The Italian word “appassimento” translates loosely to “withering” and refers to the process of producing “passito” wines. The Italian word “passito” translates to “raisin wine” and can be applied to both the method of producing the wine as well as the wines made by this method.
The wines produced by the appassimento process tend to be sweet wines but the process can also result in full bodied dry wines. Because of the effort required, such wines also tend to be serious and in the premium price ranges.
One of the best known and greatest wines produced by the appassimento process is undoubtedly the Amarone (e.g. Amarone della Valpolicella, Vento region).
So what is this process called “appassimento”?
It is the method of manually harvesting only perfect bunches of fruit grown on hillsides facing southwest, and, since the goal of the process is to concentrate sugars in the grapes, many if not most of the producers will leave the grapes on the vine longer thus beginning the process with elevated sugar levels and helping to reduce drying times.
Grapes are laid out on straw or bamboo mats in large rooms of controlled atmosphere for the first day or two and then moved to old farmhouses with large opening or windows which allow the prevailing winds to provide the air to freely flow around the grapes. Here they are left until the middle of January. In that time, the grapes lose 35 – 40% of their weight, and develop higher concentrations of sugar and flavour.
In the early stages of the appassimento process, producers check regularly for any development of rot. If the rot is of the “noble” type (botrytis), it is often allowed into the wine as it is complementary to the process. In fact this, along with the variety of the grapes, the duration of the appassimento process as well a maturation post fermentation, are some of the distinguishing factors between one Amarone and the next.
Modern versions of the appassimento process see stacked wooden and even plastic boxes replacing the straw and bamboo mats and mechanically ventilated and dehumidified facilities replacing the old, naturally vented barns.
The wines resulting from the appassimento process are inevitably powerful and fullbodied having rich, intense and complex flavours.