Considered to be one of Italy’s most celebrated red wines, Amarone della Valpolicella (more widely known as Amarone), is undoubtedly one of our most special wines that we make here at Le Vigne. Traditionally crafted with a labor-intensive process to bring out the distinctive structure and savory flavor of the grapes, the resulting wine is full-bodied in flavor and pairs well with strong cheeses and hearty meals such as beef or game. Our winemaker, Michael Barreto, makes our AmeRhone wine using a method slightly different than what is considered to be the traditional style. The most obvious way he does this is with the spelling of the name, AmeRhone, indicating that the grapes used come from the Rhone region of France. He also specifically chooses to use French oak barrels to add subtle spicy overtones and velvety textures to the wine as it ages. The rest of the winemaking process deviates slightly from the standard style, but Barreto always ensures that the ending result is flavorful and unique, making this one of the most exceptional and sought-after wines that we produce.
In the traditional Amarone wine, Corvina and other grape varietals are carefully hand-picked from the vines and left to dehydrate in special, temperature-controlled cellars. This causes the grapes to shrivel and raisin, thus concentrating their flavor and sugar levels. The continued contact of the grapes with their skins during this drying process further brings out the intensity of the tannins, color, and flavors of the wine. After drying out for typically 3-4 months in these cellars, the grapes are pressed and transferred to oak barrels where the wine will age for usually a minimum of two years.
Here at Le Vigne, our winemaker takes a slightly different approach to the preparation of this wine. Primarily Syrah and some Corvina grapes are harvested from the Domenico Estate Vineyard when their sugar levels are slightly lower than when used for normal wine production. Instead of using a temperature-controlled cellar, the grapes are laid out on parchment paper next to the vines to dehydrate, a process known as appassimento. Using this method, the light and heat from the sun causes the grapes to desicate more quickly, and after only about five days of laying out the grapes are then transferred to large storage bins. But the process doesn’t stop there. One of the reasons why this wine is so special is because of the next step: literally! This is the only wine we make in which the grapes are actually stomped by our winemaker and other employees, rather than pushed down with large metal poles. This allows not only further contact with the skins for increased tannin and flavor, but also keeps the seeds from breaking and releasing any of their bitter flavors. Grapes are typically stomped once every day for about one week before they are pressed and ready for barreling. The resulting wine is then transferred into French oak barrels and aged for around 22 months before being released.
This being said, the making of an Amarone wine is an enormous undertaking. On top of a labor-intensive process that takes more time and manpower than is required for normal wine production, there are many factors that must be taken into account in the blending and aging processes. The goal is to balance the powerful, rich flavors and high alcohol content (which can be as great as 17%!) with the nutty, slightly raisiny flavors and mild sweetness characteristic to the style of wine. Barreto succeeds to accomplish this challenge every vintage by carefully selecting the grapes to be used, caring for them as they dehydrate in the vineyards, and choosing the most effective methods for the crushing and the aging of the wine. With only around 200 cases produced for each vintage (just enough for our La Famiglia Wine Club members), it is without doubt that our AmeRhone wines are some of our most prized possessions.