With winter in full swing, nothing says “warm up by the fire” like a glass of Amarone. Americans are longtime fans of this full-bodied, velvety red wine, and the U.S. is the second largest destination market, accounting for 14% of total exports.
Produced across 19 townships in the northeast province of Verona, Amarone is created from dried grapes, a method called appassimento in Italian. After harvesting high-quality grapes that can withstand the grape-drying process, bunches are carefully laid in wooden crates or on bamboo racks in a single layer to allow air to circulate. These crates or racks are then placed in large, ventilated rooms to ensure ideal conservation. After 100–120 days, the withered grapes lose up to half their weight. This increases sugar content that in turn increases the alcohol content in the finished wines, which generally range between 15–16.5% alcohol by volume (abv). The drying process also decreases acidity levels, resulting in softer wines.
According to the recently revised production code, Amarone must be made with 45–95% Corvina and/or Corvinone while Rondinella can be 5–30% of the blend. Up to 25% of other red, non-aromatic grape varieties can also be used.
Amarone comes in different designations: Amarone della Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and Amarone della Valpolicella Valpantena. Classico is the original growing area and must originate from vineyards located in the municipalities of Negrar, Marano, Fumane, Sant’Ambrogio and San Pietro. Valpantena is also one of the oldest growing zones and wines with this specification can only come from the Valpantena Valley.
Styles vary among producers and depend largely on vinification methods and wood aging. Some producers use more traditional fermentation methods and age in large casks, while others use shorter fermentation methods and age in French barriques. Both schools of thought produce rich, bold wines that combine opulence and elegance.
Allegrini 2016 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico; $85, 95 points. Ripe plum, blue flower and spice aromas lift out of the glass in this full-bodied red. The smooth, concentrated palate boasts a weightless elegance, delivering blackberry compote, ripe Morello cherry, licorice and baking spice framed in enveloping, velvety tannins. Drink 2022–2031. LUX Wines. Cellar Selection.
Monte del Frà 2016 Tenuta Lena di Mezzo (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico); $60, 94 points. Aromas of ripe red plum, new leather, blue flower and pipe tobacco mingle together in this bold red. The full-bodied palate features steeped prune, raisin, licorice and sandalwood alongside tightly woven, velvety tannins. Drink through 2028. Vision Wine & Spirits. Editors’ Choice.
Speri 2016 Sant’Urbano (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico); $84, 94 points. Made with organically grown grapes, this full-bodied, plush red has inviting aromas of baked plum, new leather, camphor and violet. Smooth and enveloping, the delicious palate doles out mouthfuls of fruit cake, baking spice, fleshy blackberry and licorice. Velvety tannins provide softness while fresh acidity keeps it balanced. Drink through 2031. Empson USA Ltd.
Cesari 2016 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico; $55, 93 points. New leather, truffle, menthol and baked plum aromas slowly emerge on this inviting, full-bodied red. Smooth and savory, the velvety palate doles out fleshy black cherry, fig, tobacco and licorice alongside polished, enveloping tannins. Drink through 2028. Opici Wines. Editors’ Choice.
Masi 2015 Costasera (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico); $60, 93 points. Underbrush, ripe plum, camphor and spice are just some of the aromas you’ll find in this full-bodied red. Juicy and savory, the bold palate offers blackberry jam, prune, licorice and tobacco alongside an earthy hint of truffle. Velvety tannins provide seamless support. Drink through 2027. Santa Margherita USA.
Nicolis 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico; $79, 93 points. Enticing aromas of violet, tobacco and black-skinned berry emerge from the glass. The savory, full-bodied palate offers blackberry jam, licorice and white pepper alongside fine-grained tannins. Drink through 2029. Ethica Wines.
Pasqua 2015 Famiglia Pasqua (Amarone della Valpolicella); $54, 93 points. Inviting aromas of baked plum, fragrant blue flowers, camphor and cooking spices shape the nose. The smooth, savory palate features cassis, blackberry jam, star anise and nutmeg framed in polished, enveloping tannins. Drink through 2027. Pasqua USA LLC. Editors’ Choice.
Zenato 2015 Sergio Zenato Riserva (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico); $97, 93 points. Violet, mature black-skinned fruit and new leather are some of the aromas you get on this big, bold red. Powerfully structured, the full-bodied palate features steeped prune, fruitcake and licorice framed in tightly knit, velvety tannins. Drink 2022–2027. Winebow.
Fattori 2016 Col de la Bastià (Amarone della Valpolicella); $65, 92 points. Aromas of black-skinned berries, mocha and new leather lead the nose. The savory palate offers Marasca cherry, clove and espresso alongside fine-grained tannins. Drink through 2029. Zerbina Imports.
Sartori 2015 Estate Collection (Amarone della Valpolicella); $60, 92 points. Inviting aromas of black-skinned berry, warm spice and tobacco emerge from the glass. The savory, balanced palate delivers blackberry jam, ripe raspberry and star anise alongside fine-grained tannins. Enjoy through 2028. Shaw-Ross International Importers.
Tedeschi 2015 Capitel Monte Olmi Riserva (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico); $99, 92 points. This single-vineyard bottling opens with multifaceted aromas of new leather, forest floor, fragrant purple flowers and spice. The bold, densely concentrated palate doles out baked plum, stewed prune, nutmeg and licorice framed in tightly knit, velvety tannins. You’ll also notice the heat of evident alcohol on the close, but the fleshy fruit flavors don’t let it dominate. Drink 2022–2030. Tedeschi USA. Cellar Selection.
Tenuta Santa Maria 2013 Riserva (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico); $88, 91 points. This opens with aromas of violet, cooking spices and underbrush. The firm, brawny palate shows dried black cherry, star anise and black pepper alongside polished tannins. Drink through 2027. Indigenous Selections.