What is “recioto,” and is it ever used to produce a dry wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is “recioto,” and is it ever used to produce a dry wine?

—Amanda Y., Sydney, Australia

Dear Amanda,

“Recioto,” as in “Recioto della Valpolicella,” refers to a dessert wine made from grapes that were dried on mats after picking. This process turns the grapes closer to raisins, concentrating the flavors. The wines are lovely and taste how you’d expect raisins-turned-wine to taste, rich and sweet.

There are some dry (not sweet) wines that go through a similar process, namely Italy’s Amarone. Legend has it that Amarone was founded when a winemaker intended to make Recioto, but forgot about the wine once it started fermenting. Instead of stopping the fermentation to keep the wine sweet, it kept going until all the sugar was converted to alcohol. The wine was dubbed Amarone, which means “big bitter.” Since the traditional method is to lay out the picked grapes on straw mats, these wines—dry or sweet—are called “straw wines” by some.

The combination of dried grapes and a rich, robust red makes Amarone very distinctive, especially in the aromatics. Think of a kaleidoscope that slides from prune, date and black walnut to more savory elements like soy sauce and meaty, black pepper flavors and everything in between. The best Amarones age like a charm.

—Dr. Vinny

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