The Valpolicella wine region is one I have probably explored the most in depth as it was my first press trip as a wine blogger. I’ve even been a number of times including my own personal travel there so I have a pretty good understanding of the land, the grapes and the styles of wine grown there. Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group this month is exploring passito wines. It gave me the perfect excuse to open a bottle that I brought back from Italy when I traveled through this wine region in 2009, prior to being a blogger at that time.
What are passito wines? They’re wines that undergo a unique process of drying the grapes, known as the appassimento process, before they go through fermentation. The grapes are either laid out of mats to dry or as I saw from my journey there they were laid in crates with fans blowing on them. As you can imagine this concentrates the sugars in the grapes developing a more richer, complex style with depth. Think about your average grape and then think about raisins. Very different flavor there as the water evaporates from the end product.
Amarone stems from the word amaro meaning bitter as this wine can be compared to its sweeter counterpart, recioto della valpolicella. Amarone is the dry version of a recioto. Back in the day producers let natural fermentation take place until some discovered by accident that the sugar of the dried grapes had all been metabolized. It was initially labelled as Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone until the 1990’s when it stood on its own as you see it today, Amarone della Valpolicella.
The Land ~ Valpolicella
The Amarone DOCG wines are an appellation within the Valpolicella wine region of the Veneto. Just north of Verona this wine region borders the Monti Lessini Range along the Adige River on the western side. The name Valpolicella stems from a Latin word meaning “valley of many cellars” and wineries here are a plenty. I remember from my travels that the valleys fan out throughout the region looking almost like fingers. It reminded me a little of the Finger Lakes wine region of upstate NY I travel to annually.
Amarone wines are produced from a variety of grapes at differing percentages including corvina, corvinone, rondinella and molinara. The Brunelli Amarone I’m sharing today is made of 65% corvina, 25% rondinella and 10% corvinone. Corvina is the primary red grape produced in the Valpolicella wine region. Rondinella is another popular varietal of the region typically blended in many of the red wines found in Valpolicella as well as the wine area of Bardolino. It’s considered a relative of the former corvina mentioned. Corvinone is used in smaller percentages, but adds some beefiness and body to the blends in which it is used.
The Winery ~ Brunelli
The Brunelli winery is located in San Pietro in Carino, within the Amarone Classico wine zone. This is the most western part of the Valpolicella wine producing area and like most classico wine zones is considered the heart of the wine region. Considered the best wines of the area, although I hate to generalize as we know there are always diamonds in the rough.
The history of the Brunelli winery starts back in the 18th century when three brothers were sharecroppers that worked the land of a noble family out of Verona. They produced a variety of crops and took care of the farm animals. At one point they decided to produce recioto and valpolicella wines giving half to the owner of the land. Word got out of the quality of the wines they were producing by locals and a visiting bishop. At the beginning of the 20th century they had an opportunity to become full owners.
The great grandfather of today’s current manager, Alberto Brunelli, started the winery in 1936. After World War II past he passed the winery down to his son, Giuseppe, whom started to bottle the wines. This was at a time when most growers of the area were selling their wines in bulk. Alberto’s father, Luigi, took over the winery in 1976 purchasing 2 parcels of land in the Classico area. These parcels were called Campo Inferi and Campo del Titari.
I love that these parcels of land have such meaning as Luigi had a childhood horse whom he named the vineyard of Campo del Titari after. It produced wines that reminded of grace and power. The tobacco and leather notes reminded him of the horse’s saddle while the deeper color reminded him of the black horse. The wines produced there are considered to have a “determined and enigmatic character” like himself. The other parcel, Campo Inferi, has more gentler, feminine style traits like his wife.
The 2006 Brunelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico that I opened was quite the treat. Amarone wines are ones that definitely need some oxygen to open up. I personally like to taste it through its many stages upon opening, some hours later and even the next day if some is left over.
This Amarone was a deeper ruby in color, paler on the edges. With a nose of dark cherries and rich raspberry notes. Upon tasting at the back of my mouth it left a beautiful silkiness or glycerol taste you’ll find in some of the wines of this area. A well balanced wine with softer tannings, good acidity an nice concentrated fruit. More feminine in style with elegance.
It was drinking well for being 13 years old and I’m glad I opened it at this point. Amarone wines are ones that can age for decades if you have the time and patience. At an SRP at $45 it’s not a wine you can splurge on every day, but its one I always typically enjoy with my Thanksgiving meal and the occasional splurge. ABV 15%
Pairing: Since the cool weather is upon us I chose to pair this Amarone with a pot roast drizzled with an amarone based gravy.
Join us live this Saturday September 7th on Twitter at 11am EST to learn all about passito wines from the rest of our winelovers.
Jeff at Food Wine Click will share “Dip Your Biscotti in Montefalco Sagrantino Passito“
Linda at My Full Wine Glass will share “Passito and peaches –perfect late-summer fare (#ItalianFWT)”
Camilla Mann at Culinary Adventures with Cam will share “Polpette al Forno + Sartarelli Verdicchio Passito 2013”
Wendy Klik at A Day in the Life on the Farm will share “Appassimento Method explained in Layman Terms”
Kevin Gagnon at Snarky Wine will share “Great Sweet Wines of the World Part 2: Passito”
Cindy at Grape Experiences will share “Italian Night? Pair Appassimento from Abruzzo with Homemade Wild Mushroom Ravioli“
Nicole at Somm’s Table will share “The Sweet Side of ILatium Morini: Sette Dame Recioto di Soave Classico with an Old-Fashioned Strawberry Cake“
Gwendolyn at Wine Predator will share “Pasqua Puts a Little Love in Your Life Part 2: White and Red Appassimento“
Katarina at Grapevine Adventures will share “3 Different Italian Appassimento Wines That You Will Love”