It is impossible to speak in generalities when speaking of wines from Italy. There are so many varietals and so many producers; some of which are rich in tradition, and others who have a more modern approach to winemaking. Fine Italian wine has taken the wine world by storm and both traditionalists and innovators have earned international acclaim. I have just spent nine days in the Veneto region in Italy which is considered part of Northeast of Italy and shares many traits with its neighbors Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige.
Exploring the Veneto, one is struck with how beautiful the region is. The most intensely cultivated vineyards are on the Alpine foothills from Lake Garda to Conegliano Veneto. These hills surround a fertile plain, with its rich alluvial soil, and a coastal climate influenced by the Adriatic, as opposed to the central plain which is hot in summer and harsh and foggy in winter. Among the great wines that come from this region are, Valpolicella, Soave, Valpolicella Ripasso and Recioto along with Amarone.
The headline white wine in Verona Italy is Soave. A dry and fruity white named after the city of Soave it is produced from the Garganega grape, and either Trebbiano, Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco from vineyards in the hills southeast of Verona. Soave Classico is produced in the most ancient areas and alcohol content usually reaches around 11.5%. Also in this region, you can find Recioto di Soave, a sweet passito version. The name is derived from the Venetian “rece” or “ears” meaning the outer grapes of the selected bunches that are used and placed on mats for a drying process known as appassimento.
North of Verona, we find the DOC of Valpolicella. (the DOC is specific growing area within Verona that is called Denominazione di Origine Controllata) The grapes grown here are Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella which make up the heart of this famous red wine region. Valpolicella wine does not overwhelm the palate, but sings a soft tune as background music to go with good food. Corvina and Rondinella grapes create the classic blend that is light to medium bodied, ready to drink. The third grape Molinara adds acidity to the wine, although many modern producers are leaving this red grape out of their blends.
The best examples of Valpolicella are from small vineyards, wines located in the classic area, and regions to the east including the Valpantena and Messane Valleys. Valpolicella Ripasso is a wine made according to traditional vinification methods, which subjects Valpolicella to a second fermentation on the lees drawn from Amarone. Some producers achieve better results by adding dried grapes to the wine, which is the same process used in Amarone. Sweet Recioto della Valpolicella and dry Amarone della Valpolicella are made by the same process as Recioto di Soave, but the grapes are pressed somewhat earlier than for the sweet Recioto della Valpolicella.
The king of Veneto’s reds is Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone uses the same grape varieties as Valpolicella, but the grapes have been left to dry on mats, under cover, until the end of March. Amarone is a very powerful wine, is vinified dry, and can reach alcohol levels of 15-16%. Traditionally Amarone wines had to be aged at least ten to twenty years before they could be enjoyed. Today, the new styles of Amarone make most wine far more enjoyable at an earlier age. Amarone, with its unique method of vinification is an extraordinary example of the sensuality of Italian red wines.
One of the great vineyards that I visited while in Veneto was Bertani. This winery dates back to 1857 when it was founded by brothers Gaetano and Giovan Battista Bertani. In the early years, Bertani spearheaded a campaign to have Valpantena become a DOC. Today, Bertani celebrates more than 120 years of winemaking and provides an unbelievable wine experience. This must-see winery gives you the true expression of passion and commitment to making great wine. If you have not yet explored this area either in person or in tasting their wines, take time to dive into the beauty of this magnificent region. Valpolicella is perfect for everyday drinking, with a burger, pizza, or plate of spaghetti, whereas Amarone will simply warm your heart. Indulge, explore and have fun in the process.
Kimberly Fisher is Director of Fine Wine Sales for Badger Liquor-Wine & Spirits.