The evening began at the late-ish hour (for beginnings) of just gone nine; I'd been hard at work on the ticket windows at the station until only an hour before that. After a slurp or two of some pretty decent Argentinian plonk (Millbrook's Co-op wine shelves come up trumps again), dinner was served and the Amarone della Valpolicella poured. In this case the wine was from the Classico region of the Veneto.
"So what is Amarone?" I hear you ask. Or not. Don't care, I'm going to tell you anyway.
Most of you will be aware of the existence of Valpolicella; generally thought of as decent enough quaffing wine in this country. It's made in the Veneto region of Italy, in a long belt of land north of Verona stretching from the eastern shores of Lake Garda almost to Venice itself. As with so many wines, the best of it doesn't normally reach these shores, hence its reputation as merely a decent quaffer.
Amarone is made with the fruit of the same vineyards as Valpolicella; the grapes are carefully selected so that the fruit is not too closely bunched (allowing an easy flow of air through the bunch). The fruit is then dried for something like four months in specially constructed airy attics (or purpose built industrial drying rooms in some more modern wineries); this increases the sugar intensity before fermentation and produces a very potent wine indeed.
The sweet version is called Recioto; the longer fermented, dry, version is Amarone. It has to have a minimum 14%ABV to be called either; 15% is, apparently, easily achieved by this method. The one we enjoyed at Dong's was 16% - that's practically a port. And indeed, that's how it's traditionally used in the region where it's made - as an after dinner digestif, the climax of a Veronese feast.
Back to the evening in question - the Amarone was stunningly delicious; count me as a newly converted fan. The sausage casserole was a yummy autumn warmer. Naturally a big thank you goes to Dong for cooking up a treat and for sharing his bottle of something very special indeed.