After some years in the cellar, the remarkable 2000 San Raffaele Amarone della Valpolicella was tasted with a superb rich beef casserole in red wine, though a large chunk of hard cheese would be just as good.

I must say I’m slightly disappointed to say it was not quite what I expected; I was ready for a wave of raisins and portiness overpowering the senses. Sure there is the hint of raisins along with a cacophony of gorgeous flavours, but the most delicate and controlled raisins covered by a velvet coating of dark chocolate.

Why am I disappointed? because I was hoping it would be too monstrous for my palate and I could retreat gracefully to the much more affordable Valpolicella Superiore previously enjoyed.

Colour is somewhere between brick and purple, dark, deep, hinting at treasure below. Although sitting at 15.5% alc this wine is a superlative exercise in restraint with power – an iron fist in a velvet glove if ever there was. Drinking this is somewhat akin to gently sucking the dark chocolate off the gentle raisiny body. There are some prune and black fruit flavours and layer upon layer of sweet and savoury sensations.

The final impression is a wine that has the near perfect texture and mouthfeel; velvety, slinky, sexy, voluptuous and luscious with perfect body and long finish. Not often a wine stops you in your tracks but this is one. The bottle will be gone long before you are ready to accept the fact; drink with a very special friend!

Valpolicella means in english ‘Valley of many Cellars’. The region lies just to the north of Verona, itself a truly lovely city made more so by being home to a wonderful wine bar called ‘Antica Bottega del Vino’. This must be your first stop as soon as you have checked in to your hotel. Many wines are listed on a huge blackboard available by the glass, a very good cucina is just a bonus.

Amarone (della Valpolicella) came about probably by accident and as a result of a traditional method developed by the Romans called Recioto. With Recioto (which is still made in white and red styles) the grapes are dried on racks and vinified with a percentage of residual sugar remaining. In the drying process, called Apassimento, the grapes lose up to 40% of their moisture. In the Amarone process fermentation is continued so all of the sugar has been converted. What remains, as you can guess, is very intense grape juice; the trick then is not to let the process go too far so as to bring in too much of the porty, raisiny elements. Amarone comes from ‘Amaro’ meaning ‘Bitter’.

Valpolicella Superiore (or otherwise called Classico), which is the lesser sibling to the Amarone, can be made by either of two methods; one is called ‘Ripasso’ and involves passing the wine over the lees of a just fermented Amarone adding another level of richness and complexity. The other method is called ‘Apassimento’ and involves adding some of the Amarone juice to achieve a similar richer wine.

The principal grape in a Valpolicella wine is Corvina, followed by Rondinella (these two must be a minimum of 60% of the blend but are usually much more). After these two there are a number of others, the main one being Molinara, although this is being increasingly phased out.
Just to add to the confusion there is the basic Valpolicella, which should have had nothing added to it and therefore will retain the bright red fruit qualities of the grape varieties (the perfect tomato-based pizza wine).

So what is Valpolicella? Some observers say that even the makers of the wines are not sure what they want it to be, so we mere drinkers have our work cut out for us.
My advice is to continue your relentless research; buy them and try them and revel in the pursuit of knowledge. Just make sure you read the label carefully to best ascertain the particular version that is in the bottle in your hand; price will help here.