An Amarone della Valpolicella, or Amarone, is a dry italian red wine traditionally made from dried or partially dried grapes (think raisins… almost). I know it sounds odd, but it’s true, the drying of grapes for three to four months before making them into wine is a process known as appassimento and in the Corinva region of italy it is used to make Amarone (dry) and Recioto (sweet) wines. The appassimento process causes the grape’s sugars and flavors to concentrate resulting in a wine with very different characteristics than if the wine had just been produced normally. The process has been used, at least in the production of sweet wines, since the ancient Greeks.
Supposedly applying this method to make dry wines was discovered on accident some time in the early 20th century, unfortunately for the winemaker who discovered it, Amarone has not really caught on the same way the classic 15th century accidental wine creation did – the global champagne market is now close to 320 million bottles per year, not too shabby for a mistake by a few monks. But who knows what the future holds for Amarone… maybe some day.
Given that history one would think that any new techniques in grape drying would be coming from the Valpolicella region as well – but it is in fact Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON and a vineyard called Reif at the hands of German wine making family that has come up with a new and interesting twist on this idea.
Reif Estate Winery is now on their third edition of the Magician Pinot Noir Shiraz (60% Pinot Noir; 40% Shiraz). What’s interesting, and dare I say innovative about the Magician, is that 30% of the Shiraz grapes and 20% of the Pinot Noir grapes were kiln dried before being used in the wine production. The resulting wine has a richness and depth that you would not otherwise expect and while it was not my favorite wine of all time, it certainly had a full-body and depth that many red wines produced in the region lack.
I didn’t have a chance to ask Klaus Reif, the Winery’s President, whether the inspiration for the kiln drying came from the Amarone wines of Italy, or perhaps from the oast-houses – drying kilns used to dry hops in beer production throughout Europe. Regardless of the inspiration it’s clear that Reif is on to something with this idea, and while I am no expert, I would venture to guess that it something very few other wine producers have tried. So, to all you Shiraz/Pinot producers looking for a way to add depth and body to your wine – give kiln drying a try – who knows what you might discover on accident.