When you consider that the first DOCG wines were announced in 1980, it’s rather remarkable that it took until 2010 to give this designation to Amarone! Truth to tell, though, in 1980, this powerfully concentrated, yet richly perfumed deep red wine, was not that well known, except by collectors, and the area of the Veneto, home of Amarone, was more famous for its white Soave.
Regions and their producers applying for DOCG status have to show 10 years of record keeping and documentation, and when reds, like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino were awarded their DOCGs, they didn’t have to do anything differently from what they had already been doing. In the recent case of Amarone, however, some fine producers in general, and a group of twelve Amarone families in particular, decided to put some teeth into their newly awarded ‘G,’ and rise to the meaning of the ‘G,’ which stands for Garantita. They decided that standards had to be raised, production had to be limited by lowering the yield per hectare to ensure quality, with no new plantings scheduled until 2013. Producers had to agree to abide by all of the stricter regulations that come with being a DOCG wine, such as minimums for alcohols and extracts. They agreed that Amarone is not meant for the mass market.
You certainly know that Amarone, who’s full name is Amarone della Valpolicella, is made from the best grapes of the Valpolicella zone. The region dates back to the Roman Empire, when grapes were dried to concentrate their sugars and create a sweet wine. This drying process evolved as Recioto, a sweet wine which is still produced. Legend has it that a chance fermentation continued all the way to dryness, surprising the producers who tasted it. Expecting their customary sweet wine, they pronounced it ‘Amaro’ or ‘bitter.’ As yeast strains evolved that could withstand the resulting higher alcohol, producers realized that they had something special, and paid more attention to this uniquely rich dry red wine. It was named ‘Recioto della Amarone della Valpolicella,’ but in 1990, the name ‘Recioto’ was removed from the label, and was reserved for the local sweet wines that still had residual sugar.
Three Main Grapes
The three main grapes that produce Amarone are: Corvina, known as ‘the Queen of Veronese grapes,’ Corvinone, and the floral Rondinella. The lighter grape Molinara is no longer considered an important component of Amarone, but is often used in Valpolicella, and also used to make rosÃ©s. The recently created Amarone Families Association has agreed on an increase of the amount of Corvina, from 40-80% to 45-95%. The percent of Corvinone has also been increased, since its thick skins and low yields make it suitable for drying. DOC Amarone had permitted 10% ‘foreign’ varieties, such as Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. The newly designated DOCG Amarone will also be allowed to use those varieties, but may also use 10% of indigenous smaller varieties, such as Oseleta and Negrara.
Drying conditions are as important as growing conditions, and much depends on the weather. During the three to four month period of indoor drying in special ventilation rooms, where the grapes are no longer on the vine, molds can develop. Botrytis in Amarone is not the darling that it is in Sauternes. Besides having well-ventilated drying areas, most producers have installed warm air blowers to control humidity. Besides concentrating sugars, polyphenols and glycerine are produced, and there is a reduction of acids. Minimums for wood aging have been increased from 24 months to 30 months, for complete fusion of fruit and tannins.
Sandro Boscaini, president of Amarone Families, says, ‘We are the ones who know the secrets and the techniques that are passed from father to son; we are the ones who care.’