As soon as autumn creeps in, we experience a growing desire for soul-warming red wines, such as Amarone di Valpolicella, one of the world’s greatest red meditation wines. Immense on the nose and on the palate, rich and corpulent, this DOCG wine is only produced in the region of Veneto from a selection of grapes mainly consisting of Corvina (from 45 to 95%), together with Corvinone and Rondinella.
This is an unusual type of passito, since it is dry rather than sweet, like the one of Pantelleria for instance.
The Valpolicella wine-growing area is a strip of land in the foothills around Verona, which extends from valley to valley, from Garda Lake as far as the border of Vicenza province. The aromas of prunes and bottled cherries mingle with hints of the undergrowth and dried mushrooms. The more noble vintages are strongly characterised by a smoothness which envelops the palate in an embrace that is velvety, full-bodied, warm and vigorous with the most pleasing fat tannins. Overtones of ripe red fruits are enhanced by cinnamon and vanilla. The longer this wine ages, the more it gives way to perceptions of leather, fire-cured tobacco and roasted coffee. Its fruity aromas recall sour cherry, blackcurrant, and wild berries.
It may even be aged up to 20 years, if well stored, and should be served at an average temperature of 16°-18° C. Before enjoying, it is advisable to decant for at least one hour.
The name Amarone literally means “great bitter” and its grapes are harvested ripe in the first two weeks of October. The grapes are then allowed to dry or raisinate on traditional bamboo racks or more modern plastic crates. Typically, this drying process lasts for 120 days but it can vary depending on the producer. The final result is a full-bodied and low-acidity wine.
Amarone is the great companion of elaborate dishes based on game meat such as pheasant with walnuts and truffle, woodcock served on toasted bread or duck mousse. A complex dish calls for an intense and important wine.
Some Amarone wines regale hints of cocoa and chocolate, often combined with subtle notes of spices, tobacco, and coffee in bottles of a greater age. The higher the intensity of cocoa in a dessert, the more firmly structured the wine needs to be, so as not to contrast with the sugar in the chocolate, otherwise it would come across as acidic on the palate. For this same reason, it is worth remembering never pairing dry wines and spumante brut with chocolate.
Risotto all'Amarone and fresh pasta with duck sauce are classical pairings, also due to their shared regional provenance.
Red meats, in the form of stracotto, braised beef and all slow-cooked dishes find their ideal contrast in Amarone with its high alcohol content and pliant tannins. Another pairing worth trying is with donkey meat stew or pastissada de caval. Simply divine when enjoyed with a beef fillet en croute or coq au vin.
A superb affinity springs from the structural contrast with cheese varieties such as mature Taleggio, Reblochon, Murazzano and Pecorino di Fossa. An aged cheese of cow’s milk such as a 36-month Parmigiano Reggiano demands velvety wines which are able to penetrate and moisten the chalky cheese fibre, and sufficiently alcoholic to dry the juices forming in the oral cavity.
Amarone is a superb wine for BBQ enthusiasts, too, owing to its excellent suite of spicy notes for pairing with the sweet and smoky flavours of numerous dishes such as pulled pork, spare ribs, and barbecue glazed ham. Grilled red meats such as a succulent Black Angus T-Bone or the traditional Florentine Chianina steak share a particular tendency to take on a “bitterness” typical of barbecued meats, so they require a fruity red wine that is velvety and full-bodied, one that is able to dry the pronounced juiciness of the meat with a good tannin and mitigate the presence of sweet notes with its acidity and freshness: the fattier the dish, the more it calls for an increased dose of tannins and structure.
We have pointed out that Amarone is devoid of sweetness, but it combines smoothness with the exuberance of its tannins: this is a wine that will not go unnoticed when it is served. It must never be paired with any dish of mixed fried ingredients, nor with salmon: the former would evidence its metallic notes and the second would be completely drowned.
With any type of salad or minestrone soup, because the bitter, acidic sensations of some vegetables would clash with wines of a complex structure.
No great red vintage wine could happily marry the most popular type of pizza, the Margherita, owing to the natural acidity of tomatoes and the delicate texture of mozzarella.
However, let’s not forget that Amarone is an excellent “meditation” wine, so its best companion is a relaxing atmosphere and the right frame of mind.
If you’re keen to improve your knowledge of wine, it’s important to know how to taste correctly in order to asses the quality and properties of a wine. Professional wine tasters, or sommeliers, usually follow four main stages, as explained in this article. Once you’ve determined the quality of your wine, the next step is to find out what foods it pairs best with in order to bring the best out of both the wine and whatever you’re eating. There are plenty of tips about specific grape varieties here, including the well-known Italian white grape variety pinot grigio, which goes best with light, fresh flavours such as salads, chicken and seafood.