Posts tagged ‘recioto’
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)
Vineyards at Negrar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Collio in the Friuli region as well as the Soave and Valpolicella zones in the Veneto region. I’ll write a bit about all these areas; today I begin my accounts with Valpolicella, where several wines, including Amarone – one of Italy’s most iconic reds – are produced.
One of the purposes of my journey was to research the 12 producers that make up the Famiglie dell’Amarone (Amarone Families) project. I’ll be writing a feature article on this group for the Autumn issue of Quarterly Review of Wines - look for this issue in mid-September.
More on Amarone in a bit, but let me first discuss the Valpolicella zone, located just north of the splendid city of Verona. Valpolicella literally means “valley with many cellars” – it’s a district with hundreds of producers squeezed in a relatively small area. The western half is the DOC area, while there are many fine producers who make wine from the eastern section as well. The western part is comprised of three valleys: Fumane, Negrar and Marano; in addition, important towns for production include San Pietro in Cariano and Sant’Ambrogio. Many of the most famous producers of Valpolicella and Amarone are located here; these include Masi; Allegrini; Begali; Brigaldara; Venturini; Nicolis; Tedeschi and Tommasi. Excellent producers in eastern Valpolicella include Musella and Tenuta Sant’Antonio.
Valpolicella is a blend of several grapes, the most commonly used being Corvina and Rondinella. Molinara is still used in some wines, but it is not as popular as in the past. Other grapes include Corvinone (larger bunches than Corvina), Dinadarella (incorporated in a few blends, but often better used to produce a rosato, as with the example of Brigaldara), Negrara and Croatina. A few years ago, the DOC regulations for Valpolicella were changed and small percentages of non-local varieties are allowed; I sampled two different bottlings of Valpolicella with 5% Sangiovese, if you can believe it!
The major varieties – Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Croatina – are also used to produce Amarone; a final variety that is being used by a few producers today is Oseleta, a grape type that adds color and tannins to the final wine along with good natural acidity. What makes Amarone so special and so different from a normal bottling of Valpolicella is the winemaking process. The grapes for an Amarone are picked one week prior to those for a Valpolicella and these grapes are then allowed to dry in special rooms – either on bamboo racks or in plastic trays called cassette - for anywhere from three to four months. This process of naturally drying the grapes takes place before fermentation and is known as appassimento. During the 90-120 days, the grapes shrivel and lose 20%-30% of their natural water, resulting in extremely concentrated grapes. As the natural sugars increase during this drying period, this means that a typical Amarone will have between 15% and 15.5% alcohol and in some years, even as much as 16%.
A third wine between Valpolicella and Amaone is Ripasso. Literally meaning “repass”, the original production for this wine included passing fresh grapes over the skins of the previous year’s Amarone skins. This would give a more “raisiny” character to a traditional Valpolicella, resulting in something of a “baby Amarone” for lack of a better term. Today other methods are often used and the wines range widely in style, from elegant and fruity (such as the wonderful bottlings from Begali or Brigaldara) to a more powerful, Amarone like wine (such as those from Masi, Allegrini and Tommasi).
Finally, there is Recioto della Valpolicella, which is sweet. This is the traditional wine produced for more than one thousand years in this area; the dry Amarone is a recent innovation, having only been produced since the 1950s. The sweet Recioto – and versions vary from off-dry to medium-sweet, offer gorgeous aromas of black raspberry and dark chocolate and are ideal partners for a variety of foods at the end of a meal, from a chocolate dessert to aged blue cheeses. I love Recioto and drink it whenever I can- it’s really a shame this isn’t a greater success in the market. One producer told me that when producers in the Valpolicella area get together, they all want to try each others’ Reciotos, which should tell you how seriously they view this wine. Among my favorites on this recent trip included Allegrini, Masi (two very different bottlings), Speri, Brigaldara and Tenuta Sant’Antonio.
Getting back to Amarone, I entitled this piece “A new found love.” It’s not that I abandoned Amarone, for I’ve always loved it, it’s just that after visiting twelve outstanding producers in four days, my love was rekindled. This was especially true of the 2006 vintage, which the producers there rated as great. Now I have read enough reports of so-called “great vintages” from all over Italy (as well as the rest of the wine world) and I’m usually a bit skeptical. These great vintages often result in wines that are too intense, too tannic, too oaky, etc., etc. – you get the picture. But not so with the 2006 Amarones, as these wines offer impressive concentration, remarkable fruitiness and beautiful balance. Given the press, many of these wines were already gone during my tastings, but I did taste several that I rated as outstanding, the four finest being the ultra-elegant Speri, the beautifully structured Riserva from Musella, the polished and very approachable Zenato and the sublime Begali “Monte Ca’Bianca”.
The 2007s are now upon us and I was very satisfied with the Tommasi, a classic style made in a traditional manner- the tannins are polished and there is excellent acidity- the wine is a beauty! I also enjoyed the more modern, powerful Allegrini as well as the Masi “Costasera”, which is more of a middle ground as far as style. I also tasted a few Amarones from 2005, with the Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Campo dei Gigli” offering the best balance and complexity.
Finally, there were a few special older bottlngs. Everyone knows that with a powerful wine such as Amarone, several years are needed for the wines to display their finest characteristics. This was certainly true for the 1999 Tedeschi “Capitel Monte Olmi” and the 1997 Venturini. For these wines, aromas of molasses, dried cherry and tobacco were among the most common and the wines had a more refined quality about them. But new release or 12 or 14 year-old bottle, my thoughts this past week with Amarone were all about love.
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.