The Appassimento technique

  • By Jacky Blisson MW
  • 05 Nov 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 201
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The Appassimento process - Credit : Courtesy of Consorzio per la tutela dei vini Valpolicella

The term Appassimento means withering in Italian and refers to the process of partially drying wine grapes before fermentation. This technique, employed in the Valpolicella region for over 2000 years, is integral to the production of the region’s famed Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto wines.

Why Dry the Grapes?

The drying process leads to water evaporation. This causes grapes to shrivel, resulting in raisined fruit rich in sugar and flavour. A multitude of other complex reactions occur within the grapes during this period: malic acid decreases and the balance of glucose to fructose alters, leading to a higher concentration of polyphenols including resveratrol (an antioxidant prized in red wine for its potential cholesterol-lowering, heart-healthy benefits). Glycerin also increases, giving appassimento wines a smooth, rounded texture.

The Appassimento Process in Valpolicella

Only perfectly healthy, optimally ripened fruit is selected for drying. These grapes are hand-harvested to avoid bruising or crushing. Upon arrival at the winery they are transported to the fruttaio (fruit drying rooms). These large areas are well ventilated so as to facilitate the drying process and avoid the development of moulds that could potentially taint the wine’s flavour.

Historically, grapes were either laid on cane mats or hung from the room’s rafters. Today, most wineries store their drying grapes in single layers within plastic or wooden crates.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG

Grapes are typically dried for 90 – 120 days. Over this period, the grapes lose around 35 – 40% of their water. A long, slow fermentation follows at very low temperatures to preserve delicate aromas. This maceration period often lasts well over a month.

The traditional ageing vessel for Amarone is large, neutral Slavonian oak casks that range in size from 50 – 100 hectolitres. However, some producers have transitioned to smaller French and/ or American oak barrels. 

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines must be aged a minimum of two years from January 1st following the harvest. The premium Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva DOCG tier of wines requires a longer maturation period of four years from harvest.

Amarone wines are full-bodied and warming (generally 15% alcohol or higher), with a rich, glossy texture and dry finish. Common aromas and flavours include stewed black fruits, figs, prunes, kirsch, peonies, and spice.

Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG

The sweet, dessert wine Recioto is the oldest winemaking style in Valpolicella with a history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Careful selection of ultra ripe, sweet grapes is undertaken for Recioto winemaking. The drying process is similar to Amarone however it lasts far longer: from 120 – 150 days. This leads to a greater water loss of 40 – 50%.

The fermentation process also follows the same course as Amarone but is halted before all sugars have been converted into alcohol. The resultant wine is semi-sweet to sweet, with 13 – 14% alcohol. Ageing lasts a minimum of two years before release.

Recioto wines are full-bodied, dense, and velvety, with macerated or candied black fruit, dried floral, and balsamic notes on the nose and palate.

Ripasso della Valpolicella DOC

Ripasso is another interesting Valpolicella wine style that combines traditional red winemaking techniques with appassimento flavours. For this category of wine, grapes undergo a typical alcoholic fermentation on their skins upon arrival at the winery, resulting in a dry base wine.

Several months later, this wine is transferred into a tank containing the grape skin pomace left over once the Amarone wine has been pressed off its skin after vinification. These skins are still rich in sugars and yeasts, provoking a second fermentation. The wine is thus “repassed” (hence the name Ripasso). This process adds glycerol leading to a rounder mouthfeel and gives richer flavours and higher alcohol levels.

Ripasso wines have ripe black fruit, floral, and spice flavours. They are medium to full-bodied, with a smooth texture, rounded tannins, and dry finish. They tend to have 13% - 14.5% alcohol.

The Appassimento process - Credit : Courtesy of Consorzio per la tutela dei vini Valpolicella