Monday, April 1, 2013

Amarone: A Balanced Decadence

By Eric Guido

Can Amarone age well? Absolutely!
I had no intention of writing today, but when inspiration strikes, you go with it. In this case, that inspiration has come in the form of two excellent bottles of Amarone that I've enjoyed in the last 24 hours.

You can't drink Amarone every day, nor would I want it on a regular basis. It's a wine of hedonism and luxury that nearly overwhelms the senses--but not quite. When the time for Amarone arises, it's a moment that you are aware of, you crave it. It may be for a special occasion or in place of a dessert after a wonderful meal. Whatever the occasion may be, these are very special wines and they should have a place in your cellar because not only do they perform beautifully straight from the bottle, the best can age for decades.

Amarone hails from the Veneto region of Italy. These are wines that are made by the hand of man through processes like Recieto (Appassimento), where the harvested grapes are left to dry for months before being pressed, raising sugar (hence alcohol) levels and giving the wine a haunting level of depth, complexity and the ability to age. Be warned, however, that in the hands of some producers these techniques are used to cover up an otherwise inferior wine; but in the hands of quality producers they can create works of art.

Giuseppe Quintarelli "The Master of the Veneto"
Now gone, but has left a linage of great producers
of Amarone that were once his cellar or vineyard 
managers.  These are giant wines, with giant price tags.
When I think of Amarone, I think of a mix of sweet and savory, often seductive aromas, met by textures on the palate that lull you into a submissive state as dark, luxurious fruits, spices and sometimes confectionary elements that are balanced by a bitterness that is the call-card of a great Amarone. Acidity is also a key component. I think of experiences with Quintarelli and how fresh and vibrant they were, even with their lush, nearly dessert like aromas and flavors. However, don't think sweet when you think of Amarone, as the word Amarone itself translates to "the Great Bitter".

The following wines were all showstoppers from my recent tastings. Be warned, good Amarone is not cheap, but when the time is right, they are worth every penny.

2007 Fratelli Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Sant'Urbano - A dark, deep purple color in the glass. On the nose, a mix of dark cherry and blackberry dominated, hinting at herbal tones with notes of cinnamon, milk chocolate and undergrowth. It was like velvet on the palate with rich textures yet a surprisingly vibrant and elegant feel with a fine structure lurking beneath it's layered intensity. Ripe black fruits and dark chocolate saturated the senses with a bitter core that followed this wine from first sip through the long, vibrant finish. It was so obviously Italian in breed, but not what I've come to expect from Amarone, as there was a balance here, seldom found in a wine made through the recieto process. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! / Producer Website

2006 Tommaso Bussola Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Tb - The nose was rich and slightly confectionary with cherry sauce, plum-raisin, fruit cake and spice cookie. On the palate, rich, velvety textures were met by brisk acidity to form a beautiful balance, yet there was a touch of noticeable alcohol, showing notes of brown sugar, raisin, sage, and molasses with a bitter twang that leaned this more toward savory than sweet. The finish was long with palate saturating black fruits, plum and black currant. This wine was on the richer, more hedonistic side of Amarone, yet still beautifully balanced. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! / Producer Website

2006 Azienda Agricola Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva - The Musella Riserva was savory and sweet with notes of olive tapenade, cherry sauce, potpourri and dark soil tones. On the palate, it show excellent balance with brisk acidity which lent a juicy quality to the rich dried cherry, bitter chocolate and herbal flavors. The finish was long, showing inner floral notes and dried fruits.(94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! / Producer Website


And for the true masochists, I thought it would be insightful to post an older note from my experiences with one of the best Amarone I have had the pleasure of tasting.

1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva - The 1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva was a dark mahogany color with rich and wild aromas rising from the glass. I found it difficult to take that first sip because the aromatics were so seductive that I simply didn’t want to take my nose from the glass. Black cherry sauce with saw dust, and then butterscotch and hazelnuts which then turned to spiced ginger cookies and plum reduction. So many layers could be pulled away to continue finding descriptors in this wine and I was only sad that we didn’t have the time to spend hours with it. On the palate I found a menagerie of red fruits as cherry, then raspberry and cranberry filled the palate. Vanilla and milk chocolate, butter cream and roasted nuts with spicy cedar. However, with all this concentration, the wine remains finessed and fresh on the palate. Its 16.5% alcohol is nearly invisible due to the impeccable balance of this wine. The finish lingered for 30 plus seconds with cherry dark chocolate. (99 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

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