Amarone's Little Cousin, Ripasso
The Skeleton Wine Key: Helping You Unlock the Secrets of the Bottle
Without a doubt, Amarone is a red wine deserving of all its fame and praise, and is hands down one of my favorite Italian wines.
Broadly speaking, Italy produces wines that are high in acidity and/or tannins, almost full to fully dry, with very restrained fruit character, and (almost always) begging to age, or be consumed with food. In addition to that, Italian wine labeling can be hard to decipher, and determining if a bottle in front of you will please your palate or not, may not be a skill most wine amateurs possess.
Enter Amarone, a wine with a clearly identifiable character and appeal.
About Amarone della Valpolicella
North of Verona, at the foothills of the Alps, lies the region of Valpolicella. Vineyards primarily grow the four classic grapes of the region: corvina, corvinone, recioto, and molinara, with nearby snow-capped mountains providing these vineyards rain shadow and irrigation.
Many of the wines in this region are classified either DOC or DOCG, the latter which not many have attained. What this means is that the standards of grape growing and vinification are strictly regulated, and produce a highly reliable product.
Process for Making Amarone Wine
So what makes Amarone so special?
The harvest is late, around mid-October, when the grapes have reached full maturity and ripeness. The extended period of time on the vine also extends the potential vineyard hazard, such as early frost or too much rain before harvest.
Before these grapes turn to wine, they undergo the process of appassimento, where the grapes are laid on straw mats to air dry, essentially as if we intended them to turn to raisins. Over a period of many days in this prostrate state (sometimes up to 4 months), the grapes lose about 40% of their moisture, thus concentrating the sugars and sacrificing volume in the process (quality, not quantity). Once this is achieved, we can start making Amarone.
Amarone Wine Traits
The fruit in its pseudo-raisinated state produces a wine that is powerful, spicy, balanced, complex and age-worthy, but with a precocious expressiveness that also allows it to be consumed and enjoyed in its youth. Acidity and tannins play a delicate dance on the palate; you’ll find just enough fruit character and other nuances to make you want seconds to further acquaint yourself with this nectar.
There is one caveat: it is not inexpensive.
This is a wine that will go for $50 or more per bottle. So start saving now, or…
Let me introduce you to Ripasso, the poor man’s Amarone!
Ripasso is a style of wine produced in the same region with all the same grapes.
What is so cool about this wine is that it undergoes a secondary fermentation induced by introducing spent must of Amarone, which still contains enough sugars to kick off the second fermentation and a few more tannins to give its body extra silkiness. The resulting wine inherits some of Amarone’s most sought after traits for a fraction of the price!
I do encourage you to save your pennies to someday bask in the glory of authentic Amarone. But also go for Ripasso today and enjoy a magnificent, more affordable alternative, and impress your friends with this savvy wine-list navigation tip. Salute!
Learn About Wine at Culinary School
Wine and culinary arts go hand-in-hand, which is why the Oregon Culinary Institute includes Oenology & Viticulture and Wine Regions of the World courses in our Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management AOS Degree program.