If I say “Amarone,” most wine lovers understand that I’m talking about an Italian red wine. But I think, just 40 or even 30 years ago, very few people would have understood that.
Until a generation ago, Amarone was much less known than it’s “father.” And the father of Amarone is Recioto.
Both wines – Amarone and Recioto – come from Valpolicella, in northeastern Italy. Both wines have always been produced by using dried grapes.
But Recioto came first.
Recioto is sweet, while Amarone is dry. Amarone was a Recioto first. It’s just that, in the past, Amarone’s fermentation kept going, becoming dry by transforming sugar into alcohol.
According to Valpolicella tradition, a Recioto that had lost its sweetness had to be considered “bitter.” The Italian word for “bitter” is “amaro” so, in Valpolicella, they used the word “Amarone” when they wanted to describe a Recioto that was no longer sweet and had become very dry.
Until 1990, the full name of Amarone was “Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone,” which meant that Amarone was the dry version of Recioto. But during the 1980s Amarone became a big commercial success, imposing its own distinct style. So the name changed to “Amarone della Valpolicella,” dropping the reference to Recioto.
Nowadays Recioto is an impoverished nobleman. It’s a king that has lost his kingdom. Amarone is the new lord of Valpolicella.
I’m not bothered by its tumble. I still love Recioto.
Am I an old-fashioned drinker? I don’t think so. I just look for great wines.
Recioto is the great, ancient wine of Valpolicella. It’s velvet and silk. It’s a basket of ripened red fruits. It’s a bunch of dried flowers. It’s the spice box tucked inside your kitchen. It’s the almond cake you had for a picnic a long time ago. It’s chocolate candy. It’s a cat purring next to the fireplace in wintertime.
It’s sweet. But its freshness perfectly balances its sugar.
Few producers still have a “great” Recioto. My favorite Recioto producers are a man and a woman.
Their names are Cecilia Trucchi (her winery is Villa Bellini) and Lorenzo Begali. She believes in biodynamic agriculture. He is seen as a Russian peasant seen in an historical movie.
Believe me: their Reciotos are among the greatest red Italian wines. Even if they are sweet wines.
Believe me: being sweet is not a sin.
Recioto will always be a king.