Thursday, February 27, 2014

Amarone: An Island Unto Itself

Touring through the wines of Italy is a journey of true diversity. This has a lot to do with how I fell in love with Italian wine; you simply can never get sick of it. If the austerity of Barolo becomes too much, then you can go to Tuscany for a glass of Chianti. If the food-craving acidity of Chianti leaves you longing, you can fall back on the ripe, round fruits of Sicily. You can go on and on like this, because Italy has it all, and in the thousands of grape varieties found there--you can be assured that there will always be something new and exciting. In my opinion, one of the most interesting, and sinfully enjoyable Italian wines, is Amarone.

Nowhere else in the world have I found a wine like Amarone. Many regions try to recreate it, and some make good wines, but a great Amarone is an island onto itself. These are wines of immense proportion, with a richness and weight that is seldom achieved, while maintaining a wine of balance. And balance is what Amarone is all about. It's the balance that allows Amarone to achieve +15% alcohol without seeming hot or flabby, and it's that same balance which marries intensely ripe fruit with a contrast of dark bitter flavors. Many great wines are compared to the grace of a ballerina with their underlying power--Amarone has all of that, yet with a sassy, extroverted personality that loves a good party.

There is one drawback: there is no such thing as cheap Amarone. Now that's not to say you can't find a good value, but keep in mind that it is all relative. We are talking about a wine that is essentially made from raisins (raisinated grapes to be precise). Those grapes must be grown and coddled in the vineyard like any other great wine. They must be harvested with the same care. However, what truly sets them apart is the drying process (appassimento), where the grapes are laid out on mats, or (more often today) in bins, to be dried for three to four months. Great care must be taken to avoid unwanted rot. When the process is complete, the juice of each grape has been greatly reduced. I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it must be to make wine from raisinated grapes, and all the while maintaining depth of flavor and fresh acidity. Hence, finding good Amarone under $40-$45 can be nearly impossible.

The good news is that these wines will give great wines from around the world a serious run for their money. So when you consider that a great Amarone may cost $75, it certainly looks very attractive next to +$150 wines from around the world. What's more, from my recent tasting of current releases, my top scoring wine happens to also be one of the most affordable.

I ask you to give these wines a chance, and spend the extra money. The proof will be in the glass, and they will impress almost any wine lover.

On To the Wines:

2009 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was exuberant with medicinal cherry, crushed raspberry, dark chocolate, floral undergrowth and a hint of volatile acidity. On the palate, it was velvety smooth with intense, bright cherry, which remained fresh yet dense, with herbs, black licorice and spice. A slight bitter note lasted into the finish with spiced cherry and dark chocolate. It’s a beautiful wine! (95 points)

Producer website: Zenato
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Case Vecie – The nose was massive with dark ripe fruit and earth, showing dark chocolate-covered cherry, crushed berry, hints of earth herbs and fresh turned soil. On the palate, it was big with velvety textures, saturating fruit and a fine tannic spine. Medicinal cherry and dark chocolate seemed to coat every inch of the palate, yet stayed fresh throughout the finish. (94 points)

Producer website: Brigaldara
Avg. price $52
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Venturini Massimino Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was confectionary with ripe black cherry and cinnamon, yet turned savory in the glass as hints of undergrowth and wild herbs joined the mix. On the palate, it was weighty, yet silky with medicinal cherry, dark chocolate and savory herbs. The staying finish showed bitter cherry and dark chocolate, which seemed to go on and on. Very nice. (93 points)

Producer website: Venturini
Avg. price $45
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Lorenzo Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Ca' Bianca – The nose was, at first, shy; yet with time in the glass, it began to blossom, showing dried cherry, blackberry, menthol, rock dust and a hint of volatile acidity, which helped more than hurt. On the palate, it showed soft, silky textures, but quickly turned tart and mouthwatering with dark fruits and black licorice. Tart cherry fruit seemed to encompass the senses throughout the long and seductive finish. WOW! (93 points)

Producer website: Begali Wine
Avg. price $67
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was, all at once, sweet, savory and earthy, showing dried cherry, dusty spice, dark chocolate, floral undergrowth and hints of green stems. On the palate, it was dense with velvety textures, as bitter cherry and dark, dark chocolate notes saturated the senses, yet remained balanced throughout. The finish was dark with a hint of heat, and bitter chocolate and rosy floral perfumes persisted. (92 points)

Producer website: Allegrini
Avg. price $68
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was confectionary, showing plum, black cherry, medicinal herbs and bitter molasses. On the palate, it was soft with velvety textures as sweet dark fruit covered the palate with dark chocolate and holiday spice. The finish showed medicinal cherry and a hint of heat, which lingered long. (92 points)

Producer website: Tommasi
Avg. price $47
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Sant'Urbano – The nose came across as fruity, but savory, with black cherry followed by animal musk, floral perfumes and herbal tones. On the palate, it was bright with a medium body, showing tart cherry, dark chocolate, saline minerals and a medicinal herbal note. The finish was long, with a hint of heat showing bitter cherry. I often enjoy this wine, yet the 2009, as good as it is, seems to lack the energy of past vintages. (91 points)

Producer website: Speri
Avg. price $55
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera – The nose showed cherry and sweet floral tones, animal musk and a cool, lifting herbal note. On the palate, it showed ripe red fruits, herbal hints, and saline minerals. The fruit turned tart through the finish with blackberry and cranberry notes, contrasted by fine tannins. (89 points)

Producer website: Masi Agricola
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Azienda Agricola Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva – The nose was at first restrained, yet with time in the glass began to show dusty spice, dried cherries, and hints of cranberry. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a child’s cherry candy. On the palate, spiced cherry and red licorice spread across the senses with soft and silky textures. The finish showed bitter cherry, yet seemed to lack depth. (88 points)

Producer website: Musella
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2007 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli – The nose was restrained, yet with time in the glass began to show black cherry, dusty cocoa, airy floral notes and black licorice. On the palate, it was silky and smooth with weighty notes of bitter cherry, yet it lacked any serious depth. Cherry and cola notes fleshed out on the finish. Enjoyable, yet lacking character. (88 points)

Producer website: Tenuta Sant'Antonio
Avg. price $63
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi – The nose showed tart cherry, sour floral notes, green steams, green peas, and animal musk. On the palate, an impression of dark raspberry jam was kept fresh by vibrant acidity and excellent balance. The finish showed tannins complemented by dark red fruit, which was slightly bitter. (86 points)

Producer website: Tedeschi
Avg. price $82
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!


  1. I agree! Amarone is fantastic! A lot Italian wines are drier, which I love, but the wines of this region have wonderful fruit profiles.

  2. Donatella SalvadoriApril 4, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    It is my favorite wine!!!

  3. It IS the wine of the gods, simply put. ;) Amarone is the richest, deepest and most satisfying wine of all. It is how I like my women...Italian!

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