Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Amarone

(Disclaimer: This column has absolutely nothing to do with wine under $15. Think of this entry as three selections "raisinated" into one fabulous experience.)

Uncle Alan and I were talking about wine a few years ago. I'd said something about how my favorite winesrosés in the summer, into the heavy reds in the winter. Alan...well -- he's a man's man:
change with the seasons -- I swing towards more light whites and Alan, well...

"I like reds. Heat of summer, dead of winter, doesn't matter. The bigger and more tannic the better. My absolute favorite is AMARONE."

It takes different strokes to move the world, yes it does. But I sure got curious about this Amarone stuff. I'd heard of it. I knew it was a monstrous Italian red. I knew it was expensive. I also never got around to trying it. I had the occasion to talk to him again not long ago (and yes, we've spoken in the interim), so I got inspired when I went wine shopping. I found a bottle -- Speri 2000 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico -- plunked down my $50 (hey...you only live once), and decided to give it a go.

So, what's the deal with this wine?

Amarone (Italian for “big bitter”) is from the Veneto region of Italy. The Veneto is best known for light, fragrant reds which are simply called "Valpolicella" usually. Both these light wines and Amarone are made largely from the same three native grape varietals: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.

Rather than using the standard "crush and ferment" process as with a normal wine, the grapes are harvested, separated, and laid to dry on straw mats for around four months. During this time, the grapes "raisinate" -- and the resulting dessicated grapes are then pressed and the resulting highly concentrated juice is fermented. The result? A very powerful, highly textured, extremely tannic wine. Once the wine is bottled, the tannins take a long time to mellow. These wines are rarely released within five years of bottling, and can take close to a decade to get to their proper flavor. The hefty pricetag comes from the combination of the long winemaking process and the necessity for even longer storage.

(Interesting pop culture note -- I've referenced Hannibal Lecter's love of Chianti before, but in Thomas Harris’ "Silence of the Lambs" novel, Lecter actually poured an Amarone to go with his liver and fava beans...)

I read in a number of places that the wine needs a good long while to breathe before drinking. So, one Saturday, I cracked a bottle of this, let it sit for an hour or so, and started putting dinner together. Amarone's recommended pairings are red meats and big cheeses, so I thought I'd combine the two -- grilled filet mignon topped with gorgonzola alongside little roasted rosemary potatoes and sautéed Cremini mushrooms in a red wine sauce.

While we were starting to put the meal together, we poured a couple of small glasses just to try it before pairing it up with the food. At first taste, there were soft fruit flavors, still a little bit of alcohol fuminess (Amarone is always at least 14% alcohol.), but a pleasant aroma overall. When it first hit my tongue, I said, "This is big...BIG-big." Coffee, cocoa, licorice dominated the palate. The finish was very tannic, dry, and set a new standard for "long lasting."

I let my glass sit for 15 minutes or so while I got to work on the steaks. After several minutes of sitting following swirling, like many big Italian wines, I came back to a whole new world. There was much more fruit on the nose -- all sorts of layered scents of raisins, roses, and coffee. The palate balanced out -- it reminded us both of dark chocolate-covered blueberries and blackberries. The finish was still very tannic, but the fruit and chocolate flavors rode the tannins for ages.

Then came dinner.

Oh. My. God.

"This meal would be good with water," said the Sweet Partner in Crime, "but with this wine...this wine..." Absolute hedonism. Thanks to this wine, a "good meal" turned surreally scrumptious. The filets, grilled to perfection by yours truly, had its juicy tenderness amplified by the fruit flavors in the wine. The tannins sliced right through the fat in the cheese, enhancing the Gorgonzola's bright flavors. "The cheese and this wine alone are like silk," declared the SPinC.

The earthiness of the wine brought out all sorts of flavors in the mushrooms. The spice in the wine echoed the rosemary in the potatoes.

At one point, the SPinC spilled a little while refilling. She sopped it up with her napkin. I took said napkin from her and sucked the wine out. Too good to waste. We found ourselves eating really slowly. We savored every bite, following each one with small sips off our glasses. A meal that might have taken 20 minutes to polish off stretched into almost three times that. At the end, we sat back, sated. The SPinC left a couple of slightly fatty bites on her plate for the pups. "Life's too short for dogs not to get some filet every now and then," she explained.

At meal's end, we sat, basking in the sensual glow of an absolutely incredible meal. I've talked before about how people make wine to go along with the food that they raise wherever they are. This wine was a perfect reflection of the pace of Italian meals. Additionally, this wine helped me truly understand why it's important to occasionally treat yourself to a really special wine from time to time. There are very few food & wine pairings I've ever had that were this good. Once again, I'll turn to the Sweet Partner to sum this up as well as I ever could:


"Some people might question why you'd spend $50 on a bottle of wine -- and then it's gone in an hour. But, with a meal like this, what an hour!"





7 comments:

some guy in Austin said...

That's quite a review. I'll have to give it a try this weekend.

Chris said...

Just had my first Amarone experience, and what an experience it was! First of all, I am SO
glad I read thes article first. I followed Mike's advice...cooled and decanted the wine firt. Then we tasted it by itself, paired it with the best Parmesan I could fine...totally different wine! Oh, but then I cooked my filet au poivre...the experience was nearly orgasmic. We have never experienced such a combination! Truely amazing...THIS is why we work so hard all week long! Mike and SPinC positively nailed it..."what an hour" indeed!

Mike said...

Chris,

Thanks for sharing! This brings a huge smile to my face on a Monday morning. Glad you enjoyed...

Anonymous said...

Guys, you should try a glas (or two) of Amarone with a late dinner with your spouses after a opera in Arena di Verona. It is magic (which lasts more than 1 hour) and worth flying from the states. My wife just adore it so we keep coming to opera (and for Amarone) for years. I live in Rijeka (Fiume in Italian) in Croatia and it takes me just 3 hours drive to reach Verona.

Once you are in this part of the word there is so much to explore and experience: Veneto (Valpollichela and Soave), Toscana to the south, Piemonte to the north. But try also to find sime time to explore wine, olive oil and food (and truffles!) from Istrian peninsula (in Croatia, bordering with Slovenia and Italy) - undiscovered land also called 'Terra Magica' or 'Croatian Toscana'.
Since the quantities are limited, local wine (Malvasia Istriana (w), Teran (r), Muskat (w)), olive oil and truffles are probably not sold on US market so you have to come and enjoy. Please, find more info on www.istra.com.

Best regards from Croatia!
Boris - wine enthusiast and (Masi and Tomasi) Amarone fan
(boris@multilink.hr)
P.S. I found your blog while googling to find perfect food to pair with Amarone which I want to introduce to my project colleagues in Belgrade tomorrow!

NYC Catering said...

Serving wine is definitely a must in every event that where we serve food. However, we make sure that we follow our clients' suggestion on what kind of wine to serve.

Terrie said...

I make my own Amarone every year. It's not a kit. I don't do kits. It's 100% grape juice. I am fortunate to live near a juice supplier that gets fresh must flash frozen from Italy to the states. To make a bottle for me only cost me $4.50 and everyone wants to be my friend.

Mike Rosenberg said...

I would imagine! You actually get the juice from raisinated grapes flash frozen and sent? And you have the aging capability to mellow it out enough to make something that tastes like Amarone?

Do tell. I would love to know how to do this. Thanks!