Amarone Buying Guide:

Learn about this delicious, dry red wine from Italy –

Amarone is essentially a modern-day update on a traditional wine made for centuries from dried grapes in the area around Verona in Italy’s Veneto region — Recio

to della Valpolicella. Whereas recioto is quite sweet, however, thanks to a substantial amount of residual sugar, amarone is fermented to complete dryness.

Like the dry red table wines from the Veneto’s Valpolicella region, both amarone and recioto are made from a blend dominated by corvina (sometimes using the bigger berry version, corvinone), along with the aromatic rondinella and, in decreasing use, the high-acid molinara. Other red grapes may also be used in small amounts, making up to 15 percent of the blend.

The grapes for amarone are harvested when ripe in mid-October and then allowed to dry, a process termed “appassimento” in Italian. This drying process typically lasts three to four months, concentrating the grapes’ sugars and reducing their weight by 40 to 50 percent. As a result, it takes over twice as many dried grapes to make a bottle of amarone as it does a regular bottle of red wine. The dried grapes are then crushed and go through fermentation that turns the grapes’ sugar into alcohol, aided by special yeasts that continue to ferment even when the alcohol levels exceed those that usually kill off standard yeasts. The resulting wines, which generally exceed 14 percent alcohol, are then aged in large barrels and/or barriques.

The first amarone was created in 1938. The story goes that its creation was accidental — a recioto continued to ferment until it came out dry. Whether that’s true or not, little of it was made or sold until the mid-1950s. Fermentations used to be quite lengthy, often resulting in wines with high volatile acidity and oxidation. Improved drying methods and specialized yeasts have led to shorter fermentations, preserving more of the fruit flavors and minimizing VA. Amarone della Valpolicella was recognized with Italy’s highest designation, DOCG status, in 2009.

What to expect: Amarone

Amarones are rich, dense and powerful wines with firm tannins. They offer complex aromas of dried cherry, black fruit, tar, anise, herbs and powdered chocolate. With age, they add leather and tobacco dimensions. On the palate, they are rich and dense, showing similar flavors with long finishes.

Amarones are terrific with braised and roasted meats and all dishes with rich meat sauces. Stews and roasted game can also be wonderful with these wines. Pasta with wild boar sauce is a natural. Tomato and truffle sauces also pair well. Of course, Amarone pairs to perfection with Venetian dishes, like risotto all’amarone and brasato all’amarone. Amarone also stands up well to aged cheeses—think mature Gruyere or aged Pecorino Romano.

All of the following delicious Amarones can be found for $100 or less (which means I’m leaving out exceptional Amarones from Romano Dal Forno and Giuseppe Quintarelli, which have a cult following and can therefore run at $300 to $450). Most range from $40 to $70. Of recent vintages, 2006 and 2004 were both exceptional for Amarone.

Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
1999: Very dark magenta color; mushroom, tobacco, dried leather nose; rich, youthful, complex, dried berry, dried black fruit, tar, licorice, herbal palate; long finish. 95 pts.

2001: Opaque deep red violet color; nice dried berry, orange, orange peel, dried herbs nose; tasty, dried berry, black plum, licorice palate, with depth; long finish. 94 pts.

1997: Slightly bricking dark red violet color; redolent, dried berry, dried fig, licorice, tar nose; youthful, dried berry, tar, charcoal, licorice, ripe black fruit palate with medium acidity; long finish. 94 pts.

2005: Aromatic, deep berry, roasted fruit, dried black fruit, orange spice nose; tight, deep berry, roasted fruit, dried black fruit, orange spice, tart black fruit palate; long finish. 93+ pts.

2007: Medium ruby color; nice baked cherry, dried cherry, raspberry nose; rich, tight, raspberry and cherry puree, dried berry palate; long finish. 92+ pts.

2006 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Medium bricking red color with pale meniscus; dried red berry, smoke, pepper, olive nose; tight, dried berry, tart black fruit, smoke, graphite, licorice, mineral palate; long finish. 94 pts.

2001 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Campolongo di Torbe
Nearly opaque red violet color; black olive, tart licorice, black fruit, tar, seawater nose; nice, black plum, licorice, salted licorice, anise, tar, sage palate; long finish. 94 pts.

2006 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Dark red violet color; aromatic, dried cherry, dried berry, anise, light milk chocolate nose; rich, thick, tasty, dried cherry, sour cherry, lightly chocolaty, sweetly smoky palate with firm, somewhat grainy tannins; long finish. 93 pts.

2001 Tommaso Bussola Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Tb
Raisiny, slightly hot, grapey nose; concentrated black fruit, pepper, plum and raisiny palate; long finish. 93+ pts.

2005 Michele Castellani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Collezione Ca del Pipa Cinque Stelle
Intense, appealing, dried black fruit, dried berry nose; tasty, dried berry, dried black fruit, anise palate; long finish. 93 pts.

2001 Manara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Intense, raisin, apricot, fig and clove nose; rich, soft plum and cherry palate; medium-plus finish. 93 pts.

2005 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Sergio Zenato Riserva
Opaque purple red violet color; intense, dried berry, tobacco, herbal nose; tasty, intense, tart and smoky black fruit, leather, tar palate; long finish. 93 pts.

2006 Stefano Accordini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Acinatico
Medium-dark ruby color; smoky, savory, VA, baked berry, tar nose; tasty, youthful, rich, ripe black fruit, licorice, tar, dried blackberry palate; long finish. 93 pts.

2004 Carlo Ferragu Amarone della Valpolicella
Very dark red violet color; nice, high pitched, dried berry, fig, tar, black fruit and clove nose with a touch of VA; tasty, clove, black fruit, dried berry, dried black fruit, fig, licorice and tar palate; medium-plus finish. 93 pts.

2007 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Very dark ruby color; intense, spice, anise, root, licorice, tart black fruit, chocolate nose; tart black fruit, licorice, tar, beet juice palate; long finish. 92+ points

2003 Aldegheri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Barricato
Dark plum red color; chocolate, fig, tar, earthy, powdered chocolate nose; tasty chocolate, raspberry, rich, youthful, dried black fruit palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ pts.