Amarone is an emblematic wine, its name immediately evoking ‘made in Italy’. It is exported from Valpolicella, near Lake Garda in the province of Verona, all over the globe, and today is recognised everywhere as one of the best red wines in the world.
Like all great Italian wines, Amarone has an arcane history among myths and legends. Valpolicella has a very long winemaking history, stretching from the time of ancient Rome. Its product of excellence was the sweet Recioto wine, produced by drying grapes using a traditional technique. Still today, this wine is a high-quality DOCG, even if it has been overtaken by Amarone’s grandeur and uniqueness.
There are quite a few stories about Amarone, but the most popular one dates back to 1936, when the winemaker Adelino Lucchese, bottling sweet Recioto, forgot one of the barrels. The wine remained in the forgotten barrel for some years. When Adelino discovered that the cask was still full, he feared that the wine had gone bad. But he tasted the wine and got a pleasant surprise: not only had the wine not gone bad, it was even better. It had gained body, structure and power, but its original sweetness had also turned into elegance and softness. The fermentation had continued slowly in the barrel, transforming sugars into alcohol. It was no longer sweet, and for this reason it was named Amarone (‘more than bitter’ in Italian).
Another legend links the birth of this wine to the Second World War. At that time, Valpolicella was invaded by the Germans, who ransacked the houses. In order to defend themselves from raids, and not to die of hunger, the peasants used to bury food. Someone, along with food, hid some local wine. In this particular humidity, the wine continued to ferment in the bottle, transforming the sweet wine into the bitter and dry wine we know today as Amarone.
Going further back in time, in 50 BC the Roman poet Catullus wrote about the ‘bitter wine of Valpolicella’.
Ragazzo se versi un vino vecchio, riempine i calici del più amaro, come vuole Postumia, la nostra regina ubriaca più di un acino ubriaco. https://www.gamberorosso.it/notizie/notizie-vino/versi-di-vini-antica-roma-gaio-valerio-catullo/
Another story dates back to 1950s: at that time only sweet wine was known but it often happened that the natural fermentation of Recioto kept going and the wine naturally became bitter. Bitter wine had no market and therefore large quantities remained to age in the cellars.
Two brothers, Giovan Battista and Gaetano Bertani, decided to use that unsold and abandoned wine, correcting its sugar residue and acidity. They wanted to make something similar to Nebbiolo, but the wine did not resemble Nebbiolo and remained unsold. The Bertani brothers had a family tradition of wine production, from the time of the unification of Italy, producing Soave del Recioto and Valpolicella Ripasso. They also had sufficient economic resources to put into the venture and so, despite 20 years of failure, they continued to believe that this new wine could become successful. In the 1970s, they took it to a fair in New York, where it was finally recognized as a wine of great structure, exciting, full-bodied and with a very important ageing potential.
Others argue that the wine was already produced in the Bertani family’s cellars, from the early 1900s and that in 1936 it was baptized with the name of Amarone. These cellars are still used today and they are also open to the public.
Today Amarone is considered a product of Italian excellence, with DOCG since 2010. It comes from a mild climate, with the influence of Lake Garda’s humidity, but protected by the mountains that surround the lake. It is made from indigenous grapes dried for 4 months on traditional wooden and bamboo racks.
It is a dry and full red wine, with soft tannins, intense colour and taste, aromas of liquorice and spices, red fruits and vanilla, with a bitter aftertaste that makes it unique. It is the perfect wine for autumn and winter food, for grilled meat, for aged cheese and intense aromas. It is also famous for risottos made with Amarone and is excellent with chocolate and coffee desserts, but also drunk as a meditation wine ( i.e. drunk without food).
Whatever its origin, Amarone is a truly unique wine that you will easily fall in love with!
RITA RECOMMENDS …
Amarone is a perfect match for many autumn and winter dishes, but it can also be a fantastic cooking ingredient (a bit expensive though!) to make seasonal recipes. I have tried this recipe to make Amarone risotto, it might be a luxurious first course for the coming festive season.
Si è sapienti quando si beve bene:
chi non sa bere, non sa nulla.
( We are wise when we drink well:
whoever cannot drink knows nothing.)
Nicolas Boileau (1636-1711)