Amarone is one of the top Italian red wines, exported and appreciated all over the world. Its production region is Valpolicella, in the outskirts of the city of Verona, in the north east of Italian peninsula. There are almost 400 wineries that produce Amarone. Some are inside gorgeous Renaissance villas, some are world famous producers with impressive cellars. Many are smaller family run wineries that offer warm hospitality together with great tours. Tasty restaurants, countryside hotels, breathtaking landscapes, old churches and castles make Valpolicella an ideal destination for wine tourism.
Best starting point to go to Valpolicella on and Amarone wine tour is Verona, only 20 minutes drive from the vineyards. It is a big city that offers a wide range of accommodation. For one day trip it can be easily reached by car or train from Venice, Bologna or Milan. Verona airport is well connected with most European capitals.
Book an Amarone wine tour
- With an half day tour it is generally possible to visit two wineries selected among the most representative of the region.
- With a full day tour you can visit 4-5 cellars including lunch in one of the wineries or in a local restaurant.
Where is it?
Amarone is a DOCG (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed) wine, Italian top certification for quality wines. It means that a winery can make Amarone only if its vineyard and cellar are inside the boundaries of Valpolicella wine producing region. That is why the full name is actually Amarone della Valpolicella.
Valpolicella is a mostly hilly area north of Verona. It stretches from the river Adige valley on its west side to the volcanic soil of Soave wine producing area to its east end. The hills of Valpolicella mainly consist of solid limestone rich in fossils. Erosion, over millions of years, dug deep valleys that cut the hills from north to south. On the terraced slopes vine has been growing for at least 2000 years. Valpolicella was already a famous wine producing area in Roman times.
There are three sub-denomination within the greater Valpolicella wine producing area.
- Valpolicella Classica: it is the historical Amarone wine region. Here you will find some of the oldest and most traditional wineries.
- Valpolicella Valpantena: a fertile valley on the east side of Verona with a long tradition of agriculture and wine making.
- Eastern Valpolicella: the newer Valpolicella region that produce some of the most powerful Amarones.
In Valpolicella there is a bunch of wineries that, each for a different reason, made Amarone wine famous all over the world. Bertani, Masi, Tommasi, Allegrini, Giuseppe Quintarelli, Romano Dal Forno. Their bottles and labels are highly iconic and recognisable on the shelfs and racks of wine shops, wine bars and restaurants. Wineries are spectacular, each with its unique character. Some are huge and overwhelming, some fancy, other traditional, or modern, or charming, and always offer great tours and tasting experience.
Valpolicella is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The legacy of its history is found in the remains of Roman temples, streets and houses, in the ancient Romanesque parish churches and in the gorgeous villas. Starting from late 15th century, noble families built their villas in the countryside. They were Summer residence, often places in the center of vast agricultural estates that the villa helped controlling and managing. Villas soon became status symbols, a way to show wealth and sophistication with other high society members. Owners hired architects, sculptors, painters to embellish their gorgeous residences filled with precious furniture and decorations.
Today many villas in Valpolicella transformed into wineries and host Amarone barrels in their cellars. Most of them can be visited during our Amarone wine tours: Villa Mosconi Bertani (picture), Villa Giona, Villa Rizzardi, Villa della Torre, Villa Serego Alighieri, Villa Fumanelli. You will walk the Italian style gardens with their geometric patterns made of boxwood, you will remain breathless under frescoed ceilings or in front of huge grotesque fireplaces shaped as wild animals and demon faces. And of course you will also try delicious Amarone wines feeling a bit like a Renaissance Italian lord.
Besides the few well known big brands, in Valpolicella there are hundreds of smaller wineries that produce Amarone wine. Most of them are family managed, with small, crafted production focused on quality and the respect of nature and tradition. Here you often have the chance to talk directly to the owners or winemakers, discovering their secret tricks and recipes to make amazing Amarones. In some of these wineries it is also possible to organise light snacks and lunch of local cheese, salami, olive oil and bread to pair the wine tasting.
How is Amarone Made?
All Valpolicella wines, including Amarone, are a blend of local grape varietals, mainly Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella. Production rules set the percentages of the blend that every producer must follow in order to certify their wine as Amarone. Corvina and Corvinone together have to range between 45% and 95% of the blend. Rondinella must be between 5% and 30%. Every producer can also add up to 25% of other indigenous grape varietals: Molinara, Oseleta, Negrara, Pelara, Dindarella, Forsellina, Spigamonti, etc.
What makes Amarone such a special wine is a unique wine making technique called appassimento, an Italian word that means drying, withering. After picking, grapes are not pressed immediately but rest for few months in designated rooms that every winery in Valpolicella has for this purpose, generally under the roof. At harvest time, usually the end of September, the best bunches are carefully selected and gently hand picked. They must be fully ripe, perfectly healthy and loosely packed to ensure uniform air circulation and prevent mold. Experienced pickers lay them on special crates and racks where they will rest for the following months. In the past it was mandatory to dry Amarone grapes for at least 3 months.
Nowadays warmer and dryer Autumns are becoming more common and drying process tend to be faster. During the appassimento grapes loose up to 40% of water content, sugar concentrates, tannins soften and additional aromatic compounds develop.
If you want to see the drying grapes during your Amarone wine tour you should plan your journey between the end of September end mid December.
Pressing and fermentation take place in Winter. Because of low temperatures and high sugar content, it can take up to two months, to complete. Alcohol content can get up to 16% and above.
Then the wine goes into barrels for the maturation period. Production rules say Amarone must rest for at least two years in barrels, but each winemaker can decide to leave it longer. Some wineries age Amarone for even 10 years before release! Oak barrels are the most used ageing tool although there are cellars that use cherry, chestnut, acacia wood. There are even some that, in order to preserve fruiter aromas, age Amarone in stainless steel. Thanks to the ageing process Amarone gets smoother, richer and an additional layer of aromatic texture develops and adds to its complexity.
The size of barrels varies a lot depending on the producer approach. Most common are the 225 liters barriques (59 gallons) and the 2,500 liters (660 gallons) casks with anything in between and above up to even 30.000 liters! In smaller barrels Amarone tends to develop a more powerful character, in bigger ones it gets smoother and more elegant.
Visiting the ageing cellar with endless rows of barrels of every size neatly lined up, and smell the complex aromas of wood and wine, is one of the most exiting moments of any wine tour.
How does Amarone taste like?
Most important Italian red wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello needs few years in the bottle to express their full potential. On the contrary Amarone is a wine that tends to be ready from the beginning. Nevertheless it is also a wine with one of the longest ageing potential that will keep evolving with time in the bottle. You can easily keep good vintages of Amarone up to 15-20 years in your cellar.
A young Amarone will express the typical fruity aromas of Corvina grape: cherries, black cherries, raspberry, blackcurrant. At the same time it will convey flavors from the drying process: prunes and raisins, enveloped in a smooth tannic texture.
A medium aged Amarone will evolve its fruitness towards cherry under spirit and red berries jam. Color will turn to a pleasant garnet with orange hues. Tertiary flavors will devolp: balsamic notes, spices, aromatic tobacco, thinner.
A mature Amarone will add even more evolved scents: old wood, dried mushrooms and leaves. Few wineries in Valpolicella keep in their cellar bottles from previous vintages and sometimes they are available for tasting during a tour.
Although Amarone is the most famous product in Valpolicella, wineries there produce a quite wide range of other wines.
Its the easiest and lightest of all Valpolicella wines. It’s made with fresh grapes picked after the selection for Amarone and pressed immediately after harvest. It is an inexpensive, fresh, fruity table wine to pair with almost anything.
Probably the best seller of Valpolicella wines thanks to its great value for money. At the end of the wine making process for Amarone, the stainless still tanks where the wine fermented are full of the skins of semi dried grapes. Wine makers then fill the tanks with fresh Valpolicella wine. This trigger a second fermentation that gives the easy Valpolicella wine additional color, flavors, alcohol content, body. Many like to call Ripasso a “baby Amarone”.
Recioto is the oldest wine of Valpolicella, the ancestor of Amarone. Romans loved sweet wines and 2,000 years ago they made in Valpolicella a dessert wine drying grapes to increase sugar content. Today wine makers in Valpolicella are making the same wine with the same technique. According to the legend Amarone was born when a cellar master forgot a barrel of Recioto that turned into a dry wine.
Recioto is perfect pairing for shortcrust dessert or aged and blue chees such as Gorgonzola.
Sometimes the production regulations for denomination wines are so strict that wine makers feel their creativity constrained. Here is where IGT (Typical Geographic Indication) come to life. IGT wines can be a blend of local and international grape varietals, or even white grapes (not allowed for Valpolicella wines), or a single varietal. In recent years IGT wines made with 100% Corvina or Oseleta grapes are becoming quite popular.
With IGT wines producers can only write on the label that the wine was made in Verona. The word “Amarone” or “Valpolicella” should not appear anywhere.
- Our tour includes transport and English speaking wine guide.
- Tasting fees are included
- Small group guaranteed. 4-8 participants maximum.
- The tour is fully customizable. You can choose the wineries you would like to visit and we will include them in the itinerary, or you can just tell us what kind of wine you like and we will select wineries accordingly.
- Tasting fees are not included in order to give you full flexibility on the choice of cellars.
- You can choose starting time and meeting point
Our Amarone tours are informative, in-depth and fun. You will visit some of the most representative wineries of Valpolicella, tasting and comparing great wines.
Our guide can assist you in case you want to purchase and ship wine back home.
Do not hesitate and contact us for further information or to book your Amarone tour.
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