Remember the California Raisins? They were all the rage in the late 80’s and everyone was clambering for the figurines midwest hamburger chain Hardee’s was giving out. My grandmother actually sent me a compete set from Indiana when I was about 5. They basically looked little turds. I wish I had kept them though. eBay fodder fo’ sho.
Anyway, I was thinking about them recently because a guest asked me about Amarone, the famous Italian wine made from dried grapes. Amarone is most certainly iconic and ranks amongst some of the best displays of human intervention in its crafting. But people tend to buy it, sip it, and look at me like I made them put, like, a live fish in their mouth. Its chewy. Its raisiny. Its not Cherry Cola, but its syrupy as hell. Then they scowl at me and order a mojito instead. This is a shame. Much like electronica, its all about context. Rave? Yeeeeessss! Doing my taxes? What’s with the effin’ sirens?? Amarone is a perfect pairing for big old slabs of meat. I think of it as Christmas wine. Aged beef, cable knit sweaters, three month food babies. Its Hibernation Wine, not exactly Sexy Time Wine.
Amarone hails from the Veneto of Northeastern Italy. Home of Romeo and Juliet, a popular 90’s teen tom-com starring a barely pubescent Leonardo DiCaprio and that crazy girl from Homeland. This alone gives the wine some mystique, but the true magic of Amarone lay in the process of its production. The technique was initially utilized to afford winemakers the ability to craft rich and full-bodied wines in cooler climates. The best grapes, a combination of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, are left on the vine to ripen as long as possible.
Then comes the real trick: appassimento, Italian talk for drying out. Traditionally, the grapes were then spread on wooden beds for three to four months to dry out, concentrating the wine’s sugar and losing quite a bit of water weight. (Wish it was that easy for us ladies, amiright??) These days, winemakers use fancy temperature and humidity controlled rooms for the process. I assume they rent them out for hot yoga classes and jerky making the rest of the year. The wine then undergoes fermentation often to over 14% in alcohol, pretty high for the Veneto and pretty great for catching a sweet buzz, and a long maceration period which means the skins are left in the fermented mushy-mush to get the full effect of color and flavor. Then its aged in oak at least two years and four for Riserva.
Amarone translates to Great Bitter, which translates to Brandi Glanville. This characteristic is most evident in the high tannins of the wine as well as its searing acidity. Both these qualities make it very age-able, transforming into a lusciously bright and complex wine as time goes by. Notes of cherry, raisin, caramel, mocha ring throughout, only layering as time goes on.
As with a lot of my faves, this bella bambina ain’t cheap. The selectiveness of grapes and expensive winemaking puts most good bottles over $50 retail. This isn’t necessarily a Tuesday night wine. Unless your husband typically brings home a buck he shot and you make roast venison on Tuesdays. That would be really special at my home, since we live in a city and the only gun we own dispenses hot glue.