Appassimento: To Dry Or Not To Dry


The appassimento method of making wine dates back to Roman times. Made famous by Amarone, Recioto, Ripasso and Valpolicella wines, it’s a technique of drying grapes off-vine to concentrate sugars and flavours without increasing acidity, and to develop a full-bodied high-quality wine. The result is an elegant concentration and richness on the palate. Traditionally, the grapes are spread on bamboo racks for controlled drying before crushing and fermentation. Some wineries have recently been using repurposed tobacco kilns or stacked boxes and fans. This desiccation — extreme drying — not only concentrates the juices and polyphenols, but also increases glycerin and raises alcohol content to between 15.5 percent and 16.5 percent. Great care is taken in how the clusters are laid out to ensure that rot doesn’t develop as the berries wither. It is labour intensive, produces smaller yields and is therefore typically used only by premium producers. This technique has found a home in some of Niagara’s best wineries. Here’s what the experts say…

ANGELO PAVAN, Cave Spring Cellars
“Our grapes dry with natural air flow on barn racks from two to three months. We’re working at the highest level with what the climate and grapes give us for a different expression of Cabernet Franc. The forest of bright fruit and earthiness is accentuated — but not exaggerated — for luscious character that is plush and aromatic.”

ALEKSANDAR KOLUNDZIC, Pillitteri Estates Winery
“As grapes lose water, everything else concentrates. They’re picked ripe, but about one and a half brix below harvest. We dry for 26 days in a tobacco-kiln. These single varietals are our premium wines, emphasizing flavour, additional weight and complexity. They’re rounder, but packed. They need to be decanted three hours before consumption.

“We dry our grapes in a tobacco-kiln for anywhere between three weeks and three months. For me it’s not about sugar; it’s about phenolic ripeness — the sweet, ripe tannins that create fullness and softness in the mouth. For our single varietals and our blends, all the components have to harmonize for a smooth, balanced, full-bodied, but elegant, wine.”

LEN CRISPINO, Barclay Robinson, Foreign Affair Winery
“All of our wines are appassimento — both whites and reds. We dry naturally from two months to half a year with ambient temperature. From vine to bottle, the continuum of care starts in the vineyard. There has to be legitimacy and passion; the grapes have to be in perfect condition; and the end goal is to produce full-bodied reds and elegant whites. That’s the quality you can taste in the final product.”

Photo Courtesy of Reif Estate Winery

PETER ROTAR, Magnotta Winery
“Over four weeks of drying on aerated shelves of plastic nets we increase the sugars from 22 brix to 27.5 brix. Then we soak all the good healthy grapes together in a roto fermenter so the blended juices always stay in contact with the skins. We wanted to improve the quality of our Bordeaux grapes to manage consistency and create a lot of complexity and full body.”

“Even after we harvest, the grapes keep evolving, ripening and becoming smooth. Our white and red blends dry naturally in our building for two to four months and age up to four years in Slavonian oak. Not too rich, bold, dark or tannic, but lighter and easier to drink; mature, elegant and soft with a ripe nose. We make a simple wine that needs time to elevate the profile.”

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Bordeaux Wine

“Slow extraction enables extra depth, more expressive flavour and aromatics in our blends. We always start with ripe fruit, but every vintage is different. We dry for three to four weeks in our tobacco-kiln. We want good back finish that gives length. You have a sip, and for the next half hour it’s still rolling in your palate.”

SHIRAZ MOTTIAR, Rennie Estate Winery
“For our blend, we dry between 60 to 100 days. The momentum is slower, which is good, because it stretches everything out. The magic happens in the drying chamber; a metabolism is happening that converts the flavour compounds. When it comes out the other end, there is a more intense fruit, rounder, with an amplified aura. It’s a big rich style that really knocks people’s socks off.”

PHILIP DOWELL, Angels Gate Winery; Kew Vineyards Estate Winery
“We’ve applied this ancient technique to our local grapes for a consistent result year in and year out. Our portable drying unit is a controlled environment that extends the drying period to over 100 days and keeps the grapes in very good condition for when we blend them. We can also pack in more tonnage and leave less of a footprint. There is a lot of interesting research in what we’re working with.”

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