One of the most important wine zones in the world is located in the northeast region of Italy, called Veneto. Within this vast region is a valley called Valpolicella, found just north of Verona and about an hour west of Venice. Valpolicella means the “valley of cellars” and the gems that come out of this wine zone are some of the most sought after in the world. From red to white and even including dessert wines and grappas, it is also home to VinItaly, an annual bacchanal.
At VinItaly, for five days in early spring, wine lovers swarm a small city built to host thousands of Italy’s top wine producers, who travel across the country to display their wines to importers, distributors, wine writers, and of course consumers. Many of the 20 Italian regions’ wine offerings are proudly on display, with most regions’ selections large enough to occupy their own buildings. For good sportsmanship, other countries’ wineries such as those from France and Germany also jump on the bandwagon and show up to show their wines. The events begin early in the morning and end in the evening, when thousands of semi-drunk wine lovers with purple-stained teeth stumble into their Fiats and go to dinner.
Though this 5-day drunken adventure seems like fun, I can assure you it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Imagine tasting thousands of wines, barely eating except a few bites of cheese and salami, for 8 hours straight. In my teens, it would have been possible, but my first (and possibly last) time was at the ripe old age of 24. It was then I realized I was a lightweight, when I got sick.
On a more dry and controlled note, the wines of the Veneto, particularly Valpolicella, are proof that God does indeed exist. The simple fact that such artisanal products are made and we as humans possess the capabilities to enjoy, appreciate, and dream of these creations points directly toward Design.
Valpolicella is synonymous with red wine. Typically, the wines are blends of a few grapes such as Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, with occasional appearances from Oseleta, Negrara, and even Sangiovese. There are 3 main red wines worthy of attention: Valpolicella, Amarone, and Ripasso.
When Valpolicella is done right, it is one of my favorite wines. Trabucchi Valpolicella Superiore Terre di San Colombano 2003 for $19 is a dry, medium to full-bodied red with hints of cherry, almonds, black currants, blackberries, and spice with balsamic notes and high acidity. It pairs well with pasta and tomato sauce, rabbit, squash, veal, and risotto dishes.
Amarone is the most important wine of the Veneto and a symbol of luxury.
Amarone literally means “big bitter.” To make Amarone, the grapes are air dried on trays in ventilated rooms sometimes up to four months, losing about half their water content until they shrivel up. Essentially, the wine is made by pressing semi raisins instead of grapes. Even though it is vinified dry, it never really seems so. Musella Amarone 2003 for $43 has very bold flavors of bitter chocolate, cherries, bitter cherries, and roasted nuts. Due to the lengthy and expensive process used in making it, the customer will pay a healthy amount for good Amarone, but it is definitely worth it.
Ripasso is the third great red of Valpolicella. The word ripasso means to repass. It refers to the Valpolicella wine that is repassed through the Amarone skins and pulp from the prior batch. It picks up body and flavor. In short, Ripasso is like a junior Amarone or like a cross between Valpolicella and Amarone. It also comes at a much smaller price than Amarone. Zenato Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2006 for $28 is a steal and boasts raisiny notes, with hints of currants, plum, and cappuccino. Try it with Lasagna.
Gianluca Rottura is the owner of a wine store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and author of Wine Made Easy.