Amarone: controversial appellation expansion overshadows 2011 debut tasting

hillside vineyard valpolicella amaroneAbove: a view from a hillside vineyard looking out on to the valley floor in Valpolicella (image courtesy the Venturini winery). In a general assembly in May 2013, Valpolicella Consortium members approved a change in appellation regulations that would allow Amarone producers to blend hillside and valley floor fruit in the wines. Some prominent producers and growers groups have vehemently opposed the change.

Members of the Valpolicella Consortium gathered at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Piazza Brà in Verona over the weekend to present the 2011 vintage of Amarone (click the link for the list of presenting wineries).

But as top buyers (some from as far away as the U.S.) and leading Italian wine writers and bloggers tasted the soon-to-be released wines, a shadow of controversy hung over the event.

In May 2013, the Consortium proposed a change in appellation regulations that would allow winemakers to supplement hillside-grown fruit with valley floor-grown fruit for the production of Amarone.

The proposed change was ratified in a May 2013 consortium member vote. But it has yet to be approved by the Italian agricultural ministry’s committee on wine. A number of prominent producers and growers associations, including the Federation of Independent Grape Growers (FIVI) and the Amarone Families group, have vehemently and vociferously opposed it.

The as-of-yet unchanged appellation regulations state that grapes grown in “fresh soils on the plains or valley floor must be excluded” from Amarone production (article 4, section 2).

The Consortium had proposed deleting this wording, calling it an obsolete “discrepancy” and a “typo” in an official statement.

While the proposed change would not technically expand the production area, it would allow producers to use inferior quality grapes for the production of the wine — the appellation’s flagship.

“The problem with the valley floor was evident in 2014 because of the heavy rains,” wrote Ilenia Pasetto of the Venturini winery in a recent email exchange. “Valley floor vineyards suffered greatly and the fruit was heavily damaged. At the same time, thanks to the varied shape of hillside vineyards, the rainfall flowed down from the hills toward the valley. Because the water didn’t stagnate and because the hillside vineyards are more ventilated, quality was good even though they produced a smaller amount of grapes than usual. The warm, sunny weather started at the end of August continued through September and it helped to dry the bunches and prepare them for [the Amarone] drying [process].”

Some trade observers have speculated that the Consortium’s move was inspired by the impressive growth in Amarone sales in recent decades.

According to a report published in 2013, the number of bottles of Amarone increased from 2,480,000 to 8,570,000 between 1998 and 2008.

Roughly 90 percent of the wine produced are sold outside Italy, according to the Consortium, mostly in northern Europe, the U.S., and Canada.

In a phone call today, a Valpolicella Consortium representative said it’s unclear when the proposed change will be reviewed by Italian government officials.

4 thoughts on “Amarone: controversial appellation expansion overshadows 2011 debut tasting

  1. While this was discussed openly in Verona, I didn’t sense a “shadow of controversy” hanging over the event.”
    Close to 13 million bottles of Amarone were produced in 2014. There are other issues with Amarone, namely how to sell a wine that doesn’t really have a defined identity or a clearly ascertainable target-audience.

    • Thanks for the insight and the info, Alfonso. Note that none of the members of the Amarone Families group took part in the Consortium-sponsored debut. Battle lines have been drawn there (and I suspect, although I can’t verify, that none of the FIVI growers/producers participated in the event).

      • Thanks Jeremy,
        I noticed several FIVI growers there, among them, Zyme, Ca La Bionda, Corte Figaretto, Valentina Cubi, Massimago and Corte Sant Alda.

        While the “11” Amarone families , Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini, Zenato, were not present, there were some big familes there, namely Bertani, Zonin, Cesari, Sartori, Santa Sofia, Bolla and Guerrieri-Rizzardi.

        In all, a pretty good representation of Amarone producers.

        My sense is the “11” have sought to go it alone in order to define their “Amarone brand” in their own manner. Not sure there is a lot of animosity at this point, seeing as Amarone is not a brand like Barolo ,Burgundy or Napa. Amarone is, in my opinion, in that “awkward adolescent” stage of brand formation.

        • I agree Alfonso after attending that event that the Amarone producers need to decide the future of the branding and production of Amarone and how they chose to classify themselves.

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