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VIA Masterclass: Amarone

February 25, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

DSC_0665Continuing the subject of VIA Masterclass (here is the link to the previous post about Barolo masterclass), I want to talk about Amarone, one of the most uniquely Italian wines. The class was called “Amarone – The Velvet Underground”, and I think the name is very fitting. Let me explain.

Have you ever experienced a great Amarone? To me, the great Amarone starts with the nose which you can’t forget. As the wine is made from the grapes which had been dried under the sun for at least 90 days and thus more resembling the raisins than actual grapes before they will be pressed, it shows all those beautiful flavors of the dry, sun-aged fruit. After the aromas, which you can’t stop inhaling, comes the body – perfectly dry, perfectly full, perfectly powerful. This is what good Amarone is supposed to be. If you will think about the process, you will understand why Amarone has its price (think about the fact that most of the grapes lose about 40% of their mass – how many more grapes do you need to make the same bottle of wine?) – but if good Amarone is your wine, you will be willing to pay the price.

If you will search my blog for Amarone, you will find many posts, a lot of them complaining, hinting at my disappointment (I very rarely talk negatively about wines – I prefer not to write about bad experiences instead of bashing them). As of late, it became increasingly difficult to find Amarone as I described above, soft and velvety, but powerful and beautiful at the same time. A lot of the wines have very muted nose, and super-alcoholic, over-extracted, unbalanced body (and I just boasted about my non-confrontational style, huh).

This is where information from our Masterclass became very helpful. Yes, first we listened to the history of Amarone (discovered by accident, when the cask of Recioto, a famous sweet wine made from the dried grapes (passito) , was allowed to ferment through and became a dry elegant wine with – alas – bitter taste! Hence the name – Amarone, from the word Amaro – bitter). Then we talked about the geography and various sub-zones of Valpolicella region in Veneto – this is where Amarone is produced, with the best Amarone coming from the (not surprisingly!) hillside vineyards. Over the last decade, there was a huge increase in demand for Amarone worldwide. Think about the following facts. Consortium of Amarone producers was established in 1973 to regulate production of Amarone – so the production statistics are available from approximately that time. Amarone area plantings increased from 11431 acres in 1972 to 15723 in 2009. At the same time, all the way until early 2000s, there were about 1 million bottles of Amarone produced per year. In 2007, this number jumped to 8 (!) million, and then to the 16 (!!) million in 2008. Yes, it is great to have such a demand, but – where do you get the grapes to increase your production so dramatically over such a short period of time? You have to allow your vineyards to overproduce, and you have to lower your standards of quality and harvest the grapes from the vineyards which in the past you will never take the grapes from for your flagship wines. You see, Amarone is a top wine of Valpolicella. Amarone wines are typically made from Corvina, Corvinone, Molinara and Rondinella grapes, taken in the different ratios as each grape brings its own qualities tot he wine. Wines of Valpolicella are made from the same grapes – but it would be those which were not good enough to be made into Amarone.

To satisfy this huge demand in Amarone, there is also a push to extend the production area of Amarone, which would lead to the further deterioration of quality. In 2013, Amarone Consortium approved the increase of  Amarone production zone  by 30%, which will mainly come from the flatlands. To fight against it, 12 Amarone producers (Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini, Zenato) created Amarone Family association (Famiglia dell’Amarone d’Arte) back in 2009, with the goal of pushing back and defending traditions of quality in production of Amarone. Marilisa Allegrini, currently the Head of Amarone Family association was present at the masterclass and she had an opportunity to talk briefly to all the attendees.

Amarone Family VIAAnd then there was the tasting, of course. We went through 11 different Amarone wines, and here are the notes (this are my actual notes in its progression, like declaring the wine “best so far”).

Amarone Masterclass 1

1. 2010 Tommasi Viticoltori Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Nose: ok, traditional nose of a red wine, but not Amarone
Palate: over extracted and super-bitter

2. 2008 Begali Amarone Classico
Nose: campfire, then dark fruit with medicinal undertones
Palate: bitter, biting

3. 2009 Speri Amarone Classico Vegneto Monte Sant’Urbano
Nose: green and vegetative
Palate: bitter, over extracted.

4. 2009 Masi Agricola SPA Amarone Costasera
Nose: nice, open, hint of sweet fruit
Palate: not bad. Not too bitter, good power, clean balance. ++-|

5. 2009 Allegrini Amarone
Nose: best so far – beautiful, nice, open, fresh berries
Palate: closed, bitter

6. 2009 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Nose: exceptional – true Amarone nose – fresh jammy fruit, but very balanced – raisins, figs – wow! +++
Palate: nice, soft, round – very good.

7. 2008 Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva
Nose: nice! Fresh, open, good fruit
Palate: excellent. Best so far – nice, clean wine, powerful tannins without bitterness. +++

8. 2008 Brigaldara Amarone Case Vecie
Nose: nice, good dried fruit
Palate: good, clean, round – outstanding! Even better than the previous wine +++

9. 2008 Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Nose: nice, concentrated fruit, good
Palate: needs time, but still perfectly round +++

10. 2008 Venturini Amarone
Nose: interesting nose, but pretty closed.
Palate: too austere. Not bad as a wine, but not good as Amarone

11. 2007 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone Campo dei Gigli
Nose: dark, concentrated fruit, blueberries, raspberries
Palate: very good, but a bit bitter. It’s a bummer as I had a great experience with this wine at the tasting in September.

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That’s all I have for you for today. What do you think of Amarone? Share your experience! Cheers!

  1. February 25, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Amarone is wonderful when it’s good, I’ve tasted some that were terrible. Good to see you list, I do enjoy this wine every now and then.

    • talkavino
      February 25, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      Yep, it is wonderful when it is good – and it is quite hard to find good ones lately…

  2. February 25, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Zenato, always a favorite and dependable producer.

    • talkavino
      February 25, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      I think it was my first experience with their Amarone – it was very good.

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