Vail Masterful Picks: Amarone is the king of Valpolicella
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Less than 30 minutes north of Verona, Italy are the beautiful hills that encompass the country’s famous vineyards of Amarone dell Valpolicella, simply called Amarone.
The Classico region of Valpolicella is characterized by soft undulating hills that stretch like fingers from the Lessini Mountains in the north. The countryside is dotted with vines, olive and cherry trees, and is punctuated by small rural villages.
Recognition that Amarone is the king of Valpolicella wines was recently validated when it was awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest rating for quality wines. The primary grape of Amarone is Corvina, a grape that is highly dependent on yield in determining quality. This red grape is typically blended with smaller amounts of Rondinella and Molinara.
The grapes for Amarone are picked and either laid out on mats in drying lodges or left in shallow bins and placed in special chambers to dry until sometime between December and March following the fall harvest. This process concentrates sugars and flavor, while metabolizing some of the acids and building softer tannin molecules in the skins which creates rich, intense, balanced wines – a process known as apassimmento.
After the grapes have been raisined, they are crushed and fermented dry. If the fermentation is stopped prior to all the sugar’s conversion to alcohol, then the wines will be sweet and can be sold as Recioto della Valpolicella, the region’s superb dessert wine.
A key factor in the determination of quality of Amarone is the vineyard location. There is a broad consensus that the best vineyards are the valley hillsides to the north. There, limestone pebbles compose the soil of the largely Classico designated landscape – Classico refers to the fact that these vineyards were historically the most significant of the region.
The vineyards on the plains below are more likely to use irrigation and yields tend to be higher – translating to less concentrated, less intense grapes. Some producers, such as Dal Forno, are making outstanding wines from vineyards in alternate valleys not located in the Classico zone.
Amarone wines carry a dark crimson color, with aromas and flavors of black cherries, chocolate and a slight marzipan-like note of crushed almonds; they are traditionally paired with full-flavored red meat dishes, roasted game and mature cheeses.
Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He is one of 170 people worldwide to have completed the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam and the only person in the Vail Valley that holds the distinguished certification.