Posts tagged ‘appassimento’
Bamboo racks at Masi used for appassimento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently visited the Valpolicella district (see vineyard photos here) and was able to see up close the appassimento process at several cellars. This process is the method in which two of this district’s most iconic red wines – Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella – are produced.
The production method is simple. Grapes meant for these two wine types are harvested about a week before those destined for a traditional Valolicella (similar grape varieties, such as Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone are used.) The grapes are then placed in a temperature and humidity-controlled room where they will be dried for a period of three to four months. During this period, the grapes will shrivel in size, losing 30-40% of their natural water. These super concentrated berries will then be the basis for Amarone and Recioto – Amarone being dry and Recioto being sweet.
Semi-dried grapes in a cassette (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Traditionally, the grapes have been dried on bamboo racks (or racks made from other wood); Masi is the most famous producer that continues to use these containers. However many wineries have now switched over to plastic boxes (usually yellow or brown) known as cassette. These boxes can be easily stored one on top of the other and are placed in a warehouse where giant fans dry the grapes. This is more cost effective and many producers prefer this, as they believe this will avoid mold on the grapes.
Whatever option a producer selects, the appassimento process delivers a wine of great concentration and richness on the palate – a typical Amarone is 15.5% to 16.5% alcohol – that results in a singular wine that can be paired with particular foods (veal or game birds are ideal with Amarone, while the sweet Recioto can work with blue cheeses or blackberry or raspberry tarts) or enjoyed on its own, a style of wine known in Italy as a vino da meditazione.
Corvina grapes during appassimento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Chicago was host to the Wines of Veneto for several events, including a sit-down seminar featuring 10 Venetian wines, a dinner at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush and two Prosecco tastings, one at a Treasure Island retail outlet and one at a steakhouse (Benny’s Chop House), just north of downtown. These events were part of a tour about the wines of Veneto that were also organized for Los Angeles and New York.
I was pleased to be invited to be part of the seminar on Monday morning; joining me were Nathan Woodhouse, from Ionia Atlantic Imports, a company that represents numerous artisan producers from Italy and Benny Woodhouse, owner of Benny’s Chop House. Moderating the seminar was Aurora Endrici, a sommelier from Italy. Aurora is an extremely knowledgable individual and an engaging speaker. Everyone at the events loved her outgoing personality and warmth; I greatly enjoyed working with her and hope to have the opportunity again in the not too distant future.
The seminar was a natural for me, as I had recently visited producers in both the Soave and Valpolicella districts in late May and early June, so I was understandably excited about the wines (please see my recent posts on Soave and Amarone). Wines from those areas are quite well known in America and were included, as well as Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the province of Treviso. But it was the inclusion of other wines – offerings not that well known in many markets outside Veneto – that were real eye-openers for myself and the attendees.
The most exciting wines for me were two reds: Tai Rosso and Bagnoli Friularo. Tai Rosso is produced from the Tocai Rosso grape, the name of which had to be changed according to EU regulations that now protect the name “Tokay”, which refers to a wine from Hungary (the same refers to the Friulano grape, a white that was previously known as Tocai Friulano. It is grown primarily in Friuli and the Veneto; in the Veneto, the white grape is known as Tai and the red as Tai Rosso).
We sampled a 2010 bottling of Tai Rosso from the Colli Berici DOC area in the province of Vicenza. This variety is thought to be an offshoot of Garnacha from Spain or Cannonau from Sardegna. The grape has very light amounts of anthocyanins, resulting in a red wine that looks more like a rosato than a rosso. The wine was lovely with wonderful fresh cherry and currant fruit as well as tart acidity and light tannins. In some ways, it resembled a Bardolino in its delicacy and freshness, but the Tai Rosso not only has a lighter color, but also more spice. It could be enjoyed at cellar temperature, although I’d love it this time of year slightly chilled- foods such as salumi, lighter pastas or soups would be wonderful pairings.
The Friularo from the Bagnoli DOC in the province of Padova was a completely different style of red, one with much deeper color (deep ruby red), richer tannins and with a structure meant for 10-12 years of aging (this was a 2005 bottling, so wines from bigger vintages, such as 2004 or 2007, would be capable of longer aging). The grape is known as Raboso in other parts of Veneto, but in this DOC, it is labeled as Friularo. This was a marvelous wine, one with flavors of plum and cacao and one that had a beautifully defined mid-palate and layers of flavor. 100% of the grapes were dried for four months before fermentation (a la Amarone), giving the wine a gorgeous texture in the mouth and excellent persistence. This was a wonderful find for everyone at the tasting.
Other wines presented at the seminar included a Raboso from the Piave DOC in the province of Treviso, the marvelous dessert wine Torcolato di Breganze, produced from the Vespaiolo grape and a lovely sparkling wine known as Fior d’Arancio Spumante from the Colli Euganei. This is made entirely from the Moscato Giallo grape, as with the more famous Moscato d’Asti wine of Piemonte and like that wine, the alcohol is quite low (5.5%). It has gorgeous apricot and honey aromas and a sensual delicacy and light sweetness that are irresistible. Endrici mentioned that this is a difficult sell, given the worldwide success of Moscato d’Asti and that even in the local area, producers have a difficult time finding customers for this wine. How nice then for the Veneto group to come here and present this wine!
I commented that the wines of Veneto are a microcosm for the entire Italian wine industry, as this is a region known for many types of wines, from sparkling (Prosecco and Fior d’Arancia Spumante) to whites (Soave, Lugana) to lighter reds (Bardolino, Tai Rosso) to more full-bodied reds (Bagnoli Friularo, Amarone) to dessert wines, both white (Torcolato, Recioto di Soave) and red (Recioto di Valpolicella). Every color of the viticultural rainbow can be found in Italy and you really don’t need to go any farther than Veneto to enjoy this wide range of offerings.
This was a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved to understand the broad spectrum of Venetian wines and I am delighted to have had the occasion to be introduced to several wines I rarely have the chance to taste during my travels. Learning about the wines of Veneto is just one more reason why Italian wines are so extraordinary, given their distinctiveness and of course, their amazing quality.
A personal note of thanks to several individuals for making these events happen and for their assistance with my role this week. Thank you to Aurora Endrici, Paolo Doglioni and Fabio Coronin from Centro Estero Veneto, Augusto Marchini and Fred Marripodi of the Italian Trade Commission in New York City and finally, Patrick Capriati of the Italian Trade Commission in Chicago.
Few wines produced anywhere in the world have captured wine consumers’ imaginations as has Amarone. Rich and powerful, this is a red wine that is appealing upon release, but offers an entirely different sensation when consumed a decade or more after the vintage.
Amarone is produced in the Valpolicella zone, just north and west of the city of Verona in the Veneto region. In fact, Amarone is a Valpolicella – the full name is Amarone della Valpoicella (if it is produced from grapes grown in the Classico zone, then the word Classico is attached as a suffix).
As it is a Valpolicella, it is made from the same varieties as that wine. There are three major ones: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Most examples of a Valpolicella or Amarone are primarily Corvina and Rondinella, as Molinara has become less and less important in most bottlings. There are other varieties as well, such as Corvinone (a clone of Corvina), Oseleta and Rossignola; regulations also allow for small percentages of Sangiovese to be included in the blend, though this is rare.
What makes an Amarone different from a Valpolicella? Basically it is the production method. Grapes destined for an Amarone are harvested earlier than those for a regular Valpolicella (usually 7-10 days early) and are then put in plastic boxes or on straw or bamboo mats in special temperature controlled rooms to dry. This drying period lasts 3-4 months and during this time, the grapes lose as much as 40% of their natural water content. This causes the grapes to shrivel in size and by the end of the drying period, they look more like raisins than grapes. This process of making Amarone by naturally drying the grapes is known as appassimento.
After that, the grapes are then fermented and then aged in barrels. Here, a winemaker has a choice. Traditionally, producers used only large wooden casks known as botti grandi to age their wines. But over the past two decades, many producers of Amarone, as is the case with several other famous Italian red wines, have opted to age their wines in small oak barrels, usually French barriques.
The difference is striking, as the wines aged in large casks offer more red cherry, dried herb and cedar notes, while the barrique-aged versions tend to display more black fruits along with the vanilla and toasty notes of the small oak barrels. The debate rages on whether the wines aged in small barrels can age as long as the traditionally made wines, but it will take many more years to answer that question. To sample the difference between a Amarone aged in large casks versus one aged in small barrels, try a bottling from Bertani (traditional) and Allegrini (modern); both producers are highly respected.
One of the natural by-products of the appassimento process is that Amarone will have a slightly higher percentage of alcohol; this occurs during the months of drying. Thus look for most Amarones to have 14.5% or 15% alcohol. Naturally, a wine like this needs very rich food, so pair Amarone with game birds, stews or roasts.
While it’s fine to serve these wines young (the 2006 bottlings of Amarone are on the market currently in 2009), you will enjoy your Amarone much more if you age the wine for a few years. This may be difficult for many consumers as a newly released bottlings offers ripe cherry fruit and a light raisiny quality along with an illusion of “sweetness.” This is a dry wine, so the sweet edge comes from the glycerine of the sugars in the dried grapes. This sensation is what gives Amarone such an unusual flavor and makes this such a popular wine.
If you can get by that young flavor sensation, you will find a wine offering greater complexities at 5-7 years of age (or older). The young fruit and sweetness are diminshed and what comes across are dried herbs and fruit with round, elegant tannins. The wine loses its brashness and becomes more finesseful. So at 7-10 years of age, instead of pairing an Amarone with robust foods, try matching it with duck breast or grilled chicken. There are other possibilities of course, but it is striking how different an older Amarone tastes than a newly released version.
Here is a short list of some of the finest producers of Amarone:
- Igino Accordini
- Stefano Accordini
- Ca’ La Bionda
- Corte Sant’Alda
- Dal Forno
- Santa Sofia
- Tenuta Sant’Antonio
- Tenute Galtarossa
- Villa Monteleone
There is also a sweet wine made in the appassimento process produced from the same grapes that is fermented so that some residual sugar remains. This is a recioto (full name Recioto della Valpolicella) and is made by most Amarone producers. This is the traditional wine made for more than 2000 years; in fact it was not until the 1950s that Amarone as we know it today was first produced. Today the dry wines (Amarone) are the norm, while the historically famous sweet recioto is not seen as much currently. This is a shame, as the recioto is absolutely delicious with raspberry and black plum fruit and moderate sweetness. It can be enjoyed on its own or is ideal with a blue cheese (Gorgonzola) or with a raspberry or chocolate dessert (yes, Recioto della Valpolicella is a wonderful wine with chocolate!).
One final note on Amarone. As it is a time consuming and costly process to make the wine, Amarone will be expensive. Look for most bottlings on retail shelves in America to cost between $50 and $80, with a few nearing $100.