Posted by: tomciocco | November 9, 2013

ONE FROM THE VAULTS – AMARONE

I’m sure that most of you who read these pages on a regular to semi-regular basis know that I typically discuss wines that are currently in commerce, and whose price tags are almost always south of $20-$25. Every now and again though, I get the urge to pull the cork from out of one of my older wines that live in my basement, and tonight is one of those nights. After a cursory scan of what was available, and what seemed appropriate for the menu, I selected an Amarone from 1999.

Amarone is a very popular wine the world over, but in spite of its great appeal, most folks who drink it don’t know its story, so here it is…Amarone comes from an extensive region near the city of Verona in Italy’s Veneto region, that, surprisingly for many people, geographically coincides with Valpolicella (Amarone’s full name is Amarone della Valpolicella), and abuts the Bardolino and Soave regions as well. Amarone is made from the same same range of grape varieties than its lighter cousin Valpolicella and its even lighter relative Bardolino, namely Corvina in the pole position with Rondinella typically bringing up the rear, as well as the common addition of smaller percentages of other local red varieties like Molinara, Oseleta, Rossignola, Negrara and others.

Amarone is made with a very particular process that involves partially drying the grapes. Upon harvest in early October, the fruit is carefully gathered into wooden boxes in the vineyrds. The fruit is then gingerly laid out onto straw mats called graticci that are then placed onto shelving that look like multi-level bunk beds constructed in barns specially designated for this process. The mats allow air to pass underneath the bunches which is essential to discourage the formation of mold as the grapes dessicate. The fruit is left to dry (sometimes with the aid of fans, but many tradition producers simply regulate air flow by opening or closing the barn doors as is appropriate) until the following Spring. By about mid-April the fruit has lost between 20%-40% of its water content. At this point, the grapes are pressed and vinified as any other wine would be. But because the musts (the fancy wine-making name for grape juice) are now more concentrated and higher in sugar relative to the water content, these musts produce wines that are inky, slightly more viscous, and notably higher in alcohol (tonight’s wine clocked in at 15.5%). Amarone is often served in Italy as a vino da meditazione (literally “meditation wine”  – a wine meant to be slowly sipped alone, perhaps after dinner, fireside, with nuts) or with big, rich foods like game stews, strongly-scented aged cheeses, or with something like the menu I paired this wine with this evening: a dried Porcini mushroom and radicchio risotto made with beef stock, and a main course of baccala` gratinato (salt cod baked with milk, onions, garlic, anchovies and Parmigiano Reggiano) and a side of braised fennel.

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Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1999

Deep blackish, brown/purple color. Elegant but very powerful nose of prune, blueberry, pomegranate nectar, cinnamon, clove, new leather, toasted marshmallow, dried red flowers, espresso coffee, fireplace, underbrush, linseed oil, and balsamic notes. The palate is rich, mouth-filling and unctuous with tall but smooth tannins with flavors of black raspberry jam, strawberry syrup, dried black currants, dried cherries, black licorice, dark-roasted almonds, and Tootsie Roll. Very long, powerful, almost Port-y finish. Still got at least a decade of life left.

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