Home of the wonderfully unique Amarone della Valpolicella wine, Valpolicella is one of the most prestigious winemaking areas in the Veneto and is located northwest of the elegant Roman town of Verona (in the western corner of the Veneto). Valpolicella’s red wines were in fact popular in Roman times, when the sweet Recioto wine was in vogue. Made up of a myriad of lush, verdant valleys that spread like fingers on an open palm as they stretch out of the Lessini Mountains, Valpolicella is an intensely beautiful region, whose name comes from “val polis cellae” and means “valley of many cellars”, and is characterized by the steep, vine-laced ridges that run alongside its gurgling mountain streams.
An enticing mix of natural beauty, culture and history can be found ambling around villages like Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella, San Pietro in Cariano (this commune is full of imposing Venetian Villas like Villa Serego, Villa Giona-Fagiuoli and Villa Pullè Monga), Marano (picturesque hamlet), Fumane (with its beautiful Villa della Torre Cazzola) and Negrar (the 17th century church of Saint Peter the Apostle is one of the gems in this region, built over a Romanesque church) -the main wine communes in the Valpolicella Classico area. Pretty wine country villages fan out over three beautiful valleys- Fumane, Marano and Negrar, punctuated by misty mountains and winding streams. Stately Verona, second only to Rome itself in the number of Roman ruins, is a short drive away, and if you’re based there Valpolicella is an excellent wine tasting day excursion.
Punchy Flashes of Spice
The young dry Valpolicella wines surprise with their punchy flashes of spicy, tart and sweet flavors. A wide range of indigenous red grape varieties are planted in the meager soils left by ancient volcanic activity: a mix of volcanic tufa, calcareous clays and, in the east, alluvial material. The variety of terroir has given Valpolicella the possibility to nurture countless varieties. Majority varieties include the tannic, thick-skinned Corvina and the aromatic Rondinella, two high-personality grapes that make up the bulk of the production and are the base of most wines. Molinara is the third grape in the Valpolicella trio. You will also find unique local grapes like Rossignola, Negrara Trentina and Barbera alongside Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. Regardless of variety, all wines must be aged at least a year to be considered ‘Superiore’.
Amarone is the Star of the Valpolicella Region
Yet even more exciting than the ever-improving array of dry red wines are the area’s sweeter creations. Amarone is the star of the Valpolicella region, delicious and off dry. A dense, concentrated wine with a velvety texture, Amarone della Valpolicella is at once lavishly fruity with a refreshing acidity. Highly aromatic, notes could include all forms of cherry (dried cherry, cooked cherry, maraschino cherry), coffee, almonds or leather. The winemaking process is a unique and fascinating ancient Roman tradition in Valpolicella, called “Appassimento”. It entails the drying of grapes bunches after harvest for up to 4 months (or shorter if fans are used in the drying room), allowing them to shrivel like raisins before pressing, vinifying and aging. The grapes can be laid on traditional wooden “Arele” or in modern plastic plateaux. The grapes are dried in specially created drying halls that have fresh air circulating through them. Some of these drying “sheds” are state of the art such as the Allegrini winery’s “Centro di Appassimento” Terre di Fumane, which is absolutely spectacular (so big space is even shared by other wineries). The effect of the drying on these ripe grapes is that the sugars are concentrated. Amarone is considered to be an off dry wine, while its cousin Recioto is hedonistically sweet.
Basic classifications for red wines, in order of prestige, include the simple Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella Classico DOC, Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC, Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (made by combining newly fermented wine with the pulp and skins of Amarone after it has fermented), Recioto della Valpolicella DOC and Amarone della Valpolicella DOC. Vineyards are spread virtually throughout Valpolicella, which stretches to the border of Soave, a white-wine region. At the heart of the region is the so-called “Classico” zone, encompassing the land between the commune of Sant’Ambrogio and Negrar. Vineyards beyond the Classico, however, are hardly second-rate. Valleys like the Valpantena, Squaranto, Mezzane and Illasi, all east of the center, are home to as many or more quality producers as the Classico and now account for more than half the wine made in the region.