After a charming trip to Venice, we headed just a bit west, but still in the northeastern part of Italy to sample wines made from Corvina. We find the weather to be quite temperate, amanating largely from the Adriatic Sea to its east, the breezes blow frequently, and the soil is chalky clay. It's this last element that seems important. Corvina has not been found to produce usable grapes growing in anything but chalky clay.
It's a curious grape. It buds early, but loses those buds and then re-buds. Ultimately, it ripens late, is not particularly tannic, and has very thick skins that are extremely amenable to drying.
Primarily, Corvina is used as the predominant grape in the wines of Veneto (Venice is the capital) and in particular in the smaller region of Valpolicella within Veneto. Typically, Corvinone and or Rondinella are blended with Corvina to give more balance and structure to an otherwise finicky grape.
From these blends, we typically get three types of wines -- those labeled Valpolicella, those labeled Ripasso, and those labeled Amarone. Today, we are fortunate to be tasting Amarone, the most treasured of those wines.
By law, a wine labeled Amarone must contain between 45 and 95% Corvina. Typically, Amarone is in the upper end of that range. Amarone is a different type of wine. It's not just the grapes that do that, but the process.
The grapes for Amarone are almost always harvested in the first two weeks of October. Grapes are chosen, not bunched too tightly in order to enable good air flow and placed on straw drying mats. This process is known as appassimento, literally to dry and shrivel. The solid remains or pomace that are left over after the juice is extracted are then used to produce Ripasso.
Appassimento traditionally lasts for 4 months at which point they will have lost significant weight. They are crushed and go through 1 to 2 months of cold fermentation. After fermentation, the wine is aged in typically new oak, often from nearby Slovenia, but sometimes French oak.
What we get is a very dry, very raisiny wine, and extremely full-bodied wine often having alcohol content in excess of 16%. These wines are rarely released less than 5 years after harvest and sometimes the delay is longer than that.
Pair your Amarone with food that is not easily overwhelmed. In particular, consider steak with gorgonzola cheese or a hearty stew.