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Amarone Buying Guide

Amarone Buying Guide

Amarone is essentially a modern-day update on a traditional wine made for centuries from dried grapes in the area around Verona in Italy’s Veneto region — Recioto della Valpolicella. Whereas recioto is quite sweet, however, thanks to a substantial amount of residual sugar, amarone is fermented to complete dryness.

Like the dry red table wines from the Veneto’s Valpolicella region, both amarone and recioto are made from a blend dominated by corvina (sometimes using the bigger berry version, corvinone), along with the aromatic rondinella and, in decreasing use, the high-acid molinara. Other red grapes may also be used in small amounts, making up to 15 percent of the blend.

The grapes for amarone are harvested when ripe in mid-October and then allowed to dry, a process termed "appassimento" in Italian. This drying process typically lasts three to four months, concentrating the grapes’ sugars and reducing their weight by 40 to 50 percent. As a result, it takes over twice as many dried grapes to make a bottle of amarone as it does a regular bottle of red wine. The dried grapes are then crushed and go through fermentation that turns the grapes’ sugar into alcohol, aided by special yeasts that continue to ferment even when the alcohol levels exceed those that usually kill off standard yeasts. The resulting wines, which generally exceed 14 percent alcohol, are then aged in large barrels and/or barriques.

The first amarone was created in 1938. The story goes that its creation was accidental — a recioto continued to ferment until it came out dry. Whether that’s true or not, little of it was made or sold until the mid-1950s. Fermentations used to be quite lengthy, often resulting in wines with high volatile acidity and oxidation. Improved drying methods and specialized yeasts have led to shorter fermentations, preserving more of the fruit flavors and minimizing VA. Amarone della Valpolicella was recognized with Italy’s highest designation, DOCG status, in 2009.

Learn what to look for when buying amarone.

— Richard Jennings, Snooth

Why is Amarone Wine So Freakin’ Expensive?

We get asked a lot about wines in the sub-$20 range and truthfully, we also drink wine regularly in that price range.

However, there are a few times when you want a wine that is worth the money (say, $50-80 a bottle).

Amarone is one of these wines. But why? To answer this question we asked Aaron Epstein, a wine curator with a surprising wealth of knowledge in the Amarone area.

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Focused around a spectacular dome with jewel ceiling lights. Walk off St Andrew Square and you have arrived at Amarone. The bar stretches out and becomes an open pizza kitchen. It can be coffee in style, or Italian classics for dinner.


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Decanter magazine latest issue: May 2021

Bella Callaghan April 7, 2021


  • Remembering Steven Spurrier – Decanter pays tribute to its former consultant editor, who passed away in March 2021, but whose huge impact on the whole world of wine will endure
  • My top 10: exciting Rhône discoveries – Matt Walls
  • Producer profile: St Hallett in Barossa, South Australia – David Sly
  • Vintage report: Napa Valley Cabernet 2018 – Matthew Luczy shares 30 of his top picks from an excellent year
  • Regional profile: Alentejo, Portugal – Sarah Ahmed
  • Amarone: pairing with food – Aldo Fiordelli explores this rich Veneto red – notably tricky for food pairings – and gives advice on dishes to match

A Beginner's Guide to Italian Wine

The history of wine in Italy is legendary. Just hearing “Tuscany” conjures images of sunlit vineyards, historic family homes, and outdoor tables where the food abounds and the wine flows. Learning about Italian wine is a great way to experience some of this idyllic country, whether you plan to be in Italy soon or not. At home or abroad, you’ll be able to better choose a bottle of wine that you will love.

Learning the major winemaking regions in Italy is a good way to build your knowledge of Italian wines. Italy is a long country, and the climate varies as you travel north to south.

Northern Italy

Near the mountains, Northern Italy experiences cold winters, hot summers, and great variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures. This produces grapes that have high acidity and freshness. Here are some notable regions and the wines they produce.

Piedmont (Piemonte)
Barolo, Barbaresco, Moscato di’Asti, Dolcetto, Barbera

Valpolicella Ripasso, Valpolicella Superior, Amarone della Valpolicella, Soave

Friulano, Friuli Colli Orientali, Collio

Central Italy

Central Italy is home to delicious food and the famed wine regions Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Here the Mediterranean Sea is an influence in the climate and soil at the vineyards. Look for these wines from central Italy.

Tuscany (Toscana)
Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Bolgheri, Maremma Toscana

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo


Southern Italy and Islands

Southern Italy, and its islands, are producing intriguing and unexpected wines. Compared to the rest of the country, these vineyards, with their volcanic-rich soil, are relative wild cards. Look for these varieties from the southern regions.

Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Taurasi

Nero d’Avola, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Grillo

Grenache grapes are used to make a rich, flavorful red wine called Cannonau di Sardinia. Cannonau wine health benefits have been praised and are thought to contribute to the longevity of the people who live on the island.

Italian Wine Classifications

Now that you have a list of prominent Italian wines and regions, let’s talk about how to decide which wines you might like to try.

There’s a hierarchy of Italian wine classifications. With each step up, the rules about where grapes are grown and how the wine is produced become stricter. Here are the classifications you will see on Italian wine bottles.

Simple table wine fewest restrictions

Indicazione Geografica Tipica follows broad rules about production

Denominazione di Origine Controllata follows stricter rules about production

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita very strictly controlled production, is meant to represent the best Italian wines

With all of this in mind, you still may be wondering how to choose something from an Italian wine list. You’d like to be able to get a wine that you like the next time you go out to an Italian restaurant! Here are some suggestions and tips on selecting Italian wines.

White Wine (Vino Bianco) Recommendations

If you like Chardonnay, then chances are good that you’ll like Soave. A couple of good producers are Inama and Pieropan.

Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
These wines are typically crisp and citrusy. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from winemaker Valentini leans more toward peach, honey, and white flower flavors. This Valle Reale Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC 2013 is another great choice.

This salty, citrusy wine is a great everyday drinking choice. You may also see it called Pigato, from Liguria.

This drinkable white wine has citrusy, stone fruit, and almond flavors.

This white wine has a bright, lemon-citrus flavor and a vibrant acidity. It might also be called by the grape name, Cortese.

This is a region that contains different wines, such as Collio and Friulano. The flavors in these wines vary, but if you love white wine then you should find some interesting, tasty, and unforgettable flavors from this region.

This Venica & Venica Friulano 2015 is fresh and bright, with notes of almond.

Red Wine (Vino Rosso) Recommendations

Barolo or Barbaresco
These highly prized red wines are from the Piedmont region. Both of these red wines have aromas of rose and cherry sauce and have a long finish. They are made from Nebbiolo grapes.

Try less expensive wines from the same region, too. These include Roero, Nebbiolo d’Alba, or Langhe Nebbiolo, like this Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo 2014.

This inky dark red wine, with soft tannins, is grown all over Italy. The highest quality bottles are from Tuscany.

This is Italy’s most popular wine grape, and it goes by a number of names: Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti, Rosso di Toscana, Montefalco Rosso, and others. Although taste will vary by where the wine was produced, Sangiovese is typically high in acid, high in tannin, and has cherry and subtle tomato flavors.

This red grape produces wines that are light and bright, with a tart cherry flavor. Valpolicella wines are often made of Corvina grapes.

Nero d’Avola
This is a full-bodied, dry red wine with bold fruit flavor. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, consider a Nero d’Avola wine.

These suggestions may get you started on an Italian wine list, but know that these are just a few of Italy’s many wine varieties.

Italy has 20 winemaking regions and uses over 350 native types of grapes to make wine. On an Italian wine list, the wine may be listed by grape variety, region, or the name of the wine blend. Because of this, you may see a large variety of wines with unfamiliar names on an Italian wine list. Don’t worry! Always feel free to ask the sommelier for help, and don’t be afraid to try a wine that you haven’t heard of before. Salute!

Even for people who enjoy drinking wine regularly, knowing how to order wine at a restaurant can be daunting. The good news is that a few simple tricks can make your experience stress-free. How to Order Wine at a Restaurant

What is your best story about Italian wine? Tell us in the comments below!

What is Amarone wine?

Amarone della Valpolicella is a wine made with partially dried grapes in Valpolicella, Veneto, North-east Italy. There are three geographical sub zones Classico, Valpantena and ‘Est’, the extended zone.

Amarone wine map. Credit: Decanter/ Maggie Nelson

‘Each of the three geographical zones has its own identity,’ said Michael Garner, in the 2018 Decanter Italy supplement.

‘In broad strokes: Amarone from Classico tends to be the most elegant and aromatic, versions from the Valpantena are generally lighter and fruitier, while the so-called ‘extended’ zone (beyond Classico and Valpantena, bordering on the Soave) tends to produce richer, more muscular wines with a higher alcohol level.’

Yes, Wine Lovers Actually Can Pair Amarone With Food

Lettie Teague

I DON’T KNOW many chefs who care as much about wine as they do about food. Mario Carlino, a native of Calabria and the chef-owner of Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, N.J., is one of the few. Most of the time, our taste in wine intersects. We both love Chablis and Domaine Huet (a top Vouvray producer), and both look skeptically on inexpensive Barolo. (“You can’t get a good Barolo for under $40!” I’ve heard Mario declare.) But our tastes diverge when it comes to Amarone, the noble red of Italy’s Veneto region. It’s one of Mario’s favorites but not one of mine. I’ve always found Amarone hard to pair with food.

A very full-bodied, dry, powerful and often quite tannic red, Amarone can be high in alcohol too—sometimes as much as 17%, close to the alcohol level of a fortified wine like Port. It is made in the Valpolicella subregion of Italy’s Veneto in a unique way. Various grapes (chiefly Corvina) are first dried, in a process called appassimento, which concentrates flavor, color and tannins. The dried grapes are then fermented to the point where enough sugar is converted to alcohol to produce a dry wine. In commercial production only since the 1950s, Amarone della Valpolicella, as the wine is officially known, was granted DOCG status in 2010.

Most Amarone producers make other wines too, including the light, simple Valpolicella Classico and the more concentrated Valpolicella Superiore, aged at least one year and slightly higher in alcohol than Classico is. A step further up the quality ladder are Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore wines, traditionally made by “repassing” a Valpolicella wine over a pomace of grape skins and seeds left over from making Amarone. A Ripasso will typically be bigger and more complex than the other types of Valpolicella but not quite as complex as Amarone some wine drinkers call this wine “baby Amarone.” The dry Amarone della Valpolicella also has a sweet cousin, Amarone della Valpolicella Recioto. This sweet wine is made by the same appassimento process, but the fermentation is stopped sooner so that some residual sugar remains in the wine.

Although Amarone della Valpolicella is, as noted, traditionally vinified dry, some Amarones at the cheaper end of the price scale can be a bit sweet. (Sweetness can help to mask a wine’s flaws.) The sweet, cheap examples are nothing like great Amarone, said chef Mario. It’s a demanding method of winemaking, and that shows in the wines. A sports car enthusiast as well as an aficionado of Amarone, Mario offered the following analogy: “If you drive 150 miles an hour in a Ferrari you’re fine but if you go 150 in a stupid car, you’ll crash.”

When Mario offered this observation, he and I were sitting in Divina a couple hours before the start of dinner service. He’d offered to prepare several dishes that would demonstrate just how well Amarone pairs with food. I’d brought along 10 bottles for us to taste, all current-vintage, ranging from 2007 to 2013. (Different wineries have different release-date policies.) They were priced from $35 to $90. The priciest was a 2007 Bertani Amarone ($90) that my husband and I had received as a gift. Mario regarded this last bottle with delight. “That’s a great wine,” he said.

What is Amarone wine?

Amarone della Valpolicella is a wine made with partially dried grapes in Valpolicella, Veneto, North-east Italy. There are three geographical sub zones Classico, Valpantena and ‘Est’, the extended zone.

Amarone wine map. Credit: Decanter/ Maggie Nelson

‘Each of the three geographical zones has its own identity,’ said Michael Garner, in the 2018 Decanter Italy supplement.

‘In broad strokes: Amarone from Classico tends to be the most elegant and aromatic, versions from the Valpantena are generally lighter and fruitier, while the so-called ‘extended’ zone (beyond Classico and Valpantena, bordering on the Soave) tends to produce richer, more muscular wines with a higher alcohol level.’

What's the Big Deal About Amarone?

In the 21st Century, Amarone's popularity has gone through the roof. With Amarone, winemakers in the Veneto are answering the call for rich, powerful, red wines that – compared to Napa or Burgundy – are still relatively affordable. The big deal is withered grapes, which dramatically reduce quantity and concentrate the clusters. This makes for scarcity and skyrocketing prices. Producers in Valpolicella are refurbishing their cellars and parking luxury cars in their new underground garages.

Amarone, that's on the Tuscan coastline, right?

Sad as it seems, folks sometime confuse a Maremma wine with Amarone wine. The Veneto – and Valpolicella in particular – has a branding problem. Most people don't realize Amarone comes uniquely from one patch of earth, within the Valpolicella DOC. However, that doesn't seem to stop "big wine" lovers from wanting more of it.

Who says it's a big deal?

Ripe, racy and unctuous, Amarone is hot on the world luxury wine stage. Big-name wine families from the Veneto are spending time and money in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo, with good results. Once a quaint, regional wine with a special, rich character from dried grapes, this Corvina-dominant wine is supplanting more expensive (and rarer) wines from California and France on wine lists and in newer wine cellars. American tastes lean toward fuller and fruitier, especially among the trophy-wine crowd. And in a vintage like 2009, where wines like Araujo Napa Valley Estate "Eisele Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon and second-growth Bordeaux Château Cos d'Estournel approach the $300 mark, a highly regarded Amarone (like Masi) can be had for a fraction of that cost.

What makes Corvina so at home in the Veneto?

Corvina is to the Veneto as Pinot Noir is to Burgundy or Nebbiolo to Piedmont. It's the dominant grape for Valpolicella and Amarone and has adapted over hundreds of years to the land and weather. You can find Corvina grown in other places (even Texas) but never with the same depth of flavor and finesse. The region Amarone comes from is one of the longest continuously producing areas since the time of the Greeks. Wine from the Corvina grape has found a perfect climate, soil and culture for the production of this unique creation.

I'm confused. Is Amarone sweet or dry?

Oh, you want more? Historically, Amarone was sweeter, as were many red wines. Moving through the 20th Century, red wine became drier to accommodate evolving tastes. Amarone producers kept their sweet wine, Recioto, in production for those who still wanted it. Costlier Recioto, from the outer ears of the grape clusters, is higher in sugar and made in minute quantities. While not officially a dessert wine, Recioto definitely qualifies as a vino da meditazione, occasionally brought out at the end of a meal, hopefully in the colder months. But most Amarone is dry.

What's this hullabaloo about dried grapes and the character of Valpolicella?

Part of the kerfuffle lies in the popularity of a second wine, Ripasso, which depends on the marc (pressed grape skins) of Amarone for its production. In order for a winery to put the name Ripasso on the label, the wine, often mistakenly marketed as a baby Amarone, has to pass over the pressed grapes made into Amarone. Because of this, in order to produce the less-costly and highly popular Ripasso wine, the producers must increase the production of Amarone.

And what's the real story about this Ripasso business?

One version is that Ripasso offers a cash-flow wine that slightly echoes the character of Amarone. Its increased production and faster turnover, though, has some important families questioning if that's good for the brand image. There's a lot of money at stake and plenty of competition from within the region, and interest from thirsty wine drinkers looking for a wine with fruit and good alcohol punch that's affordable for more than special occasions. That's the conflict – Amarone hasn't ever been considered a daily wine Ripasso fits that bill. But they both need each other, legally and economically.

Who's in charge here? Who's minding the henhouse?

Eleven families have banded together to create "Le Famiglie dell'Amarone d'Arte", an association to protect the integrity of Amarone. They are Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant'Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini and Zenato. Their collective strategy is to preserve the Amarone standard as one of excellence and luxury. As with many things Italian, there are winemakers outside that group who have their own ideas, along with the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella. Italians love a good opera, especially one with heightened drama. And this is where we sit at the moment.

Who are the star winemakers – the names I need to know?

The powerful family estates of Allegrini, Bertani, Le Ragose, Masi, Tedeschi and Tenuta Sant'Antonio are all capable of greatness, producing dependably classic wines. These are no longer boutique wineries, but they often make small-lot wines rivaling those anywhere.

Then there are the "cultists". Dal Forno offers a big, brawny, extracted, modern style. A great scorer, and priced for 1 percenters. Quintarelli's wines are also stratospherically priced, but restrained and still capable of showing how great Amarone can be. Giuseppe Quintarelli, who died in 2012, was considered the grandfather of Amarone.

The "upstarts" include L'Arco – Luca Fedrigo worked with Quintarelli before going out on his own. Look for his undervalued wines, which show great influence from Quintarelli. At Monte Santoccio, rising star Nicola Ferrari also chopped in the woodshed at Quintarelli. Retired school teacher Valentina Cubi upholds a strong female tradition initiated by trailblazers like Le Ragose's Marta Galli.

Sum the wines up in a few words

High-octane wine that’s rich, fruity, unctuous and powerful. Sexy, quintessential fruit-bombs.

What should I be buying right now?

We're up to the 2011 vintage. 21st-Century Amarone appears to be more supple (i.e. drinkable) than earlier. But a few years in a cellar won't hurt. 2006 to 2011 were all good to great. There will be little, if any, good or great 2014. 2012 and 2013 are months or years from being released, and prices could rise dramatically. Classic vintages like 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2004 can still be found from the top producers from $60 to $400. Compared to Napa or Burgundy, this still looks like a bargain. Now is the time to take your Christmas bonus and stockpile these wines.

What are the best food matches?

For the locavores in the Veneto, Amarone matches up well with hearty meat: cow, pig, horse, donkey ragus and stews of boiled meats, any and every part, doused with mostarda, salsa verde and chutney. Against the powerful flavors of the meats and spicy condiments, not just any wine will do. Amarone can stand up to the forceful and pungent assault of these native dishes.

For the backyard barbecuer or the steakhouse-goer, Amarone also issues a siren call. We're talking from sweet, smoked meat to moist beef brisket from a pile of pork ribs to a 48-ounce porterhouse or Wagyu short-rib hamburger. The key is to match power to power. Amarone is a "big night" wine.

Alfonso's Amarones for amateurs:

Prices worldwide on Wine-Searcher (US$, ex-tax, per 750-ml bottle):

Amarone Buying Guide - Recipes

To give this illustrious wine its full name, Amarone della Valpolicella is a unique style of wine that hails from the Valpolicella region in the northeast of Italy.

For Amarone, the native grapes of the area - principally Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella - are left to dry (traditionally on bamboo racks) before being crushed and vinified. This technique, known as appassimento lasts for at least two months though many producers dry their grapes for three or even four.

Appassimento gives rise to a complex and fascinating transformation. As the grapes dehydrate, they lose up to half of their initial weight concentrating both the sugars as well as the polyphenols (notably the tannins). At the same time, it stimulates the production of glycerol.

This lends a mouthcoating texture which gives an illusion of sweetness even though the wines are fermented dry - or close to dry. (Maximum residual sugar allowed is 12 grams per liter). The result is a full-bodied, richly fruited, voluptuous red with heady alcohol of at least 14 percent.

The waiting game

For many Amarone-lovers, it is hard to resist popping the cork as soon as they get their hands on a bottle. Why try convincing a hedonist to delay gratification? With few exceptions, Amarone doesn't need to be tucked away.

Most are released with at least four to six years of age already. And as Giancarlo Tommasi, winemaker at Tommasi Family Estates points out, "the tannins are less aggressive than other great wines."

Call me an ascetic, but I prefer to wait. I confess that I didn't really fall for Amarone until I started tasting older examples. According to Riccardo Tedeschi, owner of Tedeschi Wines, "Aging Amarone is similar to Barolo. At 10-12 years old is when it starts to show its best." With time, boisterous fruit mellows and nuances of cocoa, tobacco and balsam - those resinous herb and forest notes - emerge.

The reward of aging Amarone is "the emotion of a unique experience," muses Silvia Aldrighetti from Le Bignele.

That being said, not all Amarone deserves a place in the cellar. All of that fruit concentration needs structure - the trifecta of alcohol, tannin and acidity. "In an Amarone, it isn't difficult to have an abundance of the first two components, however the third, acidity, is often sacrificed for a more immediate wine," says Marcello Vaona, owner of the Novaia estate.

For Vaona, the key to acidity lies in provenance. "It is fundamental that the grapes come from the hills." Novaia's vineyards reach 400 meters above sea level in the cool Marano Valley and the dense plush wines are offset by balancing freshness.

Site is equally crucial for Tommasi. "The most age worthy Amarone are from a terroir that stresses the plant a bit, reducing the yield per hectare and concentrating everything into few clusters."

He also uses a small percentage of Oseleta in the blend. This recently revived ancient grape variety is rich in tannin, an important component "to stand the test of time."

"A good Amarone comes from good grapes," states Aldrighetti. "It seems obvious but it's not." As she points out, constant and attentive work in the vineyard is necessary to ensure healthy, ripe grapes picked at the right time that will stand up to the drying process.

You get what you pay for

Unfortunately, Amarone has been a victim of its own success. Simultaneous with demand, the Valpolicella region expanded enormously beyond lower yielding, hillside vineyards to include the more fertile valley floor.

The former are much more labour-intensive but produce higher quality grapes. At the risk of stating the obvious, Amarone is costly to produce. Yet there are bottles selling in grocery stores at discounted prices of &euro12.99 (US$15).

Certainly the only way these prices can be achieved is by using higher yielding, lesser quality grapes likely with the minimum drying and ageing required. These are mere shadows of what Amarone della Valpolicella is meant to be. The lesson here is you get what you pay for.

When I crave an Amarone, I don't even consider buying one for less than US$40. And if I'm going to put it in my cellar, I am prepared to spend more. Whether or not you should age Amarone is another matter altogether.

It really comes down to your personal palate preference. Whenever you choose to drink your Amarone though, my recommendation is to avoid bargain hunting altogether.

Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2010 (US$120)
An elegantly fashioned Amarone aged for six years in large Slavonian oak barrels. Restrained nuances of prune mingle with licorice, balsam wood, tobacco and rosemary. Tannins are mouth caressing and there is an underlying freshness. Has the substance and balance to keep for another decade at least.

>> Order on Vivino (subject to availability in your location)

Tedeschi, 'Capitel Monte Olmi' Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2012 (US$86)
From a 2.5 hectare single vineyard. The grapes (which include 10 percent Oseleta) are dried for four months. This is concentrated, powerful and hearty. A hefty 17 percent alcohol is backed up by plenty of lush fruit and layered tannin. Think dark chocolate, plum cake, mint and black cherry compote. Drink now to experience all of its exuberance or let it mellow out for a few years.

>> Order on Vivino (subject to availability in your location)

Le Bignele Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014 ($US54)
Like Novaia, Le Bignele is located in the cool Marano Valley. In the challenging 2014 vintage, the Aldrighetti family made only half of their usual production but the result is focused and wonderfully fragrant. Savoury rather than sweet, it offers up almond, spice, pepper and red cherry. A charming and accessibly priced Amarone that will drink well for the next five years.

>> Order on Vivino (subject to availability in your location)

Michaela Morris

Though based in Vancouver, Michaela can frequently be found in Italy (or on a plane between the two). She contributes to Decanter, Meininger&rsquos Wine Business International and Canadian publications Quench and Taste. A presenter at numerous wine conferences across Italy, she is also on the Italian panel for the Decanter World Wine Awards, Panel Chairman for Vinitaly&rsquos 5StarWines and has experience as an international guest judge. She holds the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma and is an Italian Wine Expert certified through Vinitaly International Academy (VIA). Having co-created the VIA&rsquos Italian Wine Maestro course, she piloted the program in Canada prior to international launch.