amarone grapes drying

Bunches of grapes for Amarone drying on racks in Valpolicella

When was the Amarone wine first made?
In order to answer this question is not enough to go back to 1950 when the first label with the official name Amarone appeared, but we have to go back to the millenary history of Recioto, the sweet dessert wine made with dried grapes still produced in Valpolicella nowadays.

It is almost certain that Amarone has always existed but it is only in recent years that, thanks to the changes in wine lovers’ tastes, it has become such a well known and highly appreciated wine.

It is commonly belived that Amarone was a mistake. A very nice mistake but nevertheless a mistake. The name itself suggest that the first impression of people tasting it, was quite unpleasent. Amarone is a word which is pretty much a made up word that could be translated as “great bitter”.

The Recioto

In the past the most appreciated wine produced in Valpolicella was a dessert, sweet wine called Recioto, which is also produced nowadays with semi-dried grapes. Recioto must be something very similar to a wine called Retico that was already produced more than two thousands years ago in a quite wide region that included great part of northern Italy, and was called Retia by the Romans. Virgil, Plinio and other Roman poets and writers prized in their poems this wine. Romans loved sweet wines so much that added honey and spices to wines that were too dry.

In V century a.D., Cassiodorus, minister of Theodoric king of the Goths, in a letter describes a wine made with dried grapes in Valpolicella. He suggests to his king to try, once in Verona, this wine which is “...dense and fleshy … with a regal color and an incredible sweetness…“.

From Recioto to Amarone

Sweet wines are made by stopping the fermentation at a certain stage so that not all the sugar inside the must are transformed into alcohol by the yeasts. Today, with modern wine making techniques and tools it is not too difficult to achieve this result but in the past it was not so easy to stop the activity of yeasts. It was not uncommon that the sweet wine inside a not properly sealed barrel continued to slowly ferment so that all the sugars in it turned into alcohol. The result must have been quite disappointing for the wine makers of the past that expecting a sweet nectar, ended up having a very dry, almost bitter wine. It is believed that such a “bitter” wine might have considered a waste, given to servants or used for cooking. This could also explain the origin of few traditional Veronese dishes that require in their recipes large amounts of Amarone such as Pastissada, horse meat stewed in Amarone, or the risotto all’Amarone. This wouldn’t have happened if the Amarone had always been considered a high quality and expensive wine like it is nowadays.

Modern Amarone

Consumers’ tastes change with time and gradually, towards the end of 20th century, dry wines started to become popular, and what before was considered a mistake, gradually began to be made on porpouse. At the beginning it was called Recioto Amaro (Bitter/Dry Recioto), then in 1936 Recioto Amarone. The legend says that in 1936 the cellar master of the Cooperative Winery of Valpolicella found a barrel of Recioto that had been forgotten in a corner of the cellar. He tasted the wine and screemed enthusiastically: “questo non è amaro, questo è un amarone!!” (this is not bitter, this is a great bitter). The word was soon used on labels together with the word Recioto.

But it is only in 1990, when the DOC quality label was given to Valpolicella wines that Amarone got its independence from Recioto gaining an identity of its own. From that moment on Amarone continued to increase its popularity, becoming one of the most famous and appreciated wines not only in Italy but all over the world.

In 2009 Amarone got the DOCG registration, Italian top quality label for wines.

Amarone Wine Tours

Discover the history, the legends, the wine making secrets and all about Amarone and other Valpolicella wines with Amarone Winery Tours. All our guides are passionate about their territory and wines and will take you through a unforgettable tour around the many wineries of Valpolicella. Amarone Tours is specialized in small party, tailor made winery tours and will take care of everything: transport, booking at wineries, organization of tastings, lunch, English translation and even wine shippment. You only have to relax and enjoy your favourite wine.

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