What is Appassimento?

The Veneto region in northeastern Italy, essentially the mainland behind Venice, is a hub of winemaking excellence, known for its diverse and high-quality wines such as Amarone and a rich array of sparkling delights. Among the various techniques employed by winemakers in this region, the appassimento process stands out as a time-tested method that produces some of the most distinct and celebrated wines. This proven technique involves drying grapes to concentrate their sugars and flavours, resulting in wines of outstanding depth and complexity. The sweet wines obtained in this manner are also sometimes referred to as "Passito" wines and occasionally as "Vin Santo."


Understanding the Appassimento Process

Appassimento begins with the careful selection of quality grapes, harvested at full ripeness under the Italian sun. The selected grapes are then spread out on straw mats, bamboo racks, or plastic crates in well-ventilated drying rooms called “fruttai”. This drying period can last from several weeks to typically up to four months. During this time, the grapes lose a significant portion of their water content (up to 40%), which leads to a higher concentration of residual sugars, acids, and phenolic compounds. Only then does the winemaking process begin with the pressing of the raisin-like grapes to extract their sugar-rich must.



The Role of Appassimento in Veneto Wines

The appassimento method is integral to the production of several renowned wines from the Veneto region. Among these, Valpolicella Recioto, Recioto di Soave, and Torcolato are prime examples that showcase the unique characteristics imparted by this drying process. 

  • Recioto della Valpolicella: This sweet red wine is made primarily from Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella grapes. The appassimento process enhances the natural sweetness and flavor profile of the grapes, resulting in a wine with rich aromas of ripe brown cherries, black plums, figs, and a velvety texture. 
  • Recioto di Soave: This sweet white wine is produced from Garganega grapes. The drying process brings out honeyed notes and a bouquet of apricots, peaches, and orange blossoms. The wine is known for its golden color, smooth texture, and vibrant acidity.
  • Torcolato: Made from Vespaiola grapes in the Breganze area close to Vicenza, Torcolato is a lesser-known but equally remarkable sweet wine. The name "Torcolato" comes from "torcere," meaning to twist, referencing the traditional method of twisting grape bunches and hanging them from strings rather than laying them on mats for drying in the fruttai. It offers intense aromas of dried fruits, honey, and vanilla, with a seductive sweetness balanced by refreshing acidity. 

        Broader Implications of Appassimento

        While the Veneto region is most famous for its appassimento sweet wines, this technique is also used in the production of Amarone della Valpolicella. Though not a sweet wine, the grapes in Amarone undergo appassimento to achieve a full-bodied and complex character, with fermentation consuming all sugars, however high they were in the original must.

        Appassimento is popular in other winemaking areas of Italy as well. Among prominent sweet wine varieties are Vin Santo del Colli Senesi (Tuscany) and Moscato di Pantelleria (Sicily). 

        The appassimento process offers several benefits that contribute to the unique quality of wines:

        • Concentration of Flavors: The drying process intensifies the flavours, creating a rich and complex wine profile.
        • Enhanced Sweetness: For sweet wines, the concentrated sugars result in a natural sweetness that is balanced by acidity.
        • Aging Potential: Wines made using appassimento often have excellent aging potential due to their high sugar and acid content.

        A bit of a rarity are sparkling, spumante passito wines. However, there are a few exceptional cases where producers occasionally introduce limited production of sparkling sweet passito wines to the market. It does not get much better than **red sparkling Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG**. Rich black fruit flavours of plum, brown cherries, black currant, and ripe figs in a velvety, tingling dance of bubbles on the palate. For a classic pairing, enjoy it with dry desserts like biscotti or shortbread cookies. It also complements fruit salads with a touch of acidity. Also great as an aperitif.



        Appassimento is more than just a winemaking technique; it is a tradition that embodies the skill and passion of Veneto’s winemakers. Wines like Valpolicella Recioto, Recioto di Soave, and Torcolato are testaments to the success of this method, offering wine enthusiasts a taste of history and craftsmanship. The popularity of these wines continues to grow, and the appassimento process remains a cornerstone of Italy's rich viticultural heritage.

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