Both of these full-bodied Italian red wines can be rich in flavour and have the Corvina grape at their heart, but Amarone is dry, or off-dry in taste, while Recioto della Valpolicella is sweet.
Legend has it that Amarone was born after a Recioto fermentation was left too long.
Before fermentation, the two styles have a lot in common.
Drying the grapes
Corvina is the signature grape variety, with Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara playing the main support roles depending on the winemaker’s choice.
Key to the process is the appassimento method.
This involves drying out harvested grapes, which concentrates sugars and fruit flavours. Grapes will lose weight as water content evaporates.
Winemakers traditionally dried grapes on straw mats or bamboo racks, or by hanging bunches from wooden beams.
Valpolicella’s regional council cites a letter from the sixth century, which it says refers to Veronese landowners hanging grapes upside down after harvest.
These days, grapes are more commonly dried in lofts in a more controlled environment; inevitably, though, some have rejected the introduction of new technology in the process.
Grapes must be dried until at least 1 December following harvest, but it often takes longer and fermentation may not begin until January or February.
Valpolicella’s Consorzio says 50 to 60 days of drying can be enough for Recioto, but sometimes more than 100 days are needed.
Subsequent fermentation is traditionally a slow affair and can last more than a month.
Recioto wines retain sugar content at the end of fermentation, which gives them their signature sweetness – starting at around 50g/l residual sugar and upwards. You may also find a sparkling version, or ‘spumante’.
Amarone wines will be fermented to a drier style. Some will reach double figures on the residual sugar, but many will be down around 5g/l to 7g/l.
Ageing and alcohol
Amarone must be aged for at least two years starting in the year after harvest. Riserva wines have to be aged for a minimum four years; the stopwatch begins in November in the year of the vintage. As you’d expect, many estates age their wines for longer.
Amarone wines will also generally have higher alcohol levels than Recioto; the minimum for each is 14% and 12% respectively, although Amarone often goes to 15% and sometimes higher.
Both have prestigious DOCG status.
Amarone has risen rapidly to prominence in recent decades, gaining fans around the world.
But the style would also be viewed by traditionalists as something of an ’upstart’, a product of the 20th Century and a reminder of how consumers have turned away from sweet wine styles.
Recioto proponents would argue that they have the heritage.
Decanter contributor Michael Garner writes in his book, Amarone and the fine wines of Verona, that among producers Recioto ‘is accepted unconditionally as the true mother of Veronese red wines, harking back to the times of wines such as Vino Retico and Acinatico’.