I Love Italian Wine and Food - Amarone and Friends

By: Levi Reiss


This article reviews a fine, distinctive Italian red wine and its more pedestrian cousins. I look at several food pairings. Was it a bargain?

I have a confession to make. I really thought that I had finished our series I Love Italian Wine and Food, and even wrote two articles drawing conclusions, one for the red wines and one for the white wines. And then I was tempted by a bottle of Amarone, a specially made wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy. Why not do one last wine for the series? Of course there are still Italian wines to taste and to retaste. But for the time being I am moving on to French and German wines and will be launching two series I Love French Wine and Food, and I Love German Wine and Food. But first letís talk about Amarone and its less distinctive cousins; Valopicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, and Valopolicella Recioto.

Valpolicella (DOC) is usually nothing to write home about, although some producers are said to be better than others. This deep maroon, light-bodied wine comes from the area near Verona in eastern Veneto. It contains 10% to 12% alcohol and often tastes of cooked cherries. Valpolicella is made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes and sometimes other grapes native to the region.

Valpolicella Ripasso is made from young Valpolicella wine put into tanks or barrels containing the lees (one could say dregs, but that might give the wrong impression) of a recioto wine (see below). The mixture undergoes a secondary fermentation and becomes a more interesting wine. In spite of its higher quality, this wine may no longer carry the Valpolicella appellation and is usually sold as a table wine.

Valpolicella Recioto is made from passito grapes, those dried on mats for several months. It may be a still wine, a fizzy wine, or a sparkling wine. Valpolicella Recioto is sweet or bittersweet.

Amarone DOC is a type of Valpolicella Recioto whose sugar has been completely transformed into alcohol becoming a powerful tasting wine that packs a punch and ages well. What a difference between Amarone and its source wine, Valipolcella.

Wine Reviewed
Farina Amarone della Valolicella Classico DOC 2001 15% alcohol about $30

Letís start by quoting the back label. This wine originated from different clones of Corvine, Rondinella, Molinara, Negrara, and Dindarella, cultivated in our own vineyards on the hills north of Verona. The grapes were harvested in late September and spread out on trays for about 4 months to evaporate their moisture and concentrate their sugar. Fermentation started in early February and continued slowly for about 2 months. After settling, the wine matured for 3 years in Slavonian oak barrels of 5 and 10 hectolitres.

Given the wineís power in part due to its higher alcohol content, I was able to taste it with more dishes than usual. Here are my comments.

The first meal consisted of slow cooked chicken legs in a honey and garlic sauce. The Amarone was multilayered and complex. It was very long. The black cherry taste of the underlying Valpolicella was still there. The wine was quite powerful but did not overpower the meat. I think it would have overpowered most chicken breast dishes. The wine handled the meatís grease well. It was great with a dessert of thin biscuits containing almonds and pistachios.

The next meal consisted of whole wheat spaghetti with a commercial Arrabbiata sauce that was not very spicy. The sauce, which wasnít very tasty, did a fine job of bringing out the wineís fruit. Amarone is known to pair well with Parmesan cheese, but the grated Parmesan cheese on the spaghetti sauce was lost in the shuffle. This wine became softer in the presence of high-quality butter cookies. It was excellent, but I felt wasted on the cookies. I finished the meal with a bit of Amarone on its own. The wine was not as intense as I expected.

The next meal included slow-cooked boneless beef ribs and potatoes with caponata, an eggplant and tomato dish. The wine was very long and fruity, tasting in particular of black fruits, tobacco, and leather. At one point I put too much horseradish mustard on the meat, but the Amarone handled this potential problem very well. On the other hand, the Amarone was flat with dessert, a chocolaty pecan pie.

Saint Aubin is a French soft cowís milk cheese with a natural rind. It has a creamy texture and a soft taste. The Amarone-Saint Aubin marriage was not made in heaven; the cheese gave the wine a flat taste.

Bel Paese is a mild, buttery cheese from the Lombardy region of northern Italy. This pale, creamy yellow cheese is made from cowís milk and matures within six to eight weeks. Critics suggest pairing Bel Paese cheese with fruity wines. The Amarone-Bel Paese combination was better than the Amarone-Saint Aubin pairing but didnít really make sense, even though the cheese brought out the wineís fruit. By the way, when I finished the glass of wine on its own, the wine wasnít as good as it was on its own or after a more appropriate pairing.

Before giving my final verdict, I like to state that I donít blame the Amarone for not faring so well with inappropriate pairings. I regret that I didnít have any ungrated Parmesan cheese to accompany it. I was somewhat disappointed with this wine. I expected more; having tasted better, albeit more expensive Amarones. Amarone della Valpolicella will return to my wine glass, but the next stops are France and Germany for the series I Love French Wine and Food and I Love German Wine and Food.

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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Presently his wine websites are www.theworldwidewine.com and www.theitalianwineconnection.com .

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