Wine Club O Collection 6 April 2021

The best Amarone della Valpolicella to drink now

It’s a wine that can bewitch and befuddle in equal measure. But if you know what to expect, Amarone della Valpolicella is a wine of beguiling charm. Sarah Marsh MW tastes a selection of Amarones from stellar producers, spanning varying vintages and styles
Introduction and recommendations by
Sarah Marsh MW
Photography by

Even knowledgeable wine lovers sometimes approach Amarone della Valpolicella with a degree of uncertainty, daunted by preconceptions of considerable alcohol and formidable structure. This tasting is designed to allay these fears, let you know what to expect and encourage you to explore the different styles and vintages.

For the spring issue of Club O, Amarone producers were invited to submit samples, and the response was impressive. But more remarkable was the high and consistent level of quality. Of the 90 samples, 40 scored 90 points or above. Amarone may be steeped in tradition, but the 11 valleys in the foothills of the Lessini mountains are alive with talented producers interpreting their traditions in a contemporary way. Key to this approach is that modern-day Amarone should not taste spirity or sweet.

Wine lovers might be surprised to learn that they don’t need to age Amarone, says Sarah Marsh: "The producer has done this for you"

Amarone is produced using appassimento, an ancient technique developed when cold conditions made it impossible to ripen grapes sufficiently. Bunches are dried in specially designed lofts, so the berries shrivel by at least 30%, concentrating the sugar. This means that the alcohol is high – usually around 16% – but it should feel integrated and balanced. (Around one in six of the samples tasted a bit hot on the finish.) The fermentation should complete with just a soupçon of residual sugar. (Regulations allow 11g/l at 16%ABV, but you are unlikely to encounter this level of sweetness. Many have less than 3g/l, which is undetectable.) The result is something rich and full-bodied, but essentially dry.

As the name suggests, Amarone should be slightly bitter – in a good way. Think sour cherries and quality black chocolate. This comes from the traditional grape varieties of Corvina and Corvinone, which are both low in tannin, yielding a soft, smooth and supple texture.

And then there are the aromatics, which are often misleadingly described as balsamic. During the appassimento process, chemical changes in the skin impart the signature aromatics of culinary herbs – from softly fragrant bay leaf and oregano, to more punchy aniseed/tarragon, to fresh notes of mint, basil and lime leaf. Corvinone produces a green peppercorn note, while tabanones, which develop during ageing, deliver the distinctive tobacco aromas. Amarone is intriguing for these aromatics, which bring great complexity to both nose and palate.

Amarone corks
This was a tasting of wines to drink now, and Marsh says the 2011s, 2012s and 2013s are wonderfully approachable

It may come as a surprise to learn that you don’t need to age Amarone. The producer has done this for you. Regulations stipulate two years in oak – four for riserva – but many are matured for considerably longer, and most producers then hold the wine for a further year in bottle. The 2011s, ’12s and ’13s currently on the market are drinking beautifully now (and you could decant the 2015 and ’16).

Amarone is the ultimate slow wine. Enjoy the unhurried artisan craftsmanship. It is the perfect wine for contemplation and refection; just don’t serve it too warm. And I encourage you to explore the different styles. The traditional style, matured in large Slavonian oak casks, made in a clean contemporary way (without volatility or oxidation), produces smooth, rounded and velvety wines, still fruity and herbal but combining more mature notes of coffee, tobacco and spices. Or you may prefer the modern, barrique-aged style, which is youthfully oaky and more extracted. The post-modern style confronts any preconceptions of heaviness via a lighter and more delicate approach, translucent and precise. On that note, look for a growing number of single-vineyard Amarones, reflecting a growing interest in revealing the terroir.

Amarone being poured
With decanting, even the 2015 and 2016 Amarone vintages are ready to drink

Finally, please don’t keep Amarone for Christmas or a midwinter casserole or hotpot. Amarone is expensive (rightly so, given the low production and extensive ageing), but it doesn’t demand haute cuisine, and the different styles offer surprising culinary versatility. Lighter styles are well suited to vegetarian dishes including risottos. A homemade spaghetti bolognese is fine, and the richer wines will hoover up mild chilli, spices and curries. As Amarone matures, it slims down and becomes more refined. 2011 could pair with chicken, quiche lorraine and – why not? – pizza. (My preference would be margherita or pepperoni.) It’s perfect with hard cheeses, salty or tangy. I like it slightly chilled with bresaola. I think it’s better with lean meat – game or beef – than fatty lamb. And if you are home alone, you can put it in the fridge and drink it over several days. It’s also great with a venison burger.

In short, Amarone is the perfect wine for our times – an example of resilience and innovation in the face of adversity, and not a wine to rush. Because let’s face it, we have the time…

Scroll down to see my highlights from a superb tasting.

Top Rated Bottles

The best Amarones to drink now

Quintarelli Guiseppe, Amareno Della Valpolicella Classico 2012

Score
98
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2032
  • RRP £240
Amareno Della Valpolicella Classico
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Dal Forno Romano, Amarone della Valpolicella 2013

Score
97
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2025
  • To 2035
  • RRP £310
Amarone della Valpolicella
Learn More

Ca' la Bionda, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2015

Score
95
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2030
  • RRP £42.95
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Learn More

Musella, Senza Titolo Amarone della Valpolicella 2011

Score
95
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2024
  • RRP N/A in UK
Senza Titolo Amarone della Valpolicella
Learn More

Secondo Marco, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2013

Score
95
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2028
  • RRP £53.65
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Learn More

Speri, Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2016

Score
95
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2022
  • To 2030
  • RRP £70.01
Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Vigneti di Ettore, Ettore Righetti Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

Score
94
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2023
  • To 2026
  • RRP N/A in UK
Ettore Righetti Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Brolo dui Giusti, Amarone della Valpolicella 2011

Score
93
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2025
  • RRP £51
Amarone della Valpolicella
Learn More

Ilatium Morini, Campo Léon Amarone della Valpolicella 2015

Score
93
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2022
  • To 2025
  • RRP £39.95
Campo Léon Amarone della Valpolicella
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Monte dall’Ora, Stropa Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

Score
93
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2026
  • RRP £90
Stropa Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Pietro Clementi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2011

Score
93
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2027
  • RRP N/A in UK
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Learn More

Roccolo Grassi, Amarone della Valpolicella 2015

Score
93
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2025
  • To 2030
  • RRP £66.21
Amarone della Valpolicella
Learn More

Le Guaite di Noemi, Amarone della Valpolicella 2010

Score
92
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2028
  • RRP N/A in UK
Amarone della Valpolicella
Learn More

Marion, Amarone della Valpolicella 2015

Score
92
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2023
  • To 2030
  • RRP £70
Amarone della Valpolicella
Learn More

Valentina Cubi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2006

Score
92
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2023
  • RRP £90
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva
Learn More

Buglioni, Il Lussurioso Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2016

Score
91
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2025
  • To 2028
  • RRP N/A in UK
Il Lussurioso Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Ca’ dei Frati, Pietro Dal Cero Amarone della Valpolicella 2013

Score
91
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2025
  • RRP £78.85
Pietro Dal Cero Amarone della Valpolicella
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Damoli, Checo Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2013

Score
91
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2024
  • RRP £34.65
Checo Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Guerrieri Rizzardi, Calcarole Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2013

Score
91
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2025
  • RRP £68.49
Calcarole Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Sartori, I Saltari Amarone della Valpolicella 2012

Score
91
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2022
  • To 2029
  • RRP £37
I Saltari Amarone della Valpolicella
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Fattori, Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2016

Score
90
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2024
  • RRP £44.99
Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva
Learn More

Le Bignele, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014

Score
90
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2027
  • RRP N/A in UK
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Learn More

Masi, Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

Score
90
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2022
  • RRP £55
Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
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Tomassi, Ca’ Florian Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2012

Score
90
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2024
  • RRP £76.67
Ca’ Florian Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva
Learn More

Zenato, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2016

Score
90
100
Valpolicella DOC
  • From 2021
  • To 2026
  • RRP £46.75
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Learn More

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