below notes.
The Corvina grapes are the backbone varietal for the Northern Italian wine blend Valpolicella, with Rondinella and Molinara added to make that dark-cherry coloured wine. Now it was noticed that by leaving the picked grapes to partially raisin in the sun, a richness and fullness was added to the wine and the style was called ‘recioto’, after ‘orrechio’ the Italian for ear, because originally only the riper upper lobes of the bunch, which apparently looked like ears, were selected. Only later were whole bunches used for drying, but the auricular term had caught on by then; Recioto della Valpolicella added sweetness and body to Valpolicella and this improved port-like style caught on.
Now yeast cells cannot ferment grape sugar to alcohol when the alcohol concentration rises above 15.5%. In some fermentations, regarded then as faulty, the amount of yeast added to grape ‘must’ would consume all of the extra concentration of sugar formed by the drying process (or ‘appassimento’), before the extra alcohol had switched off the fermentation. Thus the residual sugar concentration would reduce, the wine would appear to lose its sweetness and become drier in style. This was called ‘recioto scapata’ or ‘ear-like one which had escaped’. As fashions changed the new drier, bitter-sweet style was preferred, and perfected to chocolatey goodness with barrel ageing. It was called Amarone and went on to make millions.
My choice of wines are all dry style Amarones, from the hills near Verona; the wider region of Valpolicella, the upgraded Valpantena area, and finally the highest quality central ‘classico’ region, since the 2010 vintage, all part of the Valpolicella della Amarone DOCG appellation. The more complicated manufacture using the appassimento process does push up the price, so these are necessarily special wines for special occasions.
First up at entry level is Rocca Alata Amarone Della Valpolicella at £15 from Tesco, ‘a very intense wine, it releases rich aromas of ripe cherry and wild red berry, concluding on a note of luscious chocolate’ to get you in the mood – thanks to Messrs. Kiem and Staffler at Falstaff Magazine (translated from German). My next choice is a step up in quality: M&S’s Cantina Valpantena at £18, and thanks to Wine Enthusiast magazine ‘here's a fresh and slightly rustic Amarone with earthy notes of tobacco and used leather set behind tones of dried flower and candied blueberry’, a bitter-sweet message – oh Gascoigne, oh missed penalties!
Finally my best value aspirational wine, (and there are wines that are considerably more expensive), is Masi Amarone Classico 'Costasera' 2015, at £33 per bottle when buying six bottles from Majestic, or £37 per bottle. Messrs. Kiem and Staffler again excel themselves: ‘Filigree-elegant nose after ripe forest berries, chocolate, in reverberation slightly after cigar box. On the palate, the sweet enamel towers, build up wide and in many layers, elegant, in the second part always juicy and balanced, wonderfully harmonious until the long finale’. A lot to distract you here, but with a nice glass of red to hand, you won’t need to mind. Just drink and think of Pavarotti and drink a health to our gallant footballing heroes. Cheers!
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.