Wine Words: Amarone

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Amarone is a special style of red wine produced in — and only in — the Valpolicello area of the Veneto in northeastern Italy. Do you know how Amarone is made? And how it differs from regular red wines?

The Production of Amarone Wine

The Grapes: Amarone wines are made from a blend of grapes indigenous to the Valpolicello region. They are Corvino, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara and the lesser-known Oseleta. Corvino is the dominant grape, providing backbone, structure, body and acidity.

Selection and Drying: ‘Selection’ and ‘drying’ are two key words in the production of Amarone wine. Amarone wines are made from carefully selected bunches of the best grapes.

They differ from regular red wine in that the grapes are dried (or dehydrated) before fermentation. Traditionally the grapes were dried on wooden racks at ambient temperatures. Today many producers use special temperature and humidity-controlled rooms for the ‘drying’ stage to ensure that mold does not attack the grapes.

This drying process, which lasts between three and four months, is critical to the unique character of Amarone. As the grapes shrivel, sugars, acids, tannins, flavors, extract and other grape compounds concentrate. Additionally various reactions occur within the grapes themselves creating even more complexity.

Once dried the grapes are crushed and then fermented until dry. Most wines undergo an extended maceration on the skins, just to make sure that all of the complexities and goodness from the shriveled skins end up in the wine.

Maturation: Once the wine is racked off the skins, it is matured in oak barrel for at least two years for the ‘normale’ Amarone version and four years for the Riserva.

The Taste of Amarone: Amarone wines are dry, full-bodied, powerful and complex with lots of extract, high alcohol (15-16%) and great depth of flavor. They have excellent aging potential, and really only come into their own after about ten years.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L’Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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