Today’s wine vocabulary word is “appassimento.” That’s the unique process by which the indigenous red-wine grapes of Italy’s Veneto are dried on mats, in order to darken their flavors and plunge the medium-bodied, everyday wine of Valpolicella down into the Davy Jones depths of stewy, saturated, syrupy, super-concentration that is Amarone.

The Veneto is in Italy’s cooler north. In that climate, the conventionally vinified Valpolicella, from the indigenous grapes corvina, rondinella and molinara, is fresh and lively. Valpolicella sings tenor. Often delightfully cheery yet nuanced, light on its feet and brimming with refreshing acidity, Valpolicella is my first choice for a simple pasta with marinara sauce.

That pairing is noble and hard to pull off, but I guess it’s not consequential enough for some people. Everyone wants to be taken seriously. I assume Amarone della Valpolicella was first envisioned as a way to make a “serious” wine in a region where conventional pressing of fresh grapes yields something too spry. So: appassimento, or the other word used to describe the drying process, “rasinate.” The more a grape raisinates, the more available its sugars, thus the more alcohol to result from fermentation, and the richer the final wine.

Amarone is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to produce. The three different varietals are harvested at different times, cluster by cluster in multiple passes to ensure only the ripest grapes are picked. The many grapes that don’t meet standards are, individually, plucked away and discarded. Once harvested, the healthy clusters are carefully tailored to increase airflow, and gently laid to rest on wicker shelves, where they stay for four months or more.

As the grapes dry, the proportions of skin, pulp and seeds alter dramatically. The acids metabolize, losing much of their punch but transforming flavors and intensifying aromas as they do so. A fascinating internal winemaking drama unfolds, before the more conventional winemaking has even begun.

In February, it comes time to destem and crush these pseudo-raisins that, having lost so much liquid, yield precious little juice. (Italy’s DOC rules stipulate the four-month appassimento, although a couple of extremely hot vintages in the past decade have led to a regulatory easement allowing for a shorter drying period.)

Traditional producers abstain from temperature controls in the cellar, leading to long fermentation times (up to two months, where less than one month is standard for most other red wines) and yet another challenge: the risk of bacterial infection of the grapes and volatile acidity. The finished wine is aged in oak barriques for years.

So much care. So much close attention. So much manual labor. So much risk, and so much time. (And therefore, yes, so much money to buy the wines.) Amarone reflects so much of what inspires me about wine.

And Amarone is decidedly not my thing. I’ve ignored and resisted it for years, after tasting a few of the wines early on in my drinking life and thinking, “I’m not sure I know what wine is, but I’m certain I can’t handle this.” Amarone is a wine you need to handle. It’s not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart. There’s more of almost everything in Amarone: more density and compaction, more ripeness, more sugar, more alcohol, more power, more of the spirit of more. The DOC regulations stipulate a minimum alcohol level of 14 percent, but I’ve never seen an Amarone wine under 15.

Amarone’s flavors are strange, haunting. Stewed and dried fruits, cola, licorice, toffee, mocha. Pine-tar aromatics add to the drama. The diminished acidity disorients, dropping the bottom out from under. It is exorbitantly luscious, luxurious wine, but the luxury is unsettling, something out of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s “Venus in Furs.” It’s got a death wish.

Scary. I’ve never really engaged with Amarone, just as I don’t watch vampire movies. But transgressing one’s comfort zone is the only path to self-knowledge, so here I am. How else to gain perspective on how I taste, what I bring to the table, my attitudes, prejudices, fears, hopes? Who cares about a point of view that is continually expressed but never investigated, challenged, redirected, renovated? The past few weeks of drinking Amarone have helped me see myself more clearly than would a year of drinking Chinon, riesling and Beaujolais.

I’ve come to wonder whether I’m scared by Amarone because I’ve had a life without much struggle. Born into a financially comfortable family, well cared for and communicated with as a child, provided every opportunity to grow and succeed, I’ve often sought a (safely) bumpy path. My passions in art, music and yes, wine, have been for the somewhat disjointed, the secret, the prodding and unsettled. When life hands you lemonade, make razor blades to put in it.

So I wonder whether the luxurious weight, the seamless satisfaction, the sheer opulence and neutron-bomb power of Amarone are only really suited to people who had it turbulent and hard for a long time. When they somehow found a way to fight back against their life circumstances and make something durable and successful of themselves, they came to Amarone. Amarone is the wine of earned success. It exacts a toll for which one needs resources both financial and constitutional.

I picture Amarone dancing continuously around a pit of fire, usually drunk enough on its own excess to eventually fall in and get burned. But those few wines that perform the dance successfully, that pull away from the heat at the right moment, are transcendent. Special beauty comes out of an averted travesty.

Here are a few I appreciate, especially alongside a meaty stew in the cold months these wines are ideal for, though I’ll still need a couple of brave friends to accompany me in drinking them.

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone 2010, $27 (375ml). Start here. A half-bottle of the closest thing to refreshing that Amarone can muster, this wine expresses more agility and lightness than I’m used to, thankfully. It’s precise and toned, weighty but with strong bones.

Cesari Il Bosco Amarone 2006, $64. Classically chewy, extruded and decadent, damp with black-red fruit. But a crucial mineral spine is here, a brace for so much flowing flesh. Huge wine.

Le Salette Amarone Marega 2010, $75. This is the smoothest, most harmonious young Amarone I’ve tasted. Although, like the others, the alcohol is listed at 15 percent, the wine conveys the least sense of heat on the tongue. Indeed, the entire wine seems to oppose Amarone’s conventional wisdom, transmitting at lower frequencies. Less is going on, but what is going on is gorgeous and calming.

Tomasso Bussola Amarone Classico 2008, $62. As noisy and brittle as Le Salette is whispery and smooth, this is Amarone for those who take their French Roast black. A lot of textural back and forth, from grainy to roasty, and less overt sweetness overall than most. Most Amarone suggests sipping; for the Tomasso I’m moving toward gulps.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be contacted at:

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