It is not hard to love Amarone. The luscious liquid, hailing from the area around Verona in Italy, seduces you from the moment it touches your lips. It may play hard to get just before that, as the aromas might need some time to release, but when it opens up, it makes you lose yourself in its passionate embrace.
OK, that may be a self-serving metaphor, but as you will see below, with the alcohol content easily exceeding 15% and such concentrated flavours, it is not much of an exaggeration. Such in-your-face strength and intensity are the result of a great idea someone had, but I am getting ahead of myself. First things first.
To start with, Amarone (full name Amarone della Valpolicella) is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and some other indigenous Italian grapes, as approved by its DOCG laws, which I briefly introduced to you here. But it is not the complexity of what these grape varietals bring that makes Amarone the powerhouse that it is. It is an extra (longish) step that is added to the wine making process.
In general, stronger (in alcohol) wine comes from sweeter grapes. Intensity naturally varies from one grape varietal to another, and its concentration can be influenced by altering how long grape skins stay in the extracted juice, and through the rest of the fermentation process.
But, someone had another idea about how to emphasize the two – and Amarone was born. It all starts way before the wine making process begins. After the grapes are picked at full ripeness they are left to dry, in the past on straw mats and today in drying chambers, for about 4 months. The process raisins the grapes by reducing the water in the berries and concentrating the sugars and flavours before the grapes are crushed.
As you can imagine, this is a labour intensive process that by its nature produces much less wine than would otherwise be had. Amarone’s prices reflect that, landing most frequently in the $30 to $60 range, with some going north of $400 at the LCBO Vintages. It is a treat, but well worth it. So, when my business partner and I were organizing our 6-month strategy planning retreat recently, we chose to add something special to it, by treating ourselves to a bottle of Amarone*.
We chose the 2012 Villa Annaberta Amarone della Valpolicella. Dark deep ruby-red nectar treated us with aromas of dark fruits, ripe figs, white pepper and a hint of fine leather. A big and pleasant surprise came about 20 minutes or so after being poured, when the wine opened and came to its full force (decanting would be highly recommended!). Enhanced aromas were disarming in their intensity and seductiveness, followed by the matching flavours of dark cherries, spice, dark chocolate and smooth, silky tannins, with a long memorable finish.
Being so full bodied and flavourful, it was still well balanced, and went remarkably well with rich Italian dishes of grilled Italian sausage with sweet bell peppers, onions and mushrooms with penne; veal scaloppini with cremini mushrooms and linguine in a spicy tomato sauce; and grilled strip loin with sautéed mushrooms accompanied with Brussels sprouts and potatoes.
* We also went to La Roma, a restaurant that has a Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW) option, with a $20 corkage fee.