Amarone is one of the world’s great red wines. It’s also a mistake.
Around Verona, the Romeo and Juliet town, they make a wine called Valpolicella. It’s made from three Italian grapes – Corvino, Corvinone and Molinara. It’s a pleasant wine, but light in body, color and flavor.
Some of the local winemakers were looking for a way to make it more robust and came up with the idea of concentrating it. To do that, they decided to remove some of the water from the grapes before fermentation. They put them on straw mats and dried them for about four months, somewhat like sun-dried tomatoes. The grapes lost about 40 percent of their weight.
Normally fermentation takes about a week, but removing the water causes it to ferment at a lower temperature and slows down the process. In this case, fermentation takes up to 50 days. They stop the fermentation when there’s still sugar left, which gives some wine sweetness. The processed worked well and the resulting wine was called Recioto. It became very popular.
Stuff happens and on occasion the fermentation process wasn’t halted and the resulting wine was dry with no sugar. This wine was viewed as a mistake, but a rather fortuitous one. The wine is deep in color, complex, with pronounced flavors and has high alcohol. They named it Amarone. As it became more popular, production techniques were refined. Many producers today have drying rooms where conditions can be more closely controlled. It also was more regulated. Now, before bottling, it must be aged at least two years in oak barrels to be labeled as Amarone, and at least four years to be labeled as Reserva.
You’ve got to love Italian winemakers. They won’t let anything good go to waste. They noticed that after making the Amarone, there was still a lot of sugar and flavor left in the grape skins and pulp, which is called the “lees.” They came up with another way to improve their wine.
They pour partially aged Valpolicella into the leftover lees, which starts a second fermentation. It produces a more tannic wine that has better structure, deeper color and more alcohol. They call this wine Ripasso, meaning second pass. It’s a very good wine. Some winemakers add up to 15 percent Amarone to give it additional flavor and make it more complex.
In addition to the years of aging, drying the grapes and the slower fermentation adds about six more months to the time it takes between harvest and the time Amarone can be sold. The production process also is labor intensive, which makes Amarone somewhat expensive.
Ripasso on the other hand is easier to make and doesn’t require much aging. This makes it considerably cheaper.
• Very highly recommended: Maurizio Martino Amarone Della Valoplicella Classicio 2009, Verona, Italy, about $60. This wine is deep dark purple, almost opaque. It has a fragrant nose and is concentrated with layers of dark berry, plum and spice flavors. It’s very robust and fills your mouth with flavor. A wine that you’ll sip.
• Very highly recommended: Le Poiane Valpolicella Ripasso 2010, Verona, Italy, about $18. When we tasted this wine, we said, “Wow!” We went back and got more. While it isn’t as intense as its cousin above, at this price it’s a great bargain. It’s a deep ruby red in color with aromas and flavors of black cherries, dark fruit and spice. It’s well layered with nice texture. It’s versatile and will go well with meat and strong flavored stews, but we think it’s best with pasta.
Fettuccine with sausage
1/2 lb. fresh sausage
1 small onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 package fresh fettuccine
Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium heat with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Remove sausage to a bowl and set aside. Wipe the skillet, then add the remaining olive oil, onion, garlic and bell pepper. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes and fennel seeds, and mix together. Return the sausage to the skillet, add the balsamic vinegar and continue to cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Cook fettuccine in boiling water, drain and add the pasta to the sauce. Toss and serve. If desired, top with grated parmesan cheese.
Jim and Marie Oskins live in the Lake Wylie area. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.