Valpolicella Wine Region
Dec 07,2023 | Magnum Opus Wines
Veneto is a northeastern Italian region stretching from the Dolomite Mountains to the Adriatic Sea.
Venice, its regional capital, is famed for its canals, Gothic architecture and Carnival celebrations. Veneto was part of the powerful Venetian Republic for more than 1,000 years, between the 7th and 18th centuries.
Near alpine Lake Garda, medieval Verona is known as the setting of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet.
Vineyards in the Veneto wine region can be found on the shores of Lake Garda as well as near the lagoon of Venice, at the foot of the Dolomites, and in the hills of Mantua.
The variety of the cultivated grapes is unique: it ranges from autochthonous white vines such as the Prosecco or Garganega grape to Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio to the distinct red varieties Corvina and Raboso and to Cabernet and Merlot.
With such well-known Venetian wines as Amarone, Valpolicella, Soave and Prosecco, Veneto is one of the most important wine-growing regions in Italy.
Veneto wine region is responsible for 800 million liters of wine each year. Around one-third of these are made in 28 DOCs or 14 DOCGs.
Beef Carpaccio and the Risotto all' Amarone are the most popular and typical dishes of the Veronese kitchen, a showpiece of many well-known restaurants in the city. In this classic recipe, three excellent products from the region meet each other: the wine Amarone Della Valpolicella, the cheese Monte Veronese, and the rice Vialone Nano.
Its etymology is likely from the Latin vallis pulicellae ("valley of river deposits"). The coolest regions are in the Monti Lessini foothills to the north, where cool winds blow southward from the Alps. This area is traditionally classified as the classico zone. Towards the south and east, the climate gets warmer in the fertile plains of the Adige river. The mean temperature in the growing season is usually around 23.6 °C, with average rainfall around 860 mm.
Veneto is known for the Valpolicella region which is known for producing Amarone della Valpolicella. Besides the great red blends of Valpolicella made with Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, there are also several fine Merlot-based IGT wines in this area.
For white wines, Garganega is the white grape that makes Soave, a wine that’s rich like Chardonnay. Check out the article below on finding wines from Veneto.
Surrounding the romantic city of Verona, Valpolicella stretches over 11 valleys covering more than 8000 hectares of vineyards. Valpolicella ranks just after Chianti in total Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wine production. In 2021, the region yielded over 73 million bottles.
The wines are always based on native grape varieties Corvina and Corvinone with support from Rondinella (anywhere from 5 to 30%). A robust roster of other Italian grapes is also permitted but only ever in limited amounts.
While the wines share a common blend, they are made in 4 distinct styles. Each bears its own denomination which is linked to specific winemaking techniques.
- Identified simply by the name of the region, Valpolicella represents 27% of the production (18 millions bottles). It is made like most red wines, with fresh picked grapes.
- Valpolicella Classico
Wines are generally distinguished by a greater warmth and austerity of character.
Wines are generally distinguished by a greater freshness and elegance, but also great longevity.
- “It is a wine that expresses most immediately and directly the character of our grapes and the diverse terroir of Valpolicella,” describes Gabriele Righetti at Vigneti di Ettore.
- Light to midweight with moderate alcohol (12-13%), barely-there tannins and bright acidity, straight up Valpolicella wines offer instant and cheerful drinkability. Often unencumbered by oak, the freshness of the fruit is allowed to shine. Classic summer berries may be nuanced by attractive herbal, pepper or floral notes.
- Valpolicella DOC Superiore is a subcategory within the Valpolicella denomination that demands a higher minimum alcohol (12%) than Valpolicella (11%) and must be aged for at least one year before release. Often these wines included late picked fruit or a portion of partially dried grapes, imparting characteristics that resemble an Amarone or a Ripasso. On the one hand, this muddles clearcut stylistic distinctions, but on the other, it adds to the variety offered by the region of Valpolicella.
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG
- The traditional blend is made of 3 indigenous grapes:
- Corvina, it's ruled that could be between 45% to 95% of a vineyard,
- Rondinella, could be between 5% to 30% of a vineyard,
- Molinara, it was compulsory to use it till modifications to the rules adopted in 2003. Now it's an optional grape (see below).
- In the last 20 years, winegrowers introduced Corvinone, it could substitute Corvina in a vineyard till the amount of 50%.
- Fascinatingly, from one of the world’s lightest grapes - Corvina, one of the biggest wines is conceived. This is thanks to the appassimentoprocess. After harvest, selected grape bunches are dried for anywhere from 2 to 4 months before being crushed and vinified. The grapes lose upwards of 30% of their original mass which concentrates sugar and tannins while allowing for the development of complex flavours and glycerol.
- Despite the same mix of grapes coming from the same territory, Amarone is thus stylistically different from Valpolicella. While the latter is light, fresh and fruity, Amarone is full, rich and concentrated with dried fruit characteristics and heady alcohol hovering around 16%. Amarone is also a more expensive proposition – definitely not an everyday drinking wine. It has earned its moniker as a vino di meditazione, a wine to sip thoughtfully, perhaps with slow braised meat or well-aged cheese.
- Annual production of Amarone is around 15 million bottles.
Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG
- Essentially the sweet version of Amarone, Recioto is made similarly with air-dried grapes. The basic difference is that fermentation is stopped when there is still significant residual sugar.
- Reciotoactually predates Amarone by many centuries. The longstanding tradition of appassimentoresulted in concentrated musts that were difficult to ferment dry and thus the wine was almost always sweet. The dry version, or ‘Recioto Amarone’ as it was originally called, is thought to have first been made by accident in the 1930s when a rare vat was able to ferment all the sugars to dryness. It took a while for Amarone to become popular and only since the mid-90s has it enjoyed raging popularity.
- Meanwhile, sweet wines have long faded from fashion. Consequently, very little Recioto is produced. It constitutes a mere half percent of the region’s total – as opposed to 25.5 percent for Amarone. Unsurprisingly, a number of producers have given up making Recioto altogether. “Unfortunately, no one buys Recioto so it essentially steals from Amarone,” explains Camilla Rossi Chauvenet at Massimago.
- Other estates cling fiercely to this traditional wine, crafting small amounts to drink on special occasions with sbrisolona(a dry crumbly almond cake) or even soppressa veronese– a local salame. According to Antonio Cesari’s father Stefano, the best time to drink Recioto is: “at 5 o’clock, instead of tea.”
Valpolicella Ripasso DOC
- Of its four styles, Ripasso is Valpolicella’s most successful wine accounting for 47% of the region’s total production (= 30 million bottles). Beyond providing a bridge between Valpolicella and Amarone, Ripasso is in fact reliant on the two for its existence. When Amarone (or Recioto) is drained off its pomace, the unpressed grape skins are added to a finished vat of Valpolicella. The remaining unfermented sugars encourage a second fermentation which thereby increases the alcohol while adding richness and weight to the original wine.
- Righetti believes Ripasso should be a more structured wine than Valpolicella but still elegant and austere. He laments the trend towards overly soft, sweet examples with exaggerated wood notes. To maintain quality, both Vigneti di Ettore and Brigaldara restrict Ripasso to just one-third of their respective estates’ production. At Tedeschi, it is only 20 percent.
- The best Ripasso demonstrates regional typicity relying on fruit and freshness rather than sweetness. I would caution not to expect an Amarone from a Ripasso. Furthermore, do not assume that a Ripasso is superior to a Valpolicella.
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