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Amarone- Unique Italian Wine for Presidents

Posted: Monday, 13 February 2012 14:51

Amarone- Unique Italian Wine for Presidents

Feb 13 : Whereas Barolo and Brunello have often been referred to as wines for kings due to their origins going as far back as the mid 19th century, Amarone can only stake claim to being a wine for the Presidents because of its more recent birth and its being a favourite wine of President Obama, reports Subhash Arora who was in Verona earlier this month to taste the latest released vintage at Amarone Anteprima 2008.

Click For Large View
Amarone wines served at the Gala dinner
The Italian Daily, Corriere della Sera reports that Amarone is often served for dinner at the White House. Of course, this wine which is trendy and yet beyond fads or fashion, is not for the Presidents alone. According to a survey conducted by Association Vinarius, an association of the Italian wine shops (these enotecas  are unlike the wine shops mostly dispensing liquor in India) conducted a poll in order to define the consumers’ profile.  The results, says Francesco Bonfio, the President indicates that the Amarone lover is mainly a foreign man, aged between 35 and 50. Interesting, at the national level that lover is a woman. The common denominator is the curiosity towards the unique production method with no regard to the high alcohol content, he adds.

Grapes used are local grapes- mostly Corvina, Corvinone and  Rondinella – all varietals used also for the popular daily drinking Valpolicella wine  from the town of the same name, near Verona.  Molinara which is also used in Valpolicella is being used less and less in Amarone as it is being increasingly used in making Rose and Rose sparkling wine. Some producers like to add another rare varietal, Oseleta to the blend.

Although Amarone uses the same grapes as those used in Valpolicella, but the process of semi-drying them before they are pressed, gives more concentration and bouquet to the wine, which immediately develops a natural raisin quality and concentrated sugar and glycerol.

Click For Large ViewTerroir is another factor.  There are six valleys in the Valpolicella DOC where different red wine variants are produced. The Valpolicella Classica includes Sant’Ambrogio, San Pietro in Cariano and Fumane-wines can be austere and longer aging in these areas, generally with notes of herbs and spices. Valley of Negrar normally makes opulent wines,  with the warmth ripening of grapes on the palate expressing sweet tannins whereas one may find wines from Cazzano and Mezzane or the Valley of Illasi quite rich. The 2008 vintage had shades of fragrant cherry and sweet spices. Amarone from Marano are characterized as refined with cherry flavours and balsamic hints of Mediterranean herbs while Valpantena is known for elegant wines.

Unique Process is perhaps the big differentiator as well and gives a unique wine the process for which was discovered by mistake- the fermentation of the dried grapes that is supposed to be aborted, giving a sweet with high sugar content and lower alcohol, was carried on till the high sugars got ‘eaten’ by the yeasts, giving a powerful wine with high alcohol. Although it is not uncommon to find other regions of Italy also copying this style, Appassimento or fermentation of dried grapes is a phenomenon reportedly discovered in this region and has been in vogue for making the sweet Recioto for centuries. Unlike Champagne, the Consorzio did not register the process Appassimento. However, the process has also helped them make a wine with unique character.

Exponential Growth during two decades
Amarone was not a particularly popular wine even in the 70s or early 80s. It started becoming famous in Scandinavia in the 90s and today it has become a wine-household ‘brand’. USA as a market has helped in its popularity too.  According to Emilio Pedron, President of the Consortium of Valpolicella, the sale was 5 million bottles in 2000 and went up to 12 million in 2010 and held steady at that number in 2011. Although the increase in Amarone sales has resulted in prosperity for the Valpolicella producers who sold wines  worth €300m in 2010 as compared to €160 million a decade earlier, the sale of the low-ended Valpolicella plain vanilla (including Classica) decreased from 50 million bottles to 25 million in the same period.

Amarone had received its DOC in 1968. On March 24, 2010 Amarone (and its sweet cousin Recioto) received the well-deserved DOCG recognition.

Counterfeit and Fake Amarone
Being successful and fairly expensive, the wine has found many counterfeits. Although  12million bottles of Amarone were produced last year, some claim the presence of as high as 2 million fake ad counterfeit bottles- which seems to be unduly high number, especially since the Consorzio has been keeping  a closer watch and suing the culprits wherever prudent. With Amarone gaining popularity, the Consorzio has also insisted on the use of ‘Amarone della Valpolicella’ for the real McCoy. Similarly, the other two variants from the region have been registered as Recioto della Valpolicella (sweet wines) and Valpolicella Ripasso (sometimes known as Baby Amarone to the chagrin of several producers who do not believeso).

Click For Large ViewAlthough government quality strips have been mandated on the neck of the bottles to establish the originality of these wines and ensuring traceability, there have been a few cases reported from Scandinavian countries where it is extremely popular and where the original strips complete with serial numbers in the series have been discovered. The general impression is that the lowest quality of Amarone and even fake wine which has no resemblance to the real wine is routed through an East European country as skins (unlabelled) where they are labeled and shipped further.  One can find Amarone selling for the ridiculously low price of € 7-9 at some of their supermarkets.

The problem has not been observed in India yet but in the past some fake Barolos have been known to have been passed off as such due to the lack of knowledge of consumers but their insistence on ‘Barolo’ at the lowest possible price because of its brand image. A section of wine drinkers do love Amarone as a premium, unique Italian wine and would do well to keep the fakery in mind while buying, especially at retail counters.

Wineries Visited

Click For Large ViewDuring a visit to Verona last month, tasting Amarone from about 6o wineries was a great experience- with the quality not being consistent. As Emilio admitted and is universally known now, the ‘2008 vintage is not mentioned among the great vintage years. But it is interesting because we have two variables-the harvest and the drying process. If the first is not the best, sometimes the second gives surprising results. So the excitement for finding what’s in that bottle of Amarone would be there, whether the bottle is opened now , 5 years later or even 10 years later as some of the wines tasted will surely be around at that time.

Details about the  wineries visited during the trip (Accordini Stefano, Bixio Poderi, Clementi, Novaia, Cantina Sociale della Valpantena ,  Farina, Bertani, Montresor, Tinazzi, Ca’ Rugate, Monte del Frá, Santa Sofia  and Zeni) will be covered in a separate article in a future issue.

Subhash Arora

Comments:

 
 

Subhash Arora Says:

No, I did not forget it. I have been to Alleghrini and they are a premium winery- Brindco imports their Amarone and a big range. So are Tedeschi, Tommasi, Masi, Speri, Zenato- in fact a Family of 12 has been formed. Unfortunately, due to some differences which we as Indians not only understand but also see it in our daily lives, these 12 did not take part in the official tasting this year. It is not the intent of delwine to get into the internal matters. Therefore, we stay away from getting deeply into such issues and hence I limited my comments only to those that did participate. Thanks for your comments. That made it obligatory on my part to publish these comments as well. Subhash Arora

Posted @ February 15, 2012 12:50

 

Rajesh Swarnakar Says:

Dear Mr Arora, i believe you missed out on Allegrini winery in verona. they produce some fantastic Amarone that i tasted when i visited them in september last year. anayway, it is one of my favourite Italian wine. Cheers !

Posted @ February 15, 2012 12:10

 

Niladri Dhar Says:

Great read once again...and thanks for giving Amarone the due credit it so rightfully deserves. I am a great fan of this style and in spite of its high alcohol content (which is normally held against it), Amarone has to be one of the greatest wines, not only of Italy but the world. The fruit concentration and mouth-feel are to die for! I have recently selected two of the most acclaimed Amarone labels available in India for the ITC Hotels master wine list and hope that our guests will enjoy them with a range of our signature cuisines, including rich meat preparations of Dum Pukht and Bukhara. Cheers, Niladri

Posted @ February 15, 2012 11:46

 
       

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