Allegrini Amarone: 1982 – 2004

2004    Allegrini Amarone                  92

2003    Allegrini Amarone                  92

2001    Allegrini Amarone                  93

2000    Allegrini Amarone                  89

1999    Allegrini Amarone                  91

1998    Allegrini Amarone                  91

1997    Allegrini Amarone                  92

1995    Allegrini Amarone                  93

1993    Allegrini Amarone                  92

1990    Allegrini Amarone                  94

1988    Allegrini Amarone (3-liter)     94

1982    Allegrini Amarone                  91

Allegrini is a reference-point producer for fine Amarone. The Allegrini family has played an important role in local Veronese society for hundreds of years going back to the mid-sixteenth century. The property’s modern history was built by Giovanni Allegrini, who purchased a number of top vineyards and made many of the estate’s first important wines. Today, the winery is run by Giovanni’s children Franco and Marilisa. A third sibling, Walter, passed away tragically in 2003.

The winery is located in Fumane, right in the heart of the Valpolicella Classica zone just outside Verona. It is in the Valpolicella Classica region that some of Italy’s most distinctive reds can be found; including Valpolicella, Amarone and Recioto. Winemaking in this part of Italy is inextricably linked to appassimento, in which grapes are dried anywhere from several weeks to several months before being vinified, a technique that dates back to Roman times.

Amarone remains a challenging wine for consumers to understand. Many of the better known producers – including Quintarelli, Dal Forno, Bussola and Zenato among them – make big, extroverted Amarones that can be overpowering for their sheer density and alcohol. As great as the best of those wines are, finding the right occasion to open a bottle is not always easy. Furthermore, only a handful of producers have a track record that makes it possible to glean insights into how Amarone ages, adding to the uncertainty consumers face. Allegrini has long focused on making Amarones that are accessible and food-friendly. These are decidedly understated wines that seek elegance and restraint over sheer power. Accordingly, heft, concentration and richness take a backseat to approachability and a style that is much closer to other red wines.

Corvina is the main grape in Amarone and accounts for 75-80% of the final blend, while Rondinella, Oseleta and Molinara account for 20-25%, depending on the vintage. Today the harvest takes place in September, although all of the wines in this tasting from vintages 1988-1995 were made from fruit picked in October. Warmer growing seasons, newer, earlier-ripening clones and a general desire to pick earlier in order to preserve freshness and avoid overly alcoholic wines are all factors that contribute to today’s earlier harvest times. Freshly picked grapes are placed into well-ventilated plastic boxes to dry for about four months, a process known as appassimento, which serves to concentrate the aromas, flavors and sugars. During this time, grapes lose anywhere from 40-50% of their weight. Appassimento was originally conceived several thousand years ago to confer more richness and body to the grapes at time when obtaining full ripeness in the vineyard was much more difficult due to the cold weather in this stretch of northern Italy and the pergola-style training that remains typical of older vineyards.

Clearly appassimento introduces an element of variability in Amarone (rot is always a risk) that is not present in the production of the vast majority of other red wines, as temperature and humidity can vary quite a bit from the time the fruit is harvested until it is vinified. In 1998 Allegrini built a massive drying facility that allows for full control of the elements during the four months the fruit lays in crates prior to vinification. Corvina, the main variety in Amarone, is a grape with large, juicy berries that has a tendency to rot, which introduces oxidative aromas and flavors that aren’t part of the Allegrini house style. Rot migrates into the grapes from the stems, so Allegrini places special attention on keeping the stems healthy during the first five days of the drying process, which is the most critical part of appassimento period. From there, the grapes are kept in a controlled environment until the following January, when the fruit is pressed. One of the biggest benefits of the drying center is it gives the estate the ability to make Amarone in vintages where weather conditions in the past might have been too adverse to overcome.

Early vintages at Allegrini were vinified along fairly traditional lines, with long macerations on the skins that typically lasted 45 days, followed by aging in large 80-hectoliter casks. French oak barrels were introduced in part in the late 1980s. By the mid-1990s the estate had settled on the medium-toast 350 and 500-liter French oak barrels used today. The ability to dry the grapes in a controlled environment and bring them into the fermentation tanks already warm (rather than cold, as was the case when the fruit was dried conventionally) resulted in shorter fermentation and maceration times of around 15 days. It is interesting to note that all of the pre-1995 vintages in this tasting all have acidities above 6 grams per liter, while later vintages are all below 6 grams per liter. This, along with the more traditional approach to winemaking, may explain why the older vintages are still so remarkably fresh. It seems perfectly reasonable to wonder if today’s wines will age as gracefully as the best vintages of the past. So far, the evidence suggests that today’s Amarones are best enjoyed on the young side.

The 2004 Amarone is beautiful and understated in its wild cherries, sweet herbs and flowers, all of which come together with unusual finesse and clarity. Silky, ripe tannins frame the exquisite finish. The 2004 is already approachable and should continue to drink nicely for another decade or so. This is a very representative vintage for Allegrini. 92/Drinking window: 2010-2020. The 2003 Amarone is the complete opposite of the 2004, but it is every bit as convincing. Allegrini’s 2003 Amarone literally explodes onto the palate with masses of black cherries, chocolate and spices. It is a decidedly opulent, racy wine loaded with dark fruit, but the balance is impeccable. In the style of the vintage, the tannins remain a touch firm, but there is more than enough density in the fruit to provide balance. This is an impressive effort in what was a very difficult growing season. 92/Drinking window: 2010-2020.

The estate’s 2001 Amarone is simply fabulous. Layers of floral, mineral-infused dark fruit emerge from the glass as the wine opens up. This is an impeccable, brilliant wine that beautifully reconciles elements of ripeness and freshness in a full-bodied style that will reward cellaring. The 2001Amarone is gorgeous today, but readers who prefer more tertiary notes will want to wait a few years as the fruit is still quite fresh. 93/Drinking window: 2011-2021. The 2000 Amarone has developed relatively quickly. The fruit remains fairly opulent, but suggestions of earthiness and worn-in leather suggest early signs of oxidation are creeping in. Ultimately the 2000 comes across a touch rustic and four-square. 89/Drinking window: 2010-2012.

The 1999 Amarone is reminiscent of the 2001 and the 2004 even if it doesn’t quite have the same depth of those vintages. Fresh, perfumed aromatics are layered nicely with bright red fruits in this relatively delicate, high-toned Amarone. 91/Drinking window: 2010-2017. The 1998 Amarone, on the other hand, is closer in style to the 2000. It is a powerful, beefy Amarone loaded with dark cherries, worn-in leather, earthiness and menthol. Slightly oxidative qualities give the 1998 elements of rusticity and also suggest the wine is best enjoyed sooner rather than later. This is one of the wines that improved the most with air, so readers should give the 1998 a fair bit of aeration prior to serving. 91/Drinking window: 2010-2012.

The estate’s 1997 Amarone is undeniably showy and exuberant. Super-ripe red fruits, spices and flowers come together in this elegant, rich Amarone. Despite its opulence, the wine also shows remarkable delicacy and nuance. This is a terrific effort from Allegrini. 92/Drinking window:  2010-2017. The 1995 Amarone has developed beautifully. It remains firm and vibrant, with lovely complexity in its perfumed red cherries, licorice, leather, mint and flowers. Still big and full-bodied, the 1995 promises to drink well for a number of years. It is a magnificent effort from Allegrini. Much of the wine’s freshness can be attributed to a cold, rainy spring that resulted in an uneven flowering and naturally lower yields. 93/Drinking window: 2010-2015.

The 1993 Amarone is simply fabulous. The 1993 is the first wine in this tasting that is fully mature. Dark cherries, spices, menthol and licorice are just some of the aromas and flavors that emerge from this gorgeous, complex Amarone. The wine still maintains considerable body and richness, but the flavors are in the full tertiary stage, and there is no additional upside to be gained through additional cellaring. The 1993 is the last vintage to have been produced along traditional lines. Maceration on the skins lasted 45 days and the wine was subsequently aged for 36 months, predominantly in large, 80-hectoliter casks.  92/Drinking window: 2010-2013. The 1990 Amarone is one of the finest aged Amarones I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Everything is simply in perfect balance. The 1990 is a wonderful, opulent Amarone blessed with tons of ripe fruit and seamless personality that flows through to the impeccable finish. There are absolutely no signs of oxidation; instead the 1990 impresses for its balance and poise.  Finessed, silky tannins frame an utterly impeccable finish. Readers who might still own the 1990 Amarone should be thrilled! 94/Drinking window: 2010-2020.

The 1988 Amarone (3-liter) is another glorious wine. While the 1988 doesn’t have the depth or richness of the 1990, it conquers the palate with layers of subtly perfumed fruit, elegant, fine tannins, exceptional length and a classy personality. The color remains intact and translucent, showing no signs whatsoever of fading. I imagine the 1988 might have been even more pleasurable when there was more fatness to the fruit, but it is still superb and totally delicious today. No doubt the 3-liter format has helped preserve a measure of freshness, but this is still an impressive showing. 94/Drinking window: 2010-2015. Allegrini’s 1982 Amarone is a treat to taste. Dried cherries, spices and licorice are some of the nuances that waft from the glass. This, too, remains a wonderfully fresh wine, although much of the fruit has melted away and the wine is fully mature.  There are no signs of oxidation, this is simply a wine whose time has come and gone. It is easy to see that the 1982 was once a glorious, magnificent Amarone of the highest level. 91/Drinking window: 2010.

--  Antonio Galloni