For now, however, wea€™re going to focus on simple, friendly Valpolicella, a summer red that does well slightly chilled and is the perfect guest at any picnic, patio, or pool-side party.
Decades later, that sentiment was echoed by Olga Bussinello, director of the Valpolicella consortium.
Interest in Amarone began with German consumers in the 1990s, then spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the US.
Meanwhile, Valpolicella and Amarone sales have ridden on opposite sides of a teeter-totter.
If you happen to be on Lake Garda this summer, Olga Bussinello has a surprise in store: Every Friday night, the lakeside towns will have a Valpolicella manifestazione, with live music, free-flowing wine, and palazzi illuminated by lights (cherry colored, of course).
Allegrinia€™s second label is a lively pizza wine, with tart red cherry and rhubarb, high-keyed acidity, and fine-grained tannins.
With 12 months in wood, this combines bright red fruit (and a hint of violet) with a touch of toasty cedar. Your basic Valpolicella DOC (denominazione di origine) is a dry, medium-bodied wine thata€™s clear ruby in color and seems lit from within by cherry-colored reflections. Whether ita€™s everyday Valpolicella, revved-up Ripasso, plush Amarone, or sweet Recioto, youa€™ll always find some form of cherry emanating from your glass, be it fresh-picked cherries, cherry pie, cherry candy, or cherry preserves. Rather, what distinguishes the region is a technique called appassimento, which involves partially drying the grapes before pressing.
Ita€™s the only wine in Valpolicellaa€™s quartet of styles that does not use appassimento, so its flavors are like a basket of fresh cherries and plums.
When I asked her to describe the wine, she said, a€?For me, ita€™s an engaging taste, like an embrace. The rise of Amarone has brought a move away from industrial-scaled farming of grapes, which means less overcropping and more stringent grape selection.
As fruity as a joven wine, this is a softer, less tannic style (thanks to 30% rondinella) and tastes of macerated cherries. Its purple-plum hue and acidic snap undoubtedly owe to the atypical inclusion of 10% barbera. It offers bing cherry, stewed prune, and fruit of the woods, with a round, velvety texture and a note of bitter walnut on the finish.
Hike in the countryside, and youa€™ll cross numerous cherry orchards (cherries being one of the regiona€™s three major crops, along with grapes and olives). The zonea€™s most coveted winesa€”Amarone della Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, and Recioto della Valpolicella, to use their full and proper namesa€”all utilize some aspect of this technique, developed by the ancient Romans.
The Bolla bulk wine of yorea€”once the monolithic giant on the America marketa€”has metamorphosed into a chorus line of charming quaffers. Those wines from the western side of the zone tend to have a touch of floral, with rose or violet in the delicate bouquet. In its place is Valpolicella done with care by small, family-run operations that started up during the Amarone boom. So during that 2000a€“2011 timeframe, when Valpolicella sales fell by half, Amaronea€™s figures doubled, increasing from 5 million to 12 million bottles. Head to the city center, and youa€™ll walk on streets paved with Veronaa€™s famous pink marble, which looks like swirls of cherry-vanilla ice cream. Historically, Valpolicella is a land of blends, so no one grape has come to be identified with the region the way sangiovese has with Tuscany or nebbiolo with Piedmont.
Volumes have been written about appassimento and how the grapes for Amarone must dry in fruit lofts for 100 days until they lose about half of their weight, giving the wine hedonistic notes of black fig and raisin. Most Valpolicella goes straight from stainless steel tank to bottle without touching wood, preserving that bright fruit character.
Wineries that go to the trouble to make labor-intensive Amarone arena€™t going to tarnish their reputations with mediocre entry-level wines, so theya€™ve raised the bar for Valpolicella as well. Go down into the wine cellars, and you might spot cherry-wood barrels, used in the past instead of imported French oak. Instead, Valpolicella wines are built from a triad of indigenous grapesa€”the a€?three sistersa€? corvina, rondinella, and molinaraa€”with oseleta, croatina, corvinone, and other kin sometimes added to the mix. Lately, therea€™s also been reams written about the trendy topic of Ripasso, a wine that takes some of those dried fruit characteristics thanks to a handy short-cut: After the Amarone is finished fermenting, ita€™s moved into oak barrels to age.
Those in the superiore subcategory typically spend a few months in cask or barrique, since 12 months of aging is required. Some prefer it still, including the descendents of Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy poet who settled here during his twilight years while in exile from Florence. But rather than clean the grape skins and stems out of the stainless steel tanks, fresh Valpolicella is pumped into those tanks, passing over (ripasso) the raisinified pomace and beginning a second fermentation due to the natural sugars that remain there. The Valpolicella becomes enriched with Amarone-like flavorsa€”at half of the cult winea€™s price.
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