Amarone wine is one of the most unique and celebrated wine styles in the world. The winemaking process creates rich, dark red wines with robust fruit that are perfect pairings for grilled steak or braised meats. However, most of the wines are also soft enough on the palate to drink well by themselves.
The Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG is located in the hills of the Veneto region, near Lake Garda in northeastern Italy. The vineyards get plenty of sun and warmth, but are cooled by breezes coming across the lake and also down from the mountain to the north.
The key grapes for Amarone are Corvina, Corvinone, Molinara, and Rondinella. But instead of going directly to a crusher-destemmer after harvest, the grape bunches destined for Amarone are taken to drying rooms. There, they either hang vertically or lay on racks until as much as 50% of their weight has evaporated away. Careful control of temperature, humidity and air-flow in the rooms ensures the grapes remain clean throughout this process.
Winemakers then put the dried grapes into tanks where fermentation begins, albeit more slowly due to the density of the fruit. Because the ratio of sugar and grape skin to water is very high in these grapes, the liquid produced during fermentation is much more robust than in a typical wine.
To give the wine a further boost of color, structure and flavor, many producers of Amarone add more fruit toward the end of the fermentation process. Some use grape must, the skins and pulp left over from a previous fermentation. Others add another batch of freshly dried grapes. The former produces the traditional style of Amarone wine which is chewy and slightly bitter. The latter method, which is increasingly popular with both consumers and producers, creates a softer wine that is bursting with fruit flavor.
Amarone wine is typically aged for a considerable period of time, often five years or more, at the winery before commercial release. This allows the tannins to soften so the wine can be enjoyed immediately after purchase.
The hallmarks of Amarone are its opaque red-black color, copious ripe—even raisiny—fruit flavors, plentiful tannins, high alcohol (at least 14%, but often more than 15%) and a touch of sugar on the palate.