2014 was not a good year for even the best Amarone wines. That year marked unusually cool conditions and excessive rain in the growing region of Valpolicella. The conditions were so inclement that some winemakers described it as the worst they’d experienced in forty years.
Tom Hyland, a journalist for Forbes and a wine connoisseur, describes the year that followed as a saving grace for the exceptionally rich and prized Italian wine. 2015, quite in contrast with the previous year, saw beneficial weather that helped nurture the vineyards and produce what we now say is some of the finest vintage Amarone wines.
2015 Amarone wines present the same elegance and rich dry notes that earned some varieties the nickname, yet these wines are noticeably more acidic, more elegant, and a bit more light.
Some experts claim that Aramone from 2015 is similar to Amarone from 2011, though the notes from 2015 tend to be more expressive. One thing is for certain: while 2014 was a challenging year for Amarone wines, the year that followed produced some of the best recent vintage wines that spiked enthusiasm for the already acclaimed Italian wine.
But why were there such notable differences between the Amarone from various years? And how do you find the best wines possible?
In this article, we’ll cover what Amarone wine is, why it’s so prized, and the criteria you need to be aware of in order to find the best Amarone wines possible.
What is Amarone wine?
Amarone is a well known red Italian wine that is dry. The reason for its nickname is actually simply to discern it from other wines grown in the same region, which tend to be sweet wines. While the wine is fairly well known, it is equally true that not many drinks it on a regular basis, because it also tends to come with a heftier price point than other well known red wines, such as Merlot and Pinot Noir.
The grapes are harvested around mid-October, which is considerably later than other grape varieties, though Amarone wine is not normally produced until after the grapes have been left out for the winter.
Amarone wine is considered one of Italy’s finest and is prized both for its signature flavors and the care and time that goes into producing it.
Where are Amarone grapes grown?
Amarone grapes are primarily grown in the Italian region of Valpolicella, which is why the full name of Amarone wine is actually Amarone-Della-Valpolicella. Within that growing region, there are five subsections: Classico, Superiore, Superiore Ripasso, Amarone Della Valpolicella and Recoito Della Valpolicella.
While there are many grape varieties within that entire growing region, including Molinara, Corvina, and Rondinella, Amarone gets most of the attention. The Northern Italian grapes are prized for their special ‘off-dry’ and flavorful qualities and are noticeably less sweet than many grapes in the same region.
How is Amarone wine produced? Amarone wine takes a good deal of technique, expertise, and patience to produce, which in part explains the high price tag.
Here are all the steps that go into producing Amarone wine:
- Grapes are selected and picked late in the season, typically mid-October.
- Grapes are dried for four months, overwinter, in ‘drying sheds’. These sheds are specially designed for Amarone grapes and feature the ideal level of circulation and ventilation; the process can be accelerated with the use of fans. The rooms are also temperature-controlled and meant to produce bolder flavors, with a targeted concentration of naturally occurring sugars.
- Grapes (now raisins) are pressed and fermented before being made into wine.
- Around double, the average number of grapes used to produce other wines is used for Amarone, due to the nature of the drying process.
Just how expensive is Amarone?
Amarone costs and an average of fifty to eighty dollars per bottle, which is not entirely surprising, given the rather particular and lengthy production process, as well as how many grapes are used to produce it. Of course, since that’s just an average, it is not uncommon to find Amarone wines that are in the hundreds of dollars.
On the same token, it is possible to find bottles of Amarone under fifty dollars, you’ll just have fewer options. The good news is, is that while Amarone has the reputation of being a ‘rich man’s wine’, there are decent options at various price points.
What does traditional vs modern Amarone wine mean?
Rather than be region, as is the case for most wines, Amarone wines are distinguished by whether they are a traditional or more modern style.
- Traditional, or old vintage wines tend to be exceptionally complex, with more earthy notes and even caramel touches from the drying process. These varieties usually contain higher levels of alcohol, hovering up to an average of seventeen percent. Because these wines tend to be aged in barrels over extensive periods of time, these tended to be fairly well rounded and balanced, robust wines with deep flavor notes. If they are not aged long enough, they can risk having less structured tannins.
- Modern wines, in comparison with traditional Amarone wines, tend to taste a bit less bold and fresher, showcasing ripe fruit flavors with more remaining sugars, leading them to more semi-dry wines. They present softer tannins and a more gentle finish but also exhibit remarkable balance.
- In general, traditional Amarone wines are more complex and robust, while modern wines tend to be sweeter and riper.
What are the best food pairings with Amarone wine?
Amarone wine is prized as a flavorful, signature red wine that pairs well with both traditional and more modern dishes, both which depend upon what style of Amarone is being used–traditional or modern.
Since Amarone doesn’t tend to have smoky notes, it’s better for slow-cooked, steamed or baked dishes.
Seafood is mostly off-limits as well, as the robust flavors can easily overwhelm delicate seafood such as shrimp and scallops. However, there are exceptions for pink, fattier fish. Also, stay away from white meat like a chicken.
- Traditional Amarone pairs best with cheeses and red meat. Earthy tones with rich red fruit and high levels of complexity mean you can get by with richer and more layered dishes, including casseroles, pasta, and stews. Pork and beef are exceptionally nice options for meat. Short ribs and roasted lamb are also good choices.
- Modern Amarone is a bit brighter and fresher and consequently can pair with lighter dishes–here an ahi tuna or monkfish or other meaty fish with natural fats can work. Aged blue cheeses, gouda, and classic Italian cheese are all great options for an appetizer course. Veal, which is a bit on the more delicate side of red meats, is favored more with modern Amarone wine than with more traditional Amarone.
What do I need to look for when if I want to find the best Amarone wines?
In order to find the best Amarone wines, you need to understand what constitutes the prized characteristics of both modern and older vintage wines.
Also, keep in mind that price is not everything. While higher price tags often do say something about the wine production process, including aging, the quality of grapes, and the number of grapes used to produce wine, it also does not mean you have to buy a high priced bottle of wine to experience some of the best flavors Amarone has to offer.
Does alcohol content matter?
The best Amarone wine hovers around fifteen to seventeen percent alcohol, which is a good range to look for. While higher alcohol content can make the wine taste more severe, in this case, it well suits the nuanced, complex, and balanced profile of Amarone.
How big of a role does aging play?
Unlike some wines that are brighter or even at their best young, Amarone is a wine that greatly benefits with aging. In fact, aging is integral to the production process of the best Amarone and should be considered essential. Look for Amarone wine that has preferably been aged:
- Two years or more for typical wines
- Four years or more for reserve wines
Oak aging balances out and matures flavors, adds complexity, and is the best way to enjoy Amarone wine. Unlike with other wines, where toasted notes from oak aging can subsume more delicate flavors, the oak adds structure but is difficult to even taste against the bold, prominent flavors present. In this way, aging actually balances just how bold and ripes those flavor notes can be.
What levels of acidity are ideal?
Acidity provides a fresh, bright and puckering sensation with your wine. High levels of acidity are prominent in the best Amarone wines because they help produce that pronounced, ripe fruit flavor the wine is noted for. Modern style wines should be especially acidic, while old vintage wines might get by with medium-high acidity, to work the more complex and earthier tones.
What levels of tannins should I look for?
Higher levels of tannins are ideal for both types of Amarone wines. Tannins provide a bit of astringency, which is balanced with the ripe, classically fruity flavor notes. They also provide structure and give more pronouncement to the bold and rich flavors.
What flavor notes should I look for?
Flavor notes vary by whether it’s normal or reserve wine.
- Reserve wine, which can often be aged ten to fifteen years, tend to exhibit richer notes, including spicy cocoa and rich fig. In general, reserve wines, especially for Amarone are going to be the richer and more flavorful option. This is your best option, though they are more expensive.
- Normal wine will be a bit less rich without those rich cocoa notes, and generally, focus more on classic fruit flavors
Flavors are also determined by the method of processing.
- Traditionally processed Amarone wines contain earthy notes, alongside vibrant red cherries and a touch of peppercorn and cinnamon.
- Modern processed Amarone wines tend to be brighter. With oak aging, you will have the addition of vanilla and sometimes a tint of chocolate. Mostly, you’ll notice a bold medley of red fruits.
What about the price point?
We’ve already touched on this, but you don’t need to spend top dollar unless you want rare vintage. Opt for a balance and try spending around the average of fifty dollars if you’re pretty sure you’ll like it; you can go lower, of course, but the flavors may not be as robust. A great idea is to go for wine tastings and make note of the general flavor notes and types of wine you’re drawn to–that can help inform your choice as to if Amarone wines would be something you’d enjoy.
What about wine blends?
It is not uncommon for Amarone to be blended with other red wines, most commonly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese, which can comprise up to a quarter of the composition. There is nothing inherently wrong with these blends–certainly, blends such as these tend to lower the price point and also tend to contain complementary flavors.
By the same token, wine blends are not the best option if you want to richest flavors Amarone has to offer. If you want the richest experience possible, you want as little as other grapes. Still, it simply isn’t practical to limit yourself–blends tend to be much more available and can when done well, still provide a classic experience.
What’s the best choice for complexity and bold flavors?
Amarone is prized as a vibrant, bold wine with layers of complexity. Your best option is a wine that has been oak-aged, preferably vintage. Modern vs traditional processing is up for debate and does depend on what flavors you’d like to highlight. As close to pure Amarone as you can get, and from its growing region of origin will be you best and most brilliant choice.
Is it dry or sweet? And what about the body?
As a rule, Amarone itself is dry to off-dry wine, though it can be semi-sweet when blended with sweet grape varieties. And in terms of the body, many of the best Amarone wines and wine blends are medium-full to full in body.
More Frequently Asked Questions
The nature of the Amarone wine makes it clear of sediments or deposits in its bottle. Decanting the wine can help it reduce the breathing time from a vintage bottle, but it is not mandatory or necessary.
Amarone has a sweet character compared to other red wines, and even though it is not qualified as a dessert wine, it can definitely be enjoyed after a meal.
Amarone is produced in the Italian region of Valpolicella. This wine variety means “the great bitter” in Italian, referring to the wine flavor character.
What are some options for the best Amarone wines?
The best Amarone wines feature vibrant red berries, finished with layers of complex, richer hues to balance the brighter notes. High levels of acidity and high levels of tannin make the flavors bolder and provided and more structured, intense wine. Finally, oak aging really helps develop those flavors, making them more pronounced and more refined.
All that said, let’s take a look at some of your best Amarone wine options. The prices of these bottles are all under one hundred and ten dollars, though many are at the average price or below.
- Zeni Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico: Our budget-friendly option costs just thirty dollars. While it does not have the depth or complexity of some other Amarone wines, it does offer some classic flavor notes for a somewhat classic introduction to Amarone wines. Dark red fruit with a bit of spice as well as herbs creates a pleasant balance, with hints of dried fruit and bitter chocolate. Overall this is a warm, inviting wine.
- 2012 Masi Costasera Amarone Classico: This Amarone blend, while sitting just below the average price, offers a more complex and robust Amarone. Black cherries have a slightly smoky finish and are paired with licorice and earthy notes. Layered with hints of sweetness and spice, overall this is a versatile and delightful wine that would be properly paired alongside roasted lamb.
- Tommasi Amarone 2015: Sitting right around the average price for Amarone wines, spicy and earthy flavors are a perfect pairing with deep fruity notes. Red cherry flavor notes offer a bit of sweetness, tartness, and enough punch to make an impression. It’s full-bodied and pronounced, and overall semi-sweet or off-dry by combing dry Amarone with neighboring sweeter grapes varieties.
- Zenato Amarone 2015: A bright ruby toned hue is inviting, as are the flavor notes in this Amarone blend. You’ll be greeted with classic dark cherry notes and a long finish that’s been described as both silky and even luxurious. Complex layers of flavor notes also include truffles and fudgy chocolate.
- Bertani Amarone Classico 2008: The highest price point wine on our list, this Amarone wine blend featuring plum, cherry, and morello cherry notes. Layered vanilla and berry notes are made more pronounced by excellent acidity, prominent tannins, and a long finish. Licorice, spices, notes and a bit of cocoa can also be detected. A fine, almost silky finish and overly layered tasting experience go into this wine.