Amarone della Valpolicella is a style of red wine produced in the Valpolicella area of the Veneto in northeastern Italy, just outside a gem of a city in northeastern Italy, Verona.
Yes, the city of Shakespeare’s two gentlemen and Romeo and Juliette; it’s also home to a medieval center, as well as one of the most untouched Roman amphitheaters in the world, where concerts and events are still held. Verona is about 90 minutes due west of Venice by car.
Amarone is an Italian wine treasure loved by wine drinkers looking for ripe fruit, power, roundness and a sense of adventure in their red wine. Yet, despite being one of Italy’s most symbolic wines it is little understood and often much under-appreciated.
Many wine lovers know of Amarone, though relatively few are personal admirers. That’s because most of us drink wines in the sub-$20 range–and there are some wonderful choices in that price range. However, every now and then, you want a wine in a higher price range that is worth the cost. Amarone is one of these wines—easily worth the minimum $50-$60 bottle price. While some wine prices are artificially inflated, there’s a practical explanation as to why Amarone is one of Italy’s top red wines.
Key to Amarone’s uniqueness are the indigenous grape varieties from the region. Known for it’s deep intense dried fruit flavors, slight hints of sweetness, dark cherry and raisins, made primarily of Corvina (between 60 to 80%)—which provides backbone, structure, body and acidity. It is then blended, typically with Rondinella and Molinara. Other indigenous varieties such as Corvinone and the lesser-known Oseleta—are all important ingredients in the final mix, each adding its own special flavors and dimension to the wines.
No Italian wine is more distinctive than Amarone della Valpolicella, and few are as precious, because of the time, the labor and materials required to craft every bottle. Most winemakers vinify approximately two-and-a-quarter pounds of grapes to produce one bottle of wine, while a winemaker of Amarone will require 23 pounds for each bottle.
The traditional process to make this rich wine requires drying out 30-40% of the grapes on straw mats for about 120 days. All of the grapes must dehydrate into raisins before vinification truly begins. Next, the grapes are pressed, fermented, barrel aged, then rest in the bottles until released around four years after harvest.
Amarone comes from the word amaro which means “bitter” in Italian and most have a tartness or slightly astringent edge to them. At times, you may notice a sweet edge from the concentrated sugars the grapes pick up during the drying process. While diversity exists, the wines are typically dry, fresh, full-bodied and complex, with great depth and flavor concentration.
Amarone is a big wine, high in alcohol, with intense aromatics that range from resin and dried prunes to cherry cola. On the palate, the flavors can range from dark berry, cherry and plum fruits, to licorice, coffee and chocolate. It is rich and powerful with high levels of tannin seamlessly integrated with the fruit. Despite having alcohol levels between 15% and 16%, these powerful wines are extremely balanced and elegant. Certainly, the combination of raisiny and sweet black fruit can make Amarone an irresistible temptation.
Delicious with red meats, heavy pasta dishes, and strong cheeses, it’s perfect for a cold winter evening in front of a fire. But, then again, it may be the singularity of this wine showing its very clearly defined unique personality and sense of place that makes it such a favorite.
A terrific food wine, exhibiting a wide variety of flavors, it pairs well with a wide variety—from traditional dishes of the Veneto to more modern Asian fusion. It especially pairs well with savory dishes. Depending upon the style, aromas and flavors may include cherries, plums, raisins, dried figs, smoke, nuts, bittersweet chocolate, coffee, tar, tobacco and earth.
In pairing it with food, it is important to keep in mind the different styles of Amarone, the two main ones being traditional and modern.
The robust, sometimes oxidized character of the traditional style Amarones make them especially well-suited for pairing with game, steaks, stews and ribs. These wines are complex, earthy, and ripe, revealing aromas and flavors of dried black cherry and plum. There is a sense of terroir and prominent dried fruit characteristics. Older vintages reveal oxidized notes of caramel. While the wines receive extensive barrel aging, they generally do not reveal oak aromas or flavors. They are relatively high in alcohol (16-17%), their tannins are usually unresolved and require additional years of aging. These wines are made for long aging.
The red fruit intensity and softer tannins of modern style Amarones mean they pair well with pork, veal, and poultry dishes. Modern style wines are ripe tasting but offer more fresh fruit notes and in some instances, have a more outstanding balance and elegance than the traditional styles of Amarone. Their aromas combine dried fruit and toasted oak with some hints of vanilla and or coconut. Modern style Amarones exhibit high alcohol levels like the traditional wines, but can also reveal bold concentrated flavors extracted from long maceration periods and hints of sweetness from residual sugar and alcohol. They also exhibit a soft texture, silky fine-grained tannins and a persistent finish.
A selection of six Amarones for cold winter nights
San Rustico Amarone della Valpolicella Vigneti del Gaso 2006
This wine was selected as one of Wine Enthusiast’s TOP 100 WINES for 2015. It’s easy to see why. This 93-point blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone is etheral. It offers up scents of almond and cherry. The flavors are typicaly bitteryet, soft and velvety. A full-bodied wine, it is an ideal wine to be savored in front of a warm fire, preferably in large balloon glasses and uncork a few hours before.
Tezza Amarone della Valpolicella Corte Majoli 2011
Distinctly rich, this red wine is like no other in the world: high in alcohol, with intense flavors and aromatics, the beauty of Amarone is found in the painstaking effort that goes into producing each bottle. This balanced and elegant full-bodied deep ruby red wine oozes with vibrant fragrances of currants, blackberries, dark cherries, prune, spice, cola and Spanish cedar. There are also clean notes of sweet almonds and vanilla. Warm and rich, with polished silky tannins and a long finish BN#578983
Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2011
Made from 75% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% Molinara, the bouquet of Cesari’s flagship wine is marked by cherry and prune aromas and jammy notes. Toasted nuances and hints of vanilla follow in this full, warm, harmonious red. A long and persistent finish is defined by bold tannins that elegantly coat the palate. Produced from dried grapes cultivated in the historic Classico area of the appellation, Cesari Amarone is extensively aged in a combination of French and Slavonian oak barrels for a total of 3 years following fermentation in stainless steel tanks.
Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Il Bosco 2009
A single-vineyard Amarone, the Il Bosco vineyard is nestled in the heart of Valpolicella Classico. Made from 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella, the wine is rich with concentrated flavors of preserved fruit, particularly cherries. Aged in a combination of French and Slavonian oak barrels for 2+ years then bottle for an additional year or so, the bouquet is layered with hints of baking spices, cocoa, and toasted nuts through the long finish. A unique and complex production process renders a wine with similar characteristics. Hand-selected grapes are dried prior to vinification in stainless steel tanks. A solid amarone. Lots of dried fruits, raisins & shoe leather.
Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012
Deep ruby red blend of 50% Corvina Veronese, 15% Corvinone, 30% Rondinella and 5% Oseleta.
Warm, ripe on the nose, intense and refined. This complex, smooth, full-bodied wine offers up flavors full of cherry and plum.Serve on special occasions or sip it as an ideal companion to enjoyable conversation.
Terre Antiche Amarone Della Valpolicella 2012
A killer value from an under-the-radar producer. This wine is an intense, deep garnet red color. Complex aromas of spiced plums, cherry and a hint of raspberry. Soft, velvety, yet full-bodied with a lingering aftertaste. Excellent with most red meats, game, and with hard-textured, mature cheese.BN#575971
All Amarones work well with big flavored cheeses. Try Parmigiano Reggiano, Cimbro, Monte Veronese Ubriaco, and Pecorino Vecchio. Also, try aged Gouda and blue cheeses like Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort and Danish Blue. Simply out, Amarone is a robust wine that is perfect with heartier meals fare over the course of 7 to 15 years.