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The Winter Wine
By Robert Whitley
Oct 29, 2013
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It was a chilly autumn night as I sat in front of a crackling fire sipping a glass of Champagne while savoring the comforting aromas of braised veal shanks, aka osso buco, wafting from the kitchen. My reverie was abruptly interrupted when the call came from the dining room to fetch a “winter” wine for dinner.

With my marching orders, I descended into the wine cellar on a mission of culinary match-making. I was immediately transported to northern Italy, home of the osso bucco, and still vivid memories of this hearty dish enjoyed in cozy trattorias from Milano to Venice, and points in between.

A hearty meat dish generally calls for a hearty red wine, and this one is no exception. A Barolo or Barbaresco could work, and to some extent Barbera, too. After weighing the options, my hand finally settled on a bottle of Masi ‘Costasera’ Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG.

When I think of a “winter” wine, I think of Amarone, the most important wine of the Veneto region of northern Italy. Nothing else comes close. Amarone is a powerful, dry red wine made from Corvina, Rondinella and, until recent vintages, Molinara grapes grown in the rolling countryside outside of Verona.

Amarone owes its unique richness and intense flavor to a controversial winemaking technique that requires the grapes to be partially dried prior to fermentation. In this northern climate near the foothills of the Alps, red wines tend to be lighter in color, body and flavor. Drying the grapes on straw mats or in temperature controlled drying sheds shrivels the grapes and concentrates sugars and flavors.

The result is a wonderfully smooth, rich red wine with slightly elevated levels of alcohol by volume, generally in the 14.5 to 15.0 range, levels once considered high (and some critics argued artificially induced) but now quite the norm for red table wines.

Although Amarone can overpower some cuisine, it is the perfect partner for braised meat dishes and stews. Over the years I’ve also developed a fondness for Amarone served with cheese following dinner.

This is a delicious habit I acquired at the legendary Bottega del Vino in Verona, which routinely serves 40 to 60 wines by the glass, and always a good selection of Amarone. Following a big meal while attending the annual VinItaly wine fair, I would nightly stop at the Bottega and order a glass of Masi or Bertani Amarone and take it with a serving of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The proprietor, Severino Barzan, was the ultimate host. Severino, seeing me with a glass of Amarone and a plate of cheese, would cheerfully visit my table and drizzle some of his 40-year-old balsamic vinegar on the cheese. The flavors and textures with the rich Amarone were quite simply a match made in heaven.

And so it was that I clasped the Masi ‘Costasera’ Amarone and climbed the stairs from the cellar, placing the bottle squarely In the middle of the table, mission accomplished. So, dear reader, the next time someone asks you to suggest  a “winter” wine you can say with some confidence, “no-brainer, it’s Amarone.”