I have this weird "thing" with Amarone... I always forget how much I positively ADORE great Amarone until it's time to taste it again. Maybe this is good - great Amarone is not cheap, and I am currently on a bit of a budget. However, a recent tasting sponsored by Wine Spectator magazine may have catapulted Amarone back in my brain, this time for good.
Amarone [Ah-mah-ROHN-ay] is made in northeast Italy, in the Valpolicella region of Verona. There is a small consortium of winemakers who have banded together as the "Amarone Families" in order to preserve the historical, family-oriented wine production in the region. Certain other winemakers have sacrificed quality with over-production and trying to secure a lower price point for their wines, and the Amarone Families are working hard to preserve the quality and stature of Amarone in the world wine ideology.
They impose strict regulations on themselves beyond what is required by law, they encourage multiple generations of their own families to be involved, and they strive to make Amarone "with love, as an art," says Sandro Boscaini of Masi Agricola.
What makes Amarone special is the appassimento process; after harvest, the grapes are laid out to dry for many weeks or months before pressing, which concentrates the flavors immensely. The primary grapes used in Amarone - Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara - are rarely found outside the region, with other indigenous grapes allowed in the blend. There is somehow a perfect storm of factors which is impossible to replicate elsewhere; the grapes, the way they reflect their terroir, and how they are so perfectly suited to the drying process. The resulting wine is bold, voluptuous, smooth yet with good acidity, and has the ability to age for 25-35 years or more. And man, is it sexy.
For the tasting, we took a twenty-year journey back in time to the late 1980s, which is when Amarone really started showing up on the radar for American Wineaux.
Our first wine was the 2007 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie DOC. It had a heady floral perfume, with a strong nose of cherries. On the palate, it was elegant and smooth, concentrated yet bright, with an incredibly long finish. The fruit and integrated structure were so appealing, I wanted to drink the whole glass down! ($95)
Next, we had the 2006 Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva DOC. With a nose of dried-cherry syrup and wet leaves, it had lots of structure and smooth tannins. The flavors of dried fruit, spice, and an herby finish were quite strong, yet it remained smooth and elegant. ($50)
The 2005 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli DOC had loads of perfume and black cherry liqueur on the nose. This wine was dense, rich, and smooth with mocha powder, light herbs, dried black cherry fruit and smooth tannins. ($70)
Number four was the 2004 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classio Monte Cà Bianca DOC. This showed sexy florals and herbs on the nose. While somewhat lighter than the previous wines, it was incredibly smooth with strong lavender notes, and had firm tannins and good acidity. ($N/A)
|Bottles of Amarone earmarked for the tasting.|
From the extraordinarily hot summer of 2003, the 2003 Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC had intoxicating mountain florals, rosemary and other herbs on the nose. HUMONGOUS and dense, this was packed with lush, jammy red fruit. Its subtle structure nonetheless stood up to such outrageous fruit components. Yum. ($75 for present vintage.)
I also loved the 2001 Venturini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC/DOP. With a nose of cherries and an interesting lentil note, it was fresh, light, and fruity with very good acidity. This easily quaffable wine had flavors of bright red cherries and raspberries, and had a friendly and charming personality. For a wine with this age, it seemed quite youthful. ($N/A)
Our next wine came from a magnum - they have very few bottles left of this vintage - which presumably has helped it age so well. The 2000 Nicolis "Ambrosan"Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC showed dried cherry liqueur and wet leaves on the nose. It was luxurious in the mouth, with some herbs and dried flowers, yet still quite bright fruit. "Soooo silky/sexy!" I wrote. ($110 bt/$225 mag.)
If I had to choose a favorite, it might be the 1998 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva Sergio Zenato DOC. Strong nose of wet leaves and cigar leaf, bit of meatiness, licorice and herbs. The mouth was a bowlful of black fruits, with some mushroom and licorice. There were so many complex elements, and it was incredibly robust with a long, balanced finish. ($N/A) Mr. Alberto Zenato suggested pairing it with a pumpkin risotto, and I almost started drooling.
Or maybe my favorite was the 1997 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC. It had notes of charcoal and blackberry liqueur on the nose, and the palate of dense, dark berries was outrageously smooth, like a silk robe, with a long, soft finish. I did indeed write, "This wine is turning me on!" while peeking at my neighbors to see if they were getting flushed as well. (Not likely available, but ~$150)
From one of the best Amarone vintages of the century, the 1995 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC showed strong wet leaves on the nose. It was light, though velvety and elegant. There still was good fruit, though minerally notes were starting to show. An incredibly long finish with nice earthy structure. ($NA)
Another classic vintage was 1990, and the 1990 Masi Agricola Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC was exactly what I expected from a stellar aged Amarone. Nose of earth, leaves, prune, some barnyard and forest floor. On the mouth, meaty and leather notes, plus some serious truffle. Powerful yet elegant with a smooth, long finish. ($300)
Finally (and boy, I didn't want this to end!) we had the 1988 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano DOC. Those great aged notes of mushroom, earth, dried figs and truffle. In the mouth, still great cherry fruit expression, with dried salami, licorice and chocolate. Super silky and still feels very bright. ($300)
After the tasting, the Amarone Families producers poured a number of recent vintages for us to sample as well. I went through my notes looking for "yum"s to share some favorites:
2007 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Cà Biance DOC - pine-y, floral, herbs nose, very berry and bright, yum. ($50)
2007 Nicolis Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC - bright red fruit, yummy! Good balance, dense but quaffable. ($45)
2007 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano DOC - heady perfume of florals and berry fruits, stemmy, herby, dense and robust, pretty tannic. Yum. ($65)
2006 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella 'Campo dei Gigli' DOC - mushroom, licorice, red fruit and florals on the nose... very smooth and dense, lots of robust fruit, big but soft. Yum. ($45)
2001 Tommasi Ca'Florian Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC - mushroom, merde nose, light, elegant, soft red fruit, great length and balance. Lovely. ($50)
These Amarones were rich and smooth, and drinkable and well-structured, a kind of contradiction that might not make a lot of sense. But I can tell you, it is worth it to seek out wines from the Amarone Families. For more information about their wines, visit http://www.amaronefamilies.it. By the way, all member-produced wines will have this logo somewhere on the capsule or label:
Once you've sampled these luxurious and sensual wines, you might agree with me that Amarone is, quite possibly, the sexiest wine ever. Cheers!