Amarone: the ideal wine for your Christmas table

Amarone: the ideal wine for your Christmas table

Amarone is a lush, robust red with a hint of sweetness that makes it a great choice for the festive meal

Amarone is perfect at this time of year with a cheeseboard.
Amarone is the perfect choice for a Christmas cheeseboard. Photograph: Rawpixel/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sometimes, I think we have far too many decisions to make at Christmas – what presents to buy, which cards to send (if you still do), what to feed people and, finally, what wine to drink. So, instead of giving you loads of options this week, I’m going to make it easy for you by concentrating on just one red that I think is quintessentially Christmassy: amarone.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, amarone is a lush, full-bodied, almost porty red from the Valpolicella region just north of Verona. It’s made from the same grapes as valpolicella (corvina, rondinella and molinara), but late-picked and dried, which gives the final wine a distinct sensation of sweetness. It’s not a wine I buy regularly (not least because some are super-expensive), but it’s perfect at this time of year with a cheeseboard (even at 15%, it’s less alcoholic than port), with a big beefy stew (think ox cheek) or even with the turkey, especially if you’ve got a rich stuffing and sides in mind.

Quality varies quite a bit, however, due to the significant expansion of the region over recent years. Amazingly, Aldi has one for just £12.99 that, while it lacks the complexity of pricier versions, delivers an impressive punch. Better, incidentally, than the same store’s valpolicella ripasso (a style that is a halfway house between valpolicella and amarone, and given extra richness by being fermented on amarone skins). The Co-op has a much more impressive one: Novare Valpolicella Ripasso at £11 (13.5%).

At the other end of the price spectrum, you have producers such as Bertani, Dal Forno and Quintarelli that command vast prices due mainly to a bit of a boom for amarone, particularly in the US. That said, £25-£35 – less if you’re lucky and find it on special offer – will buy you a pretty special bottle. If you do come across a deal, buy more than one and stash it away for Christmas in five or even 10 years’ time, because amarone really does age well.

If you crave that sweet, slightly porty richness in your reds, but don’t have an amarone budget, head farther south to Puglia for cheaper alternatives made from grapes such as negroamaro and primitivo (look out for the words apassimento or passimento on the label). Morrisons The Best Negroamaro 2017 (14%) is just £6.50, while Setti Muri Brindisi Riserva 2015 (13.5%) is £10 at Tesco – both hit that sweet, Christmassy spot.

Four lush amarones (and amarone-style reds)

Villa Alberti Amarone della Valpolicella.

Villa Alberti Amarone della Valpolicella 2015

£12.99 Aldi, 14.5%.

The best priced, if not the most complex, amarone out there. Perfect for the Christmas bird.

La Dama Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

La Dama Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

£29.99 Virgin Wines, 16%.

Big (and I mean big), rich, figgy and spicy. Wickedly indulgent partner for turkey.

Vigne Alte Zeni Amarone della Valpolicella Classico

Vigne Alte Zeni Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2013

£35 Tanners, 15.5%.

Textbook amarone: intense and powerful and intense. My favourite of those I tasted.

Papale Oro Primitivo di Manduria Varvaglione.

Papale Oro Primitivo di Manduria Varvaglione 2015

£18.99 Great Western Wine, 14%.

Expensive for primitivo, but a gloriously lush, sweetly fruited red that would be great with blue cheese.

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