Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Sampling one of Italy's finest: Amarone

By JIM BEAUREGARD July 11. 2017 11:43PM

There are a number of Italian wines that rank in the first class on an ongoing basis, world-class wines consistently sought for their excellence and aging potential — oh, and because they taste good.

Amarone is one such wine. It has a cousin called Ripasso, that we’ll get to today as well.

Amarone is essentially two bottles in one; that is, twice the concentration of wine in one bottle. In the traditional winemaking process, the three grapes that go into the Amarone blend — Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara — are picked and set out on straw mats to dry. Dried out grapes might not sound too appealing at first, but there is magic at work — as the water in the grapes dissipates, the flavors and sugars are concentrated, so that when the grapes are vinified, and they impart much more intense flavor to the wine.

Here’s an excellent Amarone:

Masi Costaser 2011 Amarone Classico DOCG, S. Amrgogio d. Valpolicella, 15% alcohol by volume. $60, New Hampshire State Liquor Store. Yes, it’s high-end, but the fact is that if you want a good Amarone, it’s around this price that good ones start to appear. Purple with some ruby hints toward the rim, black core, this is a deep rich wine. The nose is of medium intensity, developing, with dried fruit. The palate is silky on the tongue, dry with medium tannin and medium-plus alcohol that’s well integrated right from the start. Medium-plus body and medium-plus flavor intensity with a lot of things going on — red plum, fig, prune, raisin, cedar from the oak aging — the flavors come and go along the long finish. You can drink it now, but it’s big enough in flavor and tannin to lay down for a few years, in which case the dried fruit flavors would deepen and some oak flavors develop more explicitly. It’s got good structure, balance of components, concentration and complexity. 92 points.

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There is, however, a less expensive alternative to Amarone: Ripasso. In fact, Ripasso sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Amarone. I have a daughter in college now, so that automatically makes me a Ripasso guy. Ripasso is made from the same grapes as Amarone. Same grapes, same process, but the second press. (If, for instance, you like extra virgin olive oil, the first press, you know it’s quite different from the subsequent presses. Richer, more flavorful. Same with the second press of Amarone.) Here’s a good one:

Azienda Agricola Ca Del Monte DOC Classico Superiore Valpolicella Ripasso, $18.95, Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop. If you are looking for a good Italian wine, be it eminently affordable or high-end for a special occasion, as well as anything else in between, Angela’s in the north end of Manchester is well worth a stop. This Ripasso is oak aged for 18 months and then aged six months in the bottle before it is turned loose on the world. Medium-intensity wine, not as deep as the Amarone above, but that is to be expected. Clean nose of fruit and oak, dry on the palate with medium-plus acidity, medium tannin, medium-plus alcohol (this one benefits from some air, 10 or 15 minutes open before you drink it), medium body and medium flavor intensity of red and black fruit, with hints of red cherry, along with blackberry, prune and raisin as it opens up, black plum too. Medium length finish. 87 points.

There’s a third part to the Amarone process as well, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Sometimes they take what’s left after the Ripasso is made and distill it into Grappa, an Italian brandy. Nothing goes to waste.

Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


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