Breweries, Wine, and Cheese

Holiday Wine: Amarone della Valpolicella

The Grapevine: ‘Tis the Season to Drink Well

By Elspeth Brown

The presents have been wrapped, the stockings have been hung and the cookies have been baked, decorated and set on the Santa plate in hopes the big man will show. Now it’s time for momma and poppa to get a treat themselves. A large glass of Amarone della Valpolicella would be my treat of choice.

Amarone della Valpolicella is produced in the Veneto region in northeastern Italy, near Verona. Out of 20 regions in Italy, Veneto produces the most wine. The region stretches from the Dolomite Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. Veneto has a mild, cool climate and limestone soil. This region is also known for Prosecco, Soave and Valpolicella wine.

Amarone is typically made with Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. It tends to be higher in alcohol like a port wine, usually staying around 15 percent. It offers mocha notes, dried fig and an earthy finish. Amarones are full-bodied with a syrupy thickness, which is achieved by a process known as recioto that concentrates the sugars in the grapes. Recioto della Valpolicello tends to be very sweet, while Amarone will retain a dry finish.

Grapes grown for Amarone are left to hang on the vine a little longer than most other wine grapes in order to achieve extra ripeness. Then bunches of grapes are spread on mats and left to dry for three to four months. The grapes shrivel and make for an even more concentrated juice. During this time, the grapes lose a third of their weight, most of it being water, resulting in a big, bold red wine. Most Amarones are then aged in oak barrels for five or more years.

Amarones aged in oak for two or more years are referred to as ‘normale,’ and when they are aged for four or more years they are referred to as ‘Riserva.’

Even though many of us, including myself, agree Amarone is one of the finest wines, it only had DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) quality status until 2010 when it finally gained DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantitia) status. Consumers will just now start to see DOCG Amarone emerging into the market place as the 2010 vintage is released.

There are a couple of rules for cellaring an Amarone. If the Amarone has been aged in oak for two years, then it should be drunk within ten years. A longer period in oak—for instance, five to eight years—would allow the consumer to cellar the wine for up to 20 years. Some of the best vintages for Amarone have been 2008, 1998, 1997, 1995 and 1990.

This season, celebrate with the really good stuff. A bottle of Amarone is a wonderful gift idea, but also the perfect indulgence for all the hard work that you have put into the holiday season. Spend a little bit more money and get a lot more quality. When you pour that dark, inky juice into a large red wine glass and the rich, warm, earthy aromas waft up, you will know that you can sit back, relax and enjoy the holidays!

Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10C South Main Street in Weaverville. For more information, visit or call 828.645.1111.

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