Wine lovers will be familiar with many of the excellent wines from Italy. But what about Amarone, the full-bodied, elegant, and aromatic red wine made in the gentle hills of Valpolicella?
From the highly rated wines of Tuscany (Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino) to the leading varieties of Piedmont (Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera) along with wines having grown in popularity in recent years like Primitivo from Puglia, and of course the most popular sparkling wine in the world (Prosecco), Italy produces many wines internationally well-known and loved.
But Italy stands for a much larger range for wines, made across the many different winegrowing areas from north to south. One of the excellent wines which in my opinion is not getting the attention it deserves is Amarone di Valpolicella.
I first came across Amarone when I lived in the Valpolicella Classico area a loooong time ago, right in one of the main villages, Sant’Ambrogio – which at the time was perhaps even better known for its marble production than for wine. Tasting my first glass of Amarone was a revelation, though.
It’s a wine that is highly unique – starting with a distinctive production process which brings a significant level of complexity to the wine along with a very intense aroma combination.
Here is what you need to know about Amarone di Valpolicella.
A short introduction to Amarone di Valpolicella
Officially called Amarone di Valpolicella, the wine is usually referred to as Amarone.
Amarone di Valpolicella – as the official name suggests – comes from the Valpolicella wine region in Italy’s Veneto, in the north-east of the country. More precisely, it is made in three different appellations located in a fairly small area between Verona in the east and the Adige River Valley to the west: Valpolicella Classico, extending around the towns of Fumane, San Pietro in Cariano, Sant’Ambrogio, Marano and Negrar; Valpolicella Valpantena and Valpolicella Est, the eastern-most part of Valpolicella bordering the Soave wine region.
Amarone can be made from the autochthone Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella grapes – with Corvina the dominating varietal. Also called Corvina Veronese, the grape is indeed the most noble autochthonous varietal in Valpolicella. Corvina grapes are characterized by a thick skin and a deep purple colour. Meanwhile, Cornvinone is a complementary varietal, and it can substitute the Corvina grape in an Amarone wine up to 40%.
After harvest the grapes are partially dried until at least the 1st of December. The wine is then fermented to a minimum of 14% alcohol and aged in the barrel for a minimum of two years, which extends to four years for Amarone Riserva wines.
Amarone as it is made today was created in the late 1930s at the headquarters of the local wine cooperative at the time. Or better yet, as legend has it, Amarone emerged from a mistake. A barrel of Ricioto – a sweet wine made from dried grapes that was the leading type of wine made locally at the time – was misplaced in the cellar and then forgotten. When it was rediscovered, quite some time had passed and during that time, the residual sugar in the wine had turned into alcohol and the wine had become dry. Yet, contrary to the fears of the cellarmaster that the wine would be bitter and undrinkable, it had turned into a very pleasant and drinkable one instead.
This incident also led to the unusual name of the wine. Bitter translates to amaro in Italian, and when realizing the wine was indeed not bitter, the cellarmaster created the name Amarone – which basically turns the term amaro into something pleasant.
The first bottles with the name Amarone on the label were released in 1939, and the very first one of them is still on display at Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar, which today is the cooperative winery of Valpolicella.
It took as long as 2010 before Amarone obtained DOCG certification. Before that, the wine continued to be a sub-set of Recioto.
Amarone is a wine that can be drunk already few weeks after bottling but is likewise perfect for aging. You can put your Amarone in the cellar for 10 to 15 years without worrying. Depending on the quality of the vintage and cellar practices, this period can be extended to 30 to 50 years.
This means, you will have to pay the worth of your Amarone. With growing appreciation of Amarone internationally, a bottle of Amarone now starts at around €20 and can be easily rise to over €100.
There are around 400 wineries in the Valpolicella Classico denomination alone, and all of them produce Amarone. Most are family-led wineries with only few hectares under vine, still following the traditional production methods.
Among the most renowned for excellent Amarone are Serego Alighieri-Masi Winery (and yes, if the name sounds somewhat familiar, it is owned by the descendants of world-famous Dante Alighieri), Aldegheri Winery, Mazzi Winery, Quintarelli Winery (still one of my favourites) and of course Allegrini Winery.
About Allegrini Winery
In the world of Amarone, Allegrini is one of the leading wineries in Italy and world-wide. Located in the idyllic small town of Fumane, in the Valpolicella Classico region, Allegrini is looking back at a winemaking history of more than 400 years, and still goes strong.
The winery calls the famous historic Villa della Torre Allegrini its home. Commissioned by wealthy Venetian Guilio della Torre, the historic mansion was completed in 1560 and today hosts Allegrini’s wine shop and tasting room.
But it’s definitely worth a visit beyond wine. The villa – which is open to visitors – features a large array of historic elements, including the famous gigantic fireplaces which are carved from a single stone each and respectively resemble a lion, a sea monster and a demon. There is also a small church/temple on-site and below the villa is a historic grotto.
Allegrini’s wine range spans the full selection of wines from Valpolicella, Bardolino/Largo di Garda and Soave wines. Still, Amarone remains the flagship. It benefits from the family’s longstanding experience in winemaking and a careful production process.
Tasting notes: Allegrini Villa Cavarena Amarone
A wine with imposing structure and depth.
In the glass, an intense ruby red.
On the nose, aromas of ripe cherry, plum, red berries and notes of cocoa and vanilla.
On the palate, intense and persistent yet soft with round tannins.
Food pairing: Which food works best with Amarone
Being full-bodied red wines with a big structure and high alcohol content (typically around and or even above 15%), Amarone calls for rich foods. Thus, its works best paired with braised meat, stew, game, duck with orange sauce, red meat with gravy, and long matured cheeses.
Going beyond the most obvious, thanks to Amarone’s distinctive flavour, it also pairs surprisingly well with slightly sweet and sour dishes. Thus, next time you prepare an Asian or Middle Eastern dish, go for the unusual and pop open an Amarone.
Though it might sound daring, it also works well with lobster in tomato sauce.
I have paired the Allegrini Villa Cavarena Amarone with homemade pumpkin ravioli with walnut butter. Again, this does not sound straightforward for Amarone but turned out a perfect match.
Recipe: Pumpkin Ravioli with Walnut Butter
For the dough
200 g all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt
For the filling and topping
300 g butternut pumpkin, diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
80 g parmesan, freshly grated
3 slices white toast
salt, pepper, and nutmeg for seasoning
100 g butter
50 g walnuts, chopped
To prepare the dough, knead all ingredients until smooth. Roll into a ball, cover with cling film and refrigerate for one hour.
In a saucepan heat olive oil, then add the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add pumpkin and 50 ml of water. Fry until soft, for about 15-18 minutes. Stir regularly to avoid the pumpkin from sticking to the pan.
Set three tablespoons of the softened pumpkin aside. Puree the remaining pumpkin until smooth. Set aside to let slightly cool.
In the meantime, finely chop the toast. Add parmesan and toast to the pumpkin puree and fully combine. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Divide the dough in four.
Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out the dough into thin sheets.
If you do not have a ravioli maker or ravioli stamp, cut out small cycles using a glass or similar. Put dollops of the filling (about one teaspoon) to one side of the dough. Cover with the other side and, using a fork, pinch the two sides together.
If you have a ravioli stamp, distribute the dollops along one side of the rectangle, a few cm apart from each other. Then cover with the other side of the rectangle and cut out the ravioli with the stamp.
In a large saucepan, bring abundant salted water to a light boil. Add the ravioli and cook for about 3-4 minutes. The ravioli will float to the top when they are fully cooked.
Transfer ravioli into a fine sieve and let drain for a minute.
In the meantime, melt butter over medium heat in a skillet until lightly browned. Add walnuts and the pumpkin filling kept aside. Add ravioli and cook for one minute. Transfer to a plate and top up with the walnut butter.