Amarones have become very popular over the last twenty years. I remember the first I tried - a Masi Amarone that appeared on the wine list at Caesar's Restaurant in Poughkeepsie in the 1980's. The grapes - mostly corvina's - are picked in October and then dried for three or four months to rasinate (to raisin) the grapes. This concentrates the sugars and the flavors resulting in a higher than normal alcohol level and a very intnense unique flavor. Paradoxically the wine is quite dry, (amarone means bitter) and the nose is full of the dried fruits that you would expect, but also chocolate and cherries, and to me - fresh tobacco. The wine spends a year in stainless steel, and then four more in oak before being bottled and released. A six year old Amarone is a very young wine. Ripasso (re-passed) wines, which are also made in the same region, take the pomace (skins and seeds) left over from those Amarone pressings, and re-use them with the new fresh grape pressings. This process too concentrates the juice. The resulting wines make wonderful matches for big red pasta sauces, or winter braises like short ribs or osso bucco. Or last Friday - a roasted veal chop appetizer. This was a serious meal.
Enoteca de Rham, which works with smaller, family owned, "boutique" wineries in Italy is represented in the United States by Frederick Wildman & Sons Importers. An old friend, Greg Taylor, who works at Wildman, was in attendance. Greg is a familiar face in the dining room. He and his wife Sharon were the original owners of the Friends Lake Inn and were responsible for first building the inn's well deserved reputation for food and wine.
The biggest surprise among the wines was the one bottle that stood out head and shoulders above all of the others (at least to me). We had five wines with five courses. Four reds - an Amarone and a Ripasso, and a Barbera D'Alba and a Dolcetta from Piedmont, and one white, a Marziano Abbona, Langhe Bianco DOC Cinerino 2008. I expected the white to be an amuse bouche, to whet the appetite but nothing more. I expected to blow past it and honestly I was anxious to get to the big stuff - the reds.
Silly me. The white turned out to be the most interesting and perhaps the best wine of the evening, but all of the wines were wonderful, well made examples of their respective styles. Recent DNA tracing techniques have revealed that this Italian white grape variety is actually a Viognier - a French varietal from the Rhone Valley, which must just THRILL the Italian vintners.
The menu for the evening follows, prepared by Executive Chef Matthew Bolton:
(From the Dogliani DOCG and one of the best Dolcetta's I've tasted)
Bison Ribeye steak with cherry demi-glace, vanilla polenta and steamed cauliflower.