There’s no getting around it – if you want a decent bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella you’re going to have to spend a little money. Most high quality wines are, of course, not cheap (with prestige Bordeaux and Burgundy names like Châteaux Margaux or Domaine Romanée-Conti fetching prices of thousands of dollars for a single bottle), but there’s no denying that even at the low end Amarone seems abnormally costly, even allowing for its fame and reputation.
This is, however, no coincidence or mere mark-up for a known brand. The fact is that Amarone is expensive to make at every stage – from farm to winery the labour is intensive, the decisions are tricky, and the process is fraught with risks. Above all the grapes, the most precious raw material of any winemaker, as ever carry the bulk of the costs, from care to selection, and – especially in the case of Amarone – treatment in the winery. So here’s our breakdown of why Amarone della Valpolicella can be a serious investment, but also (and most importantly) why it is seriously worth it.
The first and foremost concern in any winemaking. The old rule applies: you can make good wine with good grapes, bad wine with bad grapes, and bad wine with good grapes, but you can never, whatever you try, conjure up good wine with bad grapes. As such, top quality wine requires top quality grapes, and Amarone is no different, with winemakers choosing only fruit from particularly good sites around Valpolicella which meets particular standards (only 40% of a vines’ grape is allowed for Amarone production by regulations). By way of comparison, in 2019 dolcetto grapes considered good enough for making dolcetto d’Alba wine in Piedmont fetched an average price of €90.70 per 100kg; in the same year, grapes deemed good enough to make Amarone were sold at an average of €162 per 100kg, rising to €172.50 for grapes grown in the Valpolicella Classica region!
Those grapes are only half the story, however – and that’s because, with Amarone, they’re half the size as usual! The process of appassimento dries the grapes out to around 60% of the original hydration level, leaving the grapes near-raisins. This results in juice of startling concentration and viscosity, with enormous sugar content ready to be converted into alcohol – but not in great quantities. Therefore, to get a 750ml bottle of wine, around twice as many grapes will have to be pressed as the normal amount (most bottles of wine contain the juice of about 1.2kg worth of fruit, or 75-100 grapes).
The final part of the equation is, well, everything else, of which (as usual) there is a lot more with Amarone than with normal wine. For one thing there is all the extra equipment – straw mats or specially ventilated rooms for drying the grapes in particular – not to mention the use of oak barrels for ageing. Next, quality grapes generally require handpicking rather than machine-harvesting, as not all grapes in the same bunch will be of the same level, let alone the same vine or vineyard. Finally it is true that fine wine commands a certain premium (even though some brands do so more than others), and that does add a certain extra – however….
It Is So Worth It
And for so many reasons! For one, among the great wine names of the world – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne – the mark-up for the Amarone della Valpolicella name is still relatively good value. This means that, while the best of Amarone doesn’t start at cheap levels, it is still nothing compared to some of the top prices of those regions even at the en primeur level. And this is the key: while market forces drive up the prices of some other (undeniably fantastic) wine regions, Amarone’s costs are still driven almost exclusively by the difficulties of its making and the qualities of it results. It’s not that those other wines are bad value, but Amarone della Valpolicella is still provides exceptional bang for your buck.