Christie Kiley on January 11, 2016 1 Comment What wine will you be drinking during this chilly beginning of the year? With all of our seasonal favorites, desserts, treats, cookies, snacks and more, it is good to have something tasty and festive to wash it all down. While everyone else is enjoying Champagne during this time of year, I want to direct you toward two lesser-known red wines: Amarone and Recioto. These are wines most of us have never heard of. If you have, perhaps you’ve never had the opportunity to try one. Before I go on to suggest a couple bottles of these warm-your-heart libations, I am inclined to mention their origin story. On Amarone Amarone is a dry style of red Italian wine. This style is principally made from drying Corvina grapes as well as a small fraction of Rondinella and other grapes. Recioto is produced in much the same manner with the drying of grapes, however it is the sweeter sister to the Amarone, which is referred to as the “Great Bitter”. Determining which style is better is mainly a matter of personal taste. The two wines are made in the northern Veneto region of Italy of Valpolicella, in Amarone della Valpolicella (DOCG) and Recioto della Valpolicella (DOCG). These two locations were granted DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in 2009. This is not a status or ranking given easily in Italy. Out of all the hundreds of wine regions in Italy, the ones with DOCG status make up less than 20%. The process to make this wine starts at the harvest in early October. Bunches of grapes that have a fair amount of space between the fruits are hand selected. This is pertinent to the drying process because it allows for good flow of air. Traditionally, after the bunches are harvested, they are then laid out on straw mats. Locally, this method is known as apassimento. During the drying process the sugars and flavors become more concentrated. It takes an average of 120 days to dry the grapes. As for the winemaking part of the process, the grapes will not be ready until late into January and early February. When they have reached the desired concentration, they are crushed and then sent to fermentation tanks. Because the sugars are so high, it is difficult to start a fermentation that won’t be toxic to the wild yeasts. In order to keep the yeasts alive to finish the fermentation to dryness (meaning there is no residual sugar), they fermentation is slowed down by keeping the vessel cold. While your average red wine fermentation takes anywhere from 12 to 18 days, the Amarone fermentation can continue for up to 50 days. Recioto, on the other hand, is a sweeter wine and requires at least some residual sugar, which means the fermentation is stopped much sooner, usually at around 30 days. The results? You get a sultry wine of delicious, sometimes savory, raisiny delight. The alcohol content goes beyond 15% alcohol, but with the balance of aromas and texture it is not overwhelming. Holiday Pairings with Amarone and Recioto To start, neither of these wines are meant as an aperitif. The only exception might be that you are entertaining with a lot of appetizers and starters such as the popular dish of Swedish meatballs. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you also have a favorite Swedish meatball recipe that has been passed down through the family. Pair these meatballs with the Amarone, but not with the Recioto. As Swedish meatballs are already a bit sweet, pairing them with the Recioto would be too much. If you’re putting out a cheese offering, go with Parmesan or a nutty Pecorino. Strong, pungent blue cheeses work well for both of these wines. As for charcuterie, try smoked meats and salamis, or other flavorful beef dishes. These wines also go wonderfully with any game meats. Lamb is an easy one, but wild boar and venison also work really well. As for dessert, Amarone is a great pairing with sweets like cookies and pie and so much more–even the seasonal pumpkin-infused treats. We have not forgotten about Recioto. Try this wine as a lovely digestif to end the evening. If it is a tradition to have a cheese platter as an element of a sweet dessert, try a variety of soft cheeses. Brie cheese with full-on triple cream, Camembert, soft Swiss cheeses and blue cheeses were already mentioned. If you are really into cheese, the best are those from goat and sheep as they offer bigger nuances of aroma and flavor to complement the big Recioto. Notable Producers Amarone Giuseppe Quintarelli Tommasi Begali Dal Forno Tommaso Bussola Recioto Alighieri Corteforte Amandorlato Tommasi Ca’Rugate Tedeschi Bertani Romano Dal Forno It should be mentioned that these are only a few of many, but they are a good place to start if you are new to the Amarone and Recioto scene. If you have the opportunity to try more than one of these producers, do it. No Amarone and Recioto were created equal, so it is worth it to try as many as you can. Each producer has their own unique style. The idea is to try something new and out of the ordinary, and 2016 is about treating yourself and enjoying the free time and hard work you have done throughout the previous year. On that note, these wines do not come inexpensively. Do expect to spend a minimum of $60 per bottle, however it is well worth the splurge, so much so that it might become a bit of a holiday tradition for your family. Gift yourself! Happy New Year to all and may you drink plenty of great wine in 2016!