Botrytis cinerea or ‘Noble Rot’
Noble rot is the desirable form of the grey fungus Botrytis cinerea and is well regarded as it produces opulent concentrated sweet wines, known as botrytized wines. Famous wines of this type include the aszú of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary and Slovakia, and the Sauternes of France. To produce a botrytized wine, the grapes must firstly be ripe and healthy in the fall. Special conditions in the vineyard is then required for the fungus to set in as noble rot and not destroy the grape crop. A mixture of cool nights and misty mornings where the moisture required for the fungus to grow is needed. Afterwards, dry and sun-filled mornings is necessary to evaporate moisture and halt the fungus in its growth. A succession of these perfect days will provide the necessary conditions for the fungus to consume water, and the sugars, flavours and acids to concentrate within the grape berry. The berries shrivel up and turn brown but produce a golden sweet liquid. The process of allowing noble rot to set in is always a delicate one, as a single heavy rainfall can result in the grapes rotting. Some years, growers could lose all of their crop.
The Botrytis fungus not only increases sugar concentration in wines, novel flavours are also added. These include aromas of honey, beeswax, butterscotch and ginger.
This wine is made with grapes that are partially dried for months after vintage and it originates from the wine region of Valpolicella, in the province of Verona. The name Amarone translates literally to “the Great Bitter”, and was named originally to distinguish it from the sweeter Recioto wine produced in the same region.
The main varieties used to make Amarone are Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, together with a few rarer varieties. Only loose hanging bunches with fruit not too close to each other are harvested in October. The grapes are then left to dry in bamboo racks, or crates made out of plastic or wood until December. The sugars and flavours in the grape are then concentrated due to water evaporation as the grape raisins. Additionally, skin contact with the grape insides is increased leading to more flavour extraction. This process is termed appassimento or rasinate meaning ‘to dry and shrivel’ in Italian and wines made this way are described as passito or ‘sweet’. Around 30-40% of the grape’s weight is lost resulting in a very concentrated wine. Because of the drying process, double the amount of grapes is needed to produce a bottle of wine.
A minimum of two years ageing in barrel is then required. The wood used for barrel ranges from French oak through to chestnut, cherry or acacia. The end result is a full bodied decadent wine with a very ripe ?raisin and date flavours and a dark inky colour. Amarone wines can be aged for at least 10-15 years, with exceptional examples cellar-able for 30-50 years.
Grappa is a liquer distilled from the pomace (skins, seeds and stems) left over after the pressing of the juice for winemaking. It is a speciality in Northern Italy, but due to significant Italian immigration is also widely drunk in Argentina, Bulgaria, Georgia and Uruguay. As an unaged distillate, young grappa is clear with faint pigments. Aged versions of grappa have been matured in oak and will develop a tawny brown colour as well as more caramelized toffee notes.
Grappa, being distilled from pomace can be differentiated from acquavite d’uva (distilled from whole must) and brandy (distilled from grape juice). The end flavour varies depending on the grape and maturation period, but is similar to an unaged cognac albeit slightly sweeter. Notes of citrus, pears, hazelnuts, fresh herbs, honey and vanilla can be tasted. As grappa is so delicate, it is best served in a grappa glass which has a long stem to avoid warming up the drink, as well as a bowel that widens at the top to allow for maximum aroma appreciation as one drinks.