Thank you, again, to Darla Hoffmann, Jeremy Eubanks, and Peter Plaehn for your responses in consecutive weeks! Last week we great information covering Slope Influence, tune in if you missed out!
This week: Appassimento
What is appassimento? What are some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of the process?
Appassimento is the process of drying grapes, in order to concentrate sugar and extract, before fermentation. The drying period typically lasts several months, and can be done in special lofts (fruttai) with traditional wooden or bamboo boxes, or modern temperature-controlled facilities. The dried grapes can then be fermented to dryness or near-dryness (e.g., Amarone della Valpolicella), or with more sweetness and residual sugar remaining for dessert wines (e.g., Recioto della Valpolicella, Passito di Pantelleria). The resulting passito wines have complex dried fruit flavors, additional alcoholic warmth, and a round glycolic mouthfeel. Fermenting dried grapes with concentrated sugars can result in a very high-alcohol wine. Bunches must be carefully selected during harvest, ideally taking those that are loosely packed so that air can circulate freely around them during the drying period.
Amarone wines made in the Appassimento method primarily use the following varieties for different reasons. The Corvina Veronese has thick skins and a strong structure to handle this process therefore usually holds up to 45%-95% of the blend. The Corvinone varietal, however may is an excellent alternative and may subsitute up to 50% of Corvina in an Amarone. It has very firm tannins and is more likely to achieve ripeness for traditional red wines. Other common grapes in the blend include: Rondinella (usually required at least 5% due to being a direct offspring of Corvina), Dindarella (great for appassimento method due to it's loose clusters), and Oseleta. Molinara is not as common as it used to be because it tends to affect the color of the final wine. The purpose of this method is to decrease acid, increase glycerin for richness and aid in the development of resveratrol. They can be stacked or hung from ceiling usually from 60-120 days, as they slowly lose 30-50% of their weight. The fruttais desire great ventilation and low humidity. Fans are commonplace and placement of windows can help reduce humidity. De-humidifyers are more commonplace in bulk production however, the faster the drying process the less likely the chance of botrytis. The damaged skins are already ideal for mold so it is very important to carefully hand harvest, monitor the grapes, and place grapes in facility with care. Cultured yeast is another important factor for successful fermentation because indigenous yeast may stop fermentation during colder months leaving them susceptible to a large amount of volatile acidity and oxidation. Amarone's will usually have a slight amout of VA and oxidation which contributes to it's complexity but it is not meant to be overwhelming or undesirable, therefore is carefully monitored. The result as any wine, still lies in the producer/winemaker's hands as they determine, the blend, ripeness at harvest, length of drying time, botrytis, degree of residual sugar and barrel/bottle aging time. Alcohol is usually around 14-16% for most Amarones. There are some interesting experimentations with the Appassimento method in other areas of the world including Canada and Washington. Ontario and the BC, although experience more humid climate, have been working with the style and deciding on air drying versus green houses, etc. in addition to their ice wines. Walla Walla has also been dabbling in the Appassimento method using Sangiovese and Barbera. Results are mixed but experimenation continues.
With the time that it takes to dry the grapes out, a couple of drawbacks set in for the winemakers in the form of time elapsed and yield. While most other wines will have already finished fermenting and begun their elevage, grapes destined for an appassimiento-style wine will often still be in the process of drying out. Additionally, with the grapes losing 30-50% of their weight, the yields per hectare decrease dramatically, so there's ultimately less wine to be marketed and sold.