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)