Wine Review: Romano Dal Forno Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

dal fornoLogic suggests that we should experience a sense of deflation and disappointment when we taste the very best wine of certain type. The sense of disappointment, one might think, comes from the recognition that a peak experience has been attained and there is nothing more to which to aspire. Happily, experience doesn’t always follow logic. Pleasure is the great reinforcer, creating a desire to repeat the pleasure again and again. Furthermore, when it comes to wine, our taste memories are so poor that a peak experience will only exist in memory as a dim awareness. Tasting the best never gets old.

I cannot wait to taste this again.

Romano Dal Forno’s Amarone is generally acknowledged to be the best, routinely receiving scores in the upper 90’s, and it has a price befitting its reputation.

But I didn’t have high expectations. I enjoy Amarone, but it is far from my favorite style of wine. Traditional styles can be rough and rustic. The more modern styles can be one-dimensional, prune-like and sweetish, and show too much alcohol.They are usually powerful but seldom elegant. But the great ones, like all great wines, manage to bring unity to opposing features—powerful yet elegant, sweet yet savory, massive while light and fresh on its feet.  The Dal Forno is all of those. When Amarone is this good, it is glorious.

Dark, almost black in color, and aromatically intense, the subtle scent of violets  modulates the bursting olfactory orgy of blackberry jam, coffee, smoke, and pepper all imbued with an aura of freshly-turned earth. On the palate, the flavors of fig and chocolate swell like a sea attracted to its moon, filling the mouth with darkness but bound together with vibrant acidity that gives the wine finesse despite all its power. The tannins are fierce but so fine-grained they don’t ravage the mouth. As it sits in the glass, caramel flavors develop as the wine goes through its phases, “ever changing, like a joyless eye that finds no objects worth its constancy” to quote Shelley. It is especially impressive that despite 16.5% alcohol, you don’t notice it. This has the stuffing to age for 30 years.

Grandiose beyond mere arrogance this is about as masculine as wine gets (if you will excuse the gender stereotypes). But there is so much life and finesse, it’s more like James Bond showing his Dalai Lama side.

Made from the same grape varieties from the same region that produces the lighter, food-friendly, affordable Valpolicella, Amarone-style wines are made by laying very ripe grapes in a drying chamber for 3-4 months until they turn to raisins, which concentrates all the flavor components and eliminates excess water. The grapes are then crushed and fermented until dry with extended maceration on the skins. and then aged in French or Slovenian oak and in the bottle for a combined 2 years (4 years for riserva). The need for more grapes per bottle, the process of drying the grapes, and the lengthy duration of fermentation, maceration, and storage add up to more costs for the winery and higher prices for the wine. To this standard method, Del Forno adds an unusual blend replacing the standard Molinara grape with Oseleta which amps up the acidity and an additional year of ageing before release. With very low yields and carefully selected grapes, the production on this wine tends to be low, under 1500 cases, making the wine hard to get.

If you don’t mind occasionally dropping serious coin on a wine and can put up with some inconsistency in their performance, the search for Amarone perfection could be a worthy life plan.

Drink while blasting the exquisitely massive, gorgeous, dark, brooding delicacies of Sigur Ros

Score: 97

Price: $300

Alc: 16.5%

Tasted on 3/14/2014 at WineElite


  1. Dwight, I had to dig out this Amarone review of yours now that a few years have passed. I can’t stop thinking about the 2008 you reviewed here, and the 2009 we very recently had. How would you characterize the difference between those 2? Can you even recall? I have difficulties remembering the difference. They both simply seemed perfect.

    1. Hi Joey,

      I didn’t take notes on the 2009 Amarone so I have to rely on memory. It seems to me the 2008 was a bit more lively and dynamic, the 09 more weighty with more fruit and less smoke. But relying on memory is probably not a good idea.

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