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That’s Amarone!
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That’s Amarone!

In a first, the kosher wine market gets a taste of one of Italy’s great dry red wines.

Hitting shelves in time for Passover, but too late for full coverage before press time, is The River Wine’s release of its new Aura di Valerie, Amarone della Valpolicella, DOCG Classico, 2017 (suggested retail price of $75). This is the first kosher-certified Italian Amarone from the Valpolicella region in the northeast of the country.

“This is a very big deal,” enthused Larissa Nahari, marketing director of The River Wine, a small but well-reviewed New York-based importer, distributor and producer of kosher wines that began working on the Amarone project in 2016.

“Amarone is a very famous Italian wine,” she added, “and for the kosher world to enjoy this unusual wine is very significant and extremely exciting for our company” — “but also, and more importantly, for the kosher wine consumer.”

Kosher productions of prestige wines are always a big deal, of course, but Amarone makes for an especially cool “first” for the market of quality-driven kosher wines from Italy. Amarone is, in fact, one of the world’s truly great dry red wines, and easily the most distinctive of the top echelon of “great” wines.

The point of distinction is twofold: first, Amarone is the only serious, full-bodied, top-flight, dry red wine in the world that is vinified from raisined grapes; second and somewhat paradoxically, the exact same grapes from the very same wine zone also produce the light-bodied, unserious quaffing wine known as Valpolicella. The raisining process behind Amarone makes all the difference, resulting in an almost magical transformation.

The core of the process is known in Italian as appassimento or rasinate (to dry and shrivel), and entails air-drying the grapes — traditionally on straw mats in special drying sheds — until they are semi-raisined so that their remaining juices have become highly concentrated essences of the original grapes. Nahari noted that The River Wine had to navigate both the rules of kashrut and the regional rules of wine production in the Veneto vinicultural zone of northeastern Italy.

This drying process, by law, must continue at least until the beginning of the December after the harvest. The process not only concentrates the juice, but further contributes to the richness of the wine by metabolizing the acids in the grape and polymerizing the tannins in the skins. The grapes are the same varieties — corvina and rondinella — used to make Valpolicella, the light-bodied staple of the region. For Amarone, the recipe is specifically 45-95 percent corvina, 5-50 percent rondinella, and up to 50 percent corvinone in place of corvina; producers are also permitted to add up to 15 percent of any red grape variety that is authorized in the province of Verona.

The name “Amarone,” which means big and bitter in Italian, is attributed to the pleasingly bitter aftertaste. Amarone is a high-alcohol wine — at least 14 percent alcohol, but often more, with high acidity to balance it out. Protracted skin contact with the juice also makes the wine plump, with high extract and tannin, with tremendous depth of color, and aromatically very rich. Amarone typically has a fairly high degree of residual sugar, but the best Amarones are not overly sweet.

Italians generally serve Amarone della Valpolicella to accompany a course of strong, old cheeses, but the wine’s legions of fans have successfully argued for pairing it with the main course. Such dishes have to be appropriately big to pair well, however, and today’s fashionable restaurants around the globe will suggest pairing Amarone with unctuous prime rib roasts, game dishes, lamb roasts and all sorts of long-cooked braises.

This new kosher Aura di Valerie, Amarone della Valpolicella, DOCG Classico, 2017 was produced and imported by The River Wine in partnership with Christian Tombacco of Vinicola Tombacco, at the well-regarded Guiseppe Campagnola winery (established in 1907), and under the strict supervision of Rabbi Akiva Osher Padwa, senior certification consultant with the Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din (KLBD).

It is scheduled to hit stores by mid-March and will be released in 200-case batches every six months for the next three years. “We didn’t want Amarone fans to buy it all up immediately,” noted Nahari, “and we wanted to make sure there would be enough Amarone available for everyone to have a chance to taste and experience this new and unique kosher wine.”

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