However, you tend to know it when the time for Amarone arises; in fact, you crave it. When I think of Amarone, I think of a mix of sweet and savory, often seductive aromas, met by textures on the palate, which lull you into a submissive state as dark, luxurious fruits, spices and even confectionary elements are balanced by a bitterness that is the calling card of a great Amarone. Acidity is also a key component. I think of experiences with Quintarelli, known as ‘The Master of the Veneto,” and how fresh and vibrant they were, even with their lush, nearly dessert-like aromas and flavors. However, don’t think sweet when you think of Amarone, as the word Amarone itself translates to “the Great Bitter.”
This can also lead to another issue, as many people struggle with pairing Amarone with food. However, it’s really not as hard as it seems. The first thing to understand is that there are two distinct styles of Amarone–the rich and confectionary versus the rich and savory—and knowing the producer and the style will lead to repeated success at the dinner table. While the confectionary (don’t mistake this for sweet) style often confuses cooks and does better at the end of a meal by itself, or with a pungent cheese or dried fruits, the savory style can be compared more to a powerful Cabernet but with more bitterness, spice and unbelievably weighty textures. Steak is an obvious choice, yet all forms of red meat stews, roasts and braises pair well, as does anything charred on the grill or with a powerful sauce.
The producer is without a doubt the most important part to finding a great Amarone because it’s a wine which is made less in the vineyard and more by the hand of man. This is not to say that the raw materials don’t matter; they absolutely do. However, it’s through the process of Recieto or Appassimento where the harvested grapes are left to dry for months before being pressed, raising sugar (hence alcohol) levels, which lends these wines their haunting layers of depth, texture, complexity and the ability to age. Without it, you would have a Valpolicella, which is a fantastic wine of vibrancy and early drinking appeal, but nothing like Amarone.
Unfortunately, this same process allows some winemakers to produce an Amarone made from inferior grapes, while using appassimento as makeup on an otherwise uninspiring wine. In the end, the proof is in the bottle, but the sad part is that there’s a large ocean of substandard Amarone out there, and I believe this has a lot to do with its lack of popularity.
In the end, Amarone is worth the hunt, and the time it takes to understand it. It’s a truly unique wine which will thrill the Italophile as well as the lover of powerful wines from around the world, and although it’s not for every meal, when the time is right there is nothing quite like it on earth. A “good” Amarone is a moving experience; a “great” Amarone may just change the way you think about wine.
The following were all showstoppers from recent tastings:
Allegrini is the perfect example of the rich and savory side of Amarone. Not only are they amazing upon release, they also age effortlessly. The pairing possibilities are nearly endless here.
2009 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was, all at once, sweet, savory and earthy, showing dried cherry, dusty spice dark chocolate, floral undergrowth and hints of green stems. On the palate, it was dense with velvety textures, as bitter cherry and dark, dark chocolate notes saturated the senses, yet remained balanced throughout. The finish was dark with a hint of heat, bitter chocolate and rosy floral perfumes. (92 points)
2000 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – This displayed an impenetrable dark burgundy color in the glass with remarkable intensity on the nose, as it swung from savory to sweet and back again. Intensely ripe black cherry and sweet spice were contrasted by grilled herbs, leather, cooked plum and crushed tomato. I found weighty, velvety textures complemented by brisk acidity on the palate, along with rich savory cherry sauce, baker’s chocolate, spice and sweet herbs. It finished elegant and still slightly firm, leading me to believe this will continue to age well for a decade or more. (93 points)
Marion and Quinatarelli manage to walk the line between the sweet and savory side of Amarone, and the results are elegant; ethereal wines which resonate on the palate with exotic fruit and spice. These are often enjoyed best on their own, simply so you can give them your full attention, which they deserve. It’s also important to note that Quinaterlli is aged for no less than seven years and sometimes even longer before release.
2010 Marion Amarone della Valpolicella – The bouquet seemed to leap from the glass with beautiful floral tones, sweet spice, ripe cherry, dusty soil, and a hint of charred meat. On the palate, it was rich, showing impeccable balance with flavors of ripe black cherry, sweet spice, tobacco and licorice, yet juicy and vibrant throughout. The finish was long with spiced dark fruits and a contrasting bitter note. This is a tremendous wine. (95 points) Morrell
1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – It is always a treat to taste Quinartelli Amarone. The nose showed dusty dried flowers and powdered cocoa, eucalyptus and preserved cherries with a slightly smoky hint to it, spice box and molasses. It was finessed, yet intense on the palate with a smooth consistency and weight, as notes of candied cherry, rum raisin and cardamom coated the senses. The finish lingered for over a minute with notes of cherry, fig and spice. (96 points)
The Tommasi is a perfect example of the rich and confectionary style, perfect with a ripe blue cheese.
2010 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was confectionary, showing plum, black cherry, medicinal herbs and bitter molasses. On the palate, it was soft with velvety textures as sweet dark fruit covered the palate with dark chocolate and holiday spice. The finish showed medicinal cherry, which lingered long with a touch of liquor. (92 Points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido