Anthony Rose: 'Amarone is a unique local red based on airdrying corvina, corvinone and rondinella grapes in ventilated lofts'

A red sky at night in Verona spells amarone delight but it's not just the sky that's amarone-infused. Pastissada, the city's famous horse stew, Monte Veronese cheese and risotto all' amarone are all gastronomic testament to this north-Italian speciality. You might even just drink it on its own because amarone was born as a vino da meditazione, a powerful red designed for thought and conversation. It's been all change in the past 10 years, though, as popular demand has soared and production quadrupled. Amarone today has become a food-friendly wine. Or so the good gentlemen of Verona would have us believe.

Amarone della valpolicella, to give it its full name, is a unique local red based on air-drying corvina, corvinone and rondinella grapes in ventilated lofts. After three months of post-harvest drying, the grapes lose a third of their weight, dehydrating into richly concentrated raisins. The dried bunches are fermented into an intense, powerful dry red that often comes with a moderating dry twist to it. Hence the name amarone, as distinct from recioto, its sweet alter ego.

The big news in Italy today is that amarone has just been granted its DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata y Garantita). Or it would be if a survey of Italians hadn't revealed that 70 per cent haven't a clue where it comes from. More to the point, Italian wine wouldn't be Italian without a battle for some aspect of its soul. The issue in amarone's case is over whether it's betrayed its traditional origins as a vino da meditazione, and as such made in relatively small quantities; or whether it's succumbed to popular demand and turned into a red like any other drunk at the dinner table.

According to Patricia Guy, an Italian wine expert living in Verona, a genuine amarone should smell of the drying process, of cherries and of spice that turns to incense as it ages. She is concerned that corners are being cut and quality compromised. Yet success has enabled producers to invest in improving the health and quality of a wine that was in danger of becoming old-fashioned. Modern amarone is often made in a style that takes its place alongside powerful New World reds like Argentinian malbec, Californian zinfandel and Australian shiraz.

Amarone isn't everyone's cup of tea because of the style (strong) and price (expensive). A good introduction is Sainsbury's spicy, cherry and prune-rich 2006 Taste the Difference Amarone, £14.69, but for greater flavour and intensity the 2005 Masi Costasera Amarone Classico, £21.99, Tesco, displays deeply satisfyingly cherry, kirsch and plum sweet fruit, Brigaldara's 2006 Amarone Classico, £25.49, Booths, is a powerfully built example that wears its kirsch-like flavours with surprising elegance and Buglione 2004 Amarone, £31, Great Western Wine, is a sumptuous loganberry-rich, chocolatey delight.

For the full amarone experience, Allegrini's 2005 Amarone Classico, £46.99, Majestic, Harvey Nichols, Valvona & Crolla, The Vineyard ( amarone.co.uk), is superbly aromatic and rich in textured flavours of spice, black cherry and chocolate, while Corte Sant'Alda's 2004 Amarone, £50, Berry Bros, shows voluptuous liquorice spice. No snip in either case, yet these vinous colossi are still reasonable compared to the £200+ a bottle asked for the cultish Quintarelli and dal Forno. A rich game stew or a mature hard cheese is all they need for the ultimate in lipsmacking satisfaction. anthonyrosewine.com

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